Book three. I have been waiting for book three of Kaje Harper’s Hidden Wolves saga since I ate up — excuse me, read — the second in this wonderful series. Gay wolves are not new to this genre, but the way in which this author entwines their lives with both straight, gay, paranormal, and human alike is most definitely a step outside the well-used trope. This is a fresh and exhilarating take on an old story and the third installment, Unjustified Claims, is by far the most intriguing.
Fans of Harper’s Hidden Wolves series will be delighted to catch glimpses of Paul and Simon and a wonderful arc to the ongoing story of Aaron Tremaine (wolf pack, Alpha) and his lover, Zach. While this is an ongoing series, one could read this as a standalone I feel, but to do so would really not afford you the rich background material of this interesting wolf pack and the trials they have gone through to achieve some sort of “normal” life. And, since it is a place that potentially Brandt, our latest wolf refugee could assimilate into, it is doubly important to know the history behind this integrated gay/straight alliance.
Brandt Davis is on the run for his life, or at least his way of life, if he could figure out exactly what that is. He is torn in more ways than one by his needs (gay, bi, straight?) and his yearnings (return to the pack that could kill him for his proclivities or go it alone, a lone wolf without the anchor of the much needed pack life). Now two states away from his Alpha who discovered his cross dressing porn and selfies on his hard drive, Brandt can still sense his ties to the very group that finds him repulsive and twisted. He also has found potential trouble in the form of a wounded hiker, Ethan Sjulstad.
Ethan harbors his own set of worries that include an aging, money sucking hotel, his legacy from a dead brother and aging parents. On top of this, Ethan is anathema—an outcast in his hometown where he is both hated for his homosexuality and despised for the ruin and death of his brother, Stephen. One false move in a pick up game of football, years ago, left behind a history of ongoing bullying that may indeed end Ethan’s hopes of being a hotel owner for good. These two mistrusting and baggage-laden men meet and slowly form a partnership that will ultimately lead to life-changing consequences for both of them.
This series, in particular this third novel, has always been a mixed bag of twisting plot lines and danger, combined with smoking hot sex and deeply emotional self-discovery. For both Brandt and Ethan, acceptance and love have rarely gone hand in hand. For one, there is the extreme burden of guilt over ruining the life of a sibling; for the other there is the fear of retribution and the weight of disgust and shunning by those he loves. Each man brings smothered doubt and self-loathing to the table and it is no small task to lay themselves bare when both hold their secrets close to the cuff. Make no mistake, there is angst in this novel, but it is character driven and deep to the bone and when it is finally revealed the moment is doubly sweet.
I have often remarked after reading a Kaje Harper novel that this author excels at revealing her characters slowly and with pain-staking precision. By the end of one of her novels, you feel as though you have walked in the shoes of her men and know their pain and joys alike. They are real, visceral, and so very believable. However, in the Hidden Wolves series, I think we glimpse this author’s other strength: inclusivity. This author stretches her cast of characters to include any and all manner of sexual orientations and does so with grace and skill. Never limiting her stories to just gay male story lines, she instead embraces those who glide across the rainbow of colors, this time including those who find joy and comfort in dressing femininely. Acceptance is a key word that keeps floating to the surface in her novels. It joins its companions, suspenseful, engaging, provocative and steamy. All this and more can be found in a Kaje Harper novel and nowhere better than in her latest, Unjustified Claims.