once upon a wolfRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

After recovering from a terrible accident, Zach Thomas has decided to start life fresh by purchasing a B&B and moving out of the city. But his new life almost never happens when Zach is chased by a huge black wolf and ends up unconcious in a freezing lake.

Gibson Keller spends his days in his remote cabin taking care of his brother, Ellis. After returning home from facing the horrors of war, Ellis lives exclusively in his shifter form. Gibson knows it is a defense mechanism for Ellis, allowing him to heal emotionally. But it means that Gibson needs to look out for him, particularly against the local sheriff who has it out for the wolves. When Ellis chases Zach into the lake (Gibson is pretty sure that Ellis was “catching” Zach for him blind date style), Gibson manages to rescue the man before he freezes to death. He brings Zach back to their cabin, only for Zach to witness the brothers’ secret.

Zach can’t believe that shifters are real, but he is determined to protect the Keller’s secret. Zach finds himself drawn to Gibson and wants to be a part of his life, even as Gibson’s instinct is to keep Zach at a distance for fear of risking Ellis’ safety. But Zach proves that he is trustworthy, both with Gibson’s heart and with Ellis, and the two begin to fall hard for one another. But dangers to the wolves mean that Gibson continues to put his brother’s needs before his own, keeping the relationship with Zach from totally moving forward. Now Gibson must decide he is ready to claim the man he has fallen for and the future they can have together.

I am a huge fan of Rhys Ford’s writing so I was really excited for her first foray into shifters with this first book in her Wayward Wolves series. As always, Ford’s writing is descriptive and evocative and these characters and their surroundings just leap off the page. I love the twist on shifters Ford has created here, with a slightly different take on the normal lore. Even just small things like the way the men shifted were a bit unique. This isn’t your typical pack and fated mates type story. In fact, the book feels very much like a regular contemporary with the addition of shifters. I particularly enjoyed the idea of Ellis caught in his shifter form. It was a great way to not only add conflict to the story, but also to show the different aspects of their human and wolf sides.

Zach and Gibson are sweet together, with a slow bloom to their romance. I appreciated how Zach, while stunned by the news of shifters, still put Gibson and Ellis first, determined to do whatever it took to protect them. As the story continues, Zach helps Gibson care for Ellis, and I liked how committed Zach is to both men. This isn’t a story with a lot of heat, as Zach and Gibson keep the physical side of their relationship at bay while they are helping to work through issues with Ellis. But you can still feel the connection between them as there is a sweet tenderness and a lovely romance.

My biggest hurdle here is that for as much as I loved the dynamic with Ellis, I feel like his story takes up just too much space in a very short novel. He is not only the driving force bringing the guys together, but the conflict surrounding him is the major focus of the story. At times I felt like this was Ellis’ story and Zach and Gibson are sort of fitting in around him, rather than being the focus of their own book. I think this is exacerbated by the fact that we don’t see much in the way of relationship development between these guys. By their second meeting, they are already talking a future together. We never really see their romance develop much on page; it is more like their relationship is just suddenly there. Now, I did really like these guys together, so it wasn’t a huge problem. But I wished for more time to see Zach and Gibson and their romance rather than feeling like Ellis is the major focus of the book.

I also think a few areas could have used more development. For example, we get little backstory on Zach’s accident or his decision to change his whole life. He buys this B&B, but seems to never do anything with it (this is addressed at the end, but still seemed off as I was reading). The story with the bad guy who causes trouble also kind of just ends without as much development as I would I’d have hoped. Again, this is a shorter story so there isn’t always time in a short book to get to everything, but I do feel more focus on the main characters and less on Ellis could have helped this.

That said, I really enjoyed this story and Ford’s take on shifters. I found the book really engaging and the conflicts that are put in place here are really interesting. I am very much looking forward to seeing where else Ford takes this series and will definitely be back for more.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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