off the beaten path audioStory Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator: Jack Wesley
Length: 6 hours, 23 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Werewolves aren’t transformed by a bite, or by drinking water from a footprint. They’re caused by a government experiment that went wrong. Now these dangerous people are kept away from humanity, isolated to pack territories where they will stay, protected by the government — heavily monitored and restricted — and paying for their safety and their homes by sending their alphas into combat situations. These strong, fast, and inhuman people are the first in and the last out, given no choice in their deployments, subject to their liaison’s whims and orders. It’s hardly a life for a trained warrior who is werewolf from birth, let alone a five-year-old girl who just happens to have a rogue gene.

When Ward got the call that his daughter had shifted, it was the end of everything he’d ever known. She was going to be taken from him, put into some random pack and he’d never see her again, never know what happened to her. Instead of meekly rolling over, Ward used every connection, called in every favor, spent everything he had to find out where they’d taken his daughter. He knows they’ll never let her leave, not now that she’s a werewolf… which means he’ll have to find a way to convince them to let him stay.

Henry Dormer, pack leader and alpha werewolf back from a bad mission, only wants to lie down and sleep, to spend time with his pack and his sister, and with their newest pup. The last thing he wants to do is fight with his handler and deal with a human who somehow found their pack. That isn’t supposed to happen. Wolves are supposed to be protected from humans. But there’s something about Ward, his devotion to his daughter and his easy going charm that draws Henry. Thanks to werewolf senses, he knows the other man is just as interested. Now if only they could find a moment for just the two of them to see if there’s something more between them than just a spark of attraction. Unfortunately, there’s a contentious pack, a lovesick werewolf boy, Ava’s inability to shift back to human, and Ward’s refusal to let them know who told him where to find the pack.

Henry is on the edge. It was a long and difficult mission that ended up with his charge dying, much to the displeasure of the military and his handler who berates him, heaping scorn and contempt and promises of punishment on Henry’s head. The werewolf alpha is constantly on high alert, dealing with constant combat readiness and no chance to come down from the edge; he’s a danger to himself and others and doesn’t just want to go home. He needs it. He needs his pack, his family, to ground him and to stabilize him. He needs to find his center again before he does what other alphas have done and self-destructs. Dealing with a puppy who won’t eat or drink, who is fading away from them seems impossible, even for a calm and rested alpha. But when she sees her father, smells Ward on Henry’s skin, Ava begins to perk up. She’s happy, wagging her tail, eating! It’s the first good sign Henry has had in a long time and it’s because of Ward.

Ward is a man who has never really had to struggle for anything. He hasn’t been through difficult times or disastrous relationships, he hasn’t really suffered in life, and even though he and Ava’s mother didn’t work out it, was an amicable parting. But when push comes to shove even Ward is a little surprised at just how far he’s willing to go for the ones he loves. He’d do anything for Ava, and it’s hard for him to realize and accept that the pack might know just a little better than he does what she needs right now at this moment. His concern for his daughter is that she hasn’t yet figured out how to turn back to human; she’s stuck as a puppy and the longer she’s a wolf, the harder it will be to reclaim her humanity.

Henry tells him there’s hope for his daughter and Ward believes him. Henry believes Ward can help his daughter and the strength of their shared belief helps the casual interest in them strengthen to something like friendship, and from friendship into something more. Henry needs stability and Ward, more laid back and and peaceful by nature, seems to be just what Henry needs. Someone to comfort the alpha, someone who doesn’t need an alpha or a killer; he just needs and just wants Henry. For Ward, who has been alone as a single parent for five long years, having someone look in him with such a forceful need is flattering. Maybe more than flattering. Henry and Ward both have a strong desire and need to care for others, to protect others; their shared love of family — and lust for each other — form a bond between them that even the rest of the pack can feel. Their growing relationship helps heal not only Henry, but Ava as well, and it strengthens Ward as it strengthens the bonds between the entire pack.

In the middle of this growing moment of peace and harmony comes trouble in the form of a young werewolf who may just be an alpha one day, himself, something Henry would like to protect the boy from even as his father keeps pushing and pushing and pushing. The young man in question is having a Romeo and Juliet moment with a young human girl, much to the outrage of her father. On top of that, Henry is having to get used to the fact that his beloved sister has a new husband, their pack has a new doctor whose old pack was broken up, and the man isn’t yet able to bond with the pack. And then there’s Henry’s handler who wants to punish him for failure — and for making him look bad — who is going to send him into a dangerous and most likely fatal mission.

There is a lot of emotion and a lot of plot in this book, along with a great deal of world building. Henry and Ward compliment and complete one another in a graceful and perfect way. Their conversations with each other come across like two real people — though one of them just happens to be a werewolf — talking about family, jobs, loves and aspirations. The writing was fantastic, the pacing was nice and brisk, and I appreciated that even when things went well, they didn’t go perfectly. There were bumps in the road and moments of honest angst, but there was never a moment that didn’t feel genuine to the characters.

I did think the ending was wrapped up to quickly and too pat with Mr. Government Man being dealt with off screen and all of the weight of his threats vanishing into air. The world building was fascinating with the author envisioning a world where the government controlled the werewolves so strictly they weren’t allowed the internet, or even most television shows as that might give them ideas … and werewolves, however few their numbers, were still dangerous and more than able to free themselves if given half the chance. I truly hope the author gives us more books in this world.

As a personal aside one of my favorite parts was the dealing with Henry and his family as werewolves. The way shifting worked, how fast it could be, and how hard it was to transform for the first time. I also loved that there was no “inner wolf” to wag their tails or have opinions. When Henry was a wolf he was a wolf, and just as much Henry as he was when he was a human; just with a furry coat on.

I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Jack Wesley who I think did a fantastic job. He kept Ward and Henry’s voices separate and managed to read the children’s parts without making them either too cutesy or too young. The eight-year old didn’t sound like the five-year old and vice-versa. I hope to listen to more of his work in the future.

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

elizabeth sig