OnceUponAWolfStory Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars

Narrator: Derrick McClain
Length: 3 hours, 49 minutes

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

What do you do when see a small, lost, lonely human in the woods? If you’re a wolf like Ellis, whose younger brother is lonely and sad, you chase the poor human into a cold bit of water and make certain he’s good and helpless before howling at your brother to come look what you got for him. And then, being a good matchmaking wolf, you settle down by the fire and sleep, content that you’ve had a bit of fun and done a bit of good.

Zach only wanted to take a walk in the woods. Still recovering from a car accident that left him broken to the point where doctors said he’d never walk again, Zach left his unsupportive family and a job he hated in the city to buy an old bed and breakfast. The hiking trail in the woods behind the house is inviting and going for a walk seemed like a good idea until he was chased by a giant wolf. Now Zach is in a cabin with the brooding and handsome Gibson Keller — who just happens to be a werewolf — and his brother Ellis, a shifter stuck in wolf form. Zach doesn’t know what to do, he just knows that he can’t forget the brothers are wolves, and he can’t get past the pain in Gibson’s eyes.

Gibson’s older brother, Ellis, went away to serve his country and came back so wounded in spirit he went wolf and never came back. Gibson’s family wanted to put Ellis down, but Gibson won’t let them, can’t let them. He retreats to a cabin with Ellis and spends long days, weeks, and months trying to get his brother to come back to him. It’s a lonely life, and the pain of seeing his brother drift further and further away from him sometimes makes it feel like it’s all for nothing. When Ellis chases a human, it’s the first bit of novelty Gibson’s had.

Gibson, Zack, and Ellis are each injured in some way, bearing the emotional and physical scars of their past. Gibson’s family cast his beloved older brother out, the same older brother Gibson isn’t able to save, no matter how hard he tries. It’s heartbreaking and exhausting to care for someone who can’t and won’t give back, and on that first night when his secret is revealed to Zach, Gibson finds himself unloading. For that moment, he’s able to get rid of some of the weight he’s been carrying and have someone understand, as best they can, the pain he’s dealing with, the despair and the anger — at himself, at Ellis. While he likes the way Zach looks, it’s that moment of tentative friendship that calls to Gibson more than pretty eyes or a mythical ‘soul bond.’

Zach faced his own family’s betrayal. When he wanted to leave, to get a fresh start after his accident, his family made it clear: If he left, he wasn’t welcome to come back. When hearing Gibson’s story, Zach can’t help but feel for the heartsick and despairing Gibson and he’s able to empathize. Pain shared is pain halved and Zach is more than willing to offer first as a friend, and than something more, a shoulder for Gibson. A shoulder he didn’t have himself when he most needed it.

Together the two of them are able to find comfort and an understanding that goes deeper than a shallow, but very present, attraction. They talk, they spend long hours and days talking, getting to know each other, feeling out their relationship, both what it is and what they want it to be. But neither of them can move forward as long as Ellis still needs Gibson. Ellis who can’t face his own humanity, who is content to live the simple and uncomplicated life of wolf even though he’s still subjected to horrific nightmares.

The simple humanity of this story drew me in — as much as the lovely narration by Derrick McClain. I’m a sucker for wounded and tormented heroes who need understanding and a chance at redemption. While neither Zack nor Gibson needed to prove themselves, they still, both of them, needed someone to see the pain they both carried. However, I do think Zach was the most undeveloped of the trio. His past felt rather simple with a family who cut him off just so he’d be out and about in the woods.

The world building was good, though I would have preferred a bit more of it. However, this was a novella — or the audible version of a novella — so there was only so much room in the story. I loved the character building, watching as Gibson and Zach’s relationship developed in depth and complexity. This could have easily fallen into a tropeish or cliched romance, but Ford managed to keep the balance between the real and damaging pain and betrayals of family that both men suffered and the growing romance that gave them strength and comfort.

The audio book is only a few hours long, but well worth it. McClain has a pleasant voice and did justice to the characters. He was able to give voice to the pain as well as the slow growing joy, which isn’t an easy task. I believed his characters and enjoyed this story. This is the second audio book I’ve listen to that he’s narrated, but it won’t be the last.

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

elizabeth sig