Knowns as the “twins” for their similar appearance, Jagger and Huntley have a close and unbreakable bond with one another. The two are fierce fighters and will defend their pack no matter what it takes. When evidence indicates another Portal compound nearby, Jagger and Huntley join the other alphas in their pack to go investigate. They are determined to figure out Portal’s end goal and why they are seeking to kill the nephalim. The men find horrific signs of experimentation and abuse by Portal scientists, but they are even more shocked to find a nephalim locked away in a remote cell and somehow still alive.
Sitka was captured by Portal and, despite all odds, managed to survive the abuse and experimentation. He fought back fiercely enough that they have mostly left him alone, but that means he now lives in an isolated cell, barely surviving with whatever limited water and food he can scavenge. Sitka is tormented by ghosts he can see and who scream horrible things at him, and he has no idea how long he has even been locked away.
When Jagger and Huntley find Sitka, they immediately recognize him as their mate. The two men have always been fiercely bonded to one another and never even considered a third, but they know right away that Sitka is meant to the theirs. When they return home with Sitka and the other people they rescue, it is clear that Sitka is still suffering. The ghosts torment him mercilessly, and the only way he can control the voices is when he is in physical contact with either Huntley or Jagger. After so long isolated, Sitka has trouble communicating and sometimes has a hard time making sense of his jumbled thoughts. But he knows he is meant for Huntley and Jagger and they know he is meant for them. As the trio spends more time together, they start to explore the mate bond among them and all fall hard for one another. But Portal isn’t through with their pack and danger still looms. When a new attack comes, it will take all they have to make it out alive.
Lovers is the third book in the Wolves of Royal Paynes series and one I have really been excited about. The twins have been fascinating characters in the first two books, with their near identical appearance, Jagger’s mysterious scar on his neck, their intriguing past, and their fierce warrior nature. So I was really looking forward to hearing more about their journey. As a note, each book in the series features a new couple/triad, but the men are all heavily involved in each other’s stories and the overarching series plot with Portal runs through all the books. So this is a series where you definitely need to start at the beginning.
In this third book, we learn more about Portal’s end goal, see their other compound, and watch the pack continue to investigate. We don’t yet know exactly what Portal is trying to accomplish, or how they are using the nephalim, but the team gets new information from the compound that provides further clues and advances the plot. I think Burrelli is doing a nice job managing this overarching plot and keeping the pacing solid. We get what feels like the right amount of new information each story and I find this part of the plot really engaging. There is not as much high-stakes intensity here as in the other two books, nor quite as much time with the team doing research, etc, but I still found this portion interesting. I will note, however, that the pack faces some strange occurrences and what appears to be sabotage of their investigation, and it was immediately obvious to me what was going on — so much so that I thought it might be a red herring because it seemed just way too obvious. They also conveniently sort of push aside really investigating any of this, and it makes little sense to me that this hyper-vigilant and security conscious group would be so cavalier here.
I do continue to like the role of the nephalim and think Burrelli has really managed to make the three men feel distinct from one another. Particularly in the case of Storri and Sitka, who both have been in captivity, it would have been easy for them to feel too similar. But the three men each have distinct and clear personalities and abilities, which adds a lot to their stories, especially as they all interact with one another. I also appreciated that while Sitka does get pregnant like the other two men, Burrelli doesn’t repeat all the pregnancy/birth detail for a third time here. I feel like it would have gotten repetitive and we already know how things roll here with the nephalim, so I think it was a smart decision to tighten this up.
Where this story really lacked for me was in character development. We have met Jagger and Huntley in the two earlier books and they were really fascinating. Between their similar appearance, their intense bond, the bits of backstory, and their fierce sword fighting skills, they were both intriguing and bad ass. I was really excited for their book to learn more about the men and their story. However, in reality, we learn next to nothing about them. There is a very brief mention of how Jagger got his scar, Huntley’s feelings of guilt about it, and then a quick note that they left their pack and joined the new pack. But beyond that, we get nothing. I had so many questions — How did they meet? How long have they been together? How old were they when Jagger was injured? How did they find a new pack? What was it like being integrated into the new pack? How did they learn all their fighting skills? There is just virtually no backstory at all aside from the barest sketch of an outline. Not only did it leave a big hole as far as their past and what has shaped them, it also left the men feeling pretty interchangeable. I never had a sense of their individual voices or personalities, even with their own POV chapters. I know Huntley feels guilty for Jagger’s injury, and that Jagger has a scar, but beyond that, I can’t tell you one single thing that differentiates their characters. I also felt like these guys are so watered down compared to how they are portrayed in the first books. Like I said, there they are so fierce and badass, but here, aside from a brief but intense scene early on where they infiltrate the compound, we never see them fighting or using their skills (and no swords!). Basically, these guys just sit around being marshmallows about Sitka, doting on him and falling all over themselves to do his bidding and adore him. It is sweet, but it just feels like these men were presented here as such a bland version of the way their characters have previously been portrayed.
I had the same issues with Sitka. We get a little bit more information about him in that we know he has the ability to hear ghosts, he was on the run with his mother, who has now died, and that he has been imprisoned by Portal. But again, so many things are just left totally unaddressed that seem critical to his character and his story. I kept waiting for the scene where it would all be revealed and it never came. For example, how old was Sitka when he was captured? What was his life like before? Were they always on the run? Did his mother know he was a nephilim? What exactly happened to her? We don’t even learn how long Sitka has been in captivity, aside from a brief throwaway mention toward the end of the book. Also, how does Sitka even know how to function in the outside world? We know he has been held for a decade. Where did he learn everything he would need to function after so long in tortured isolation? This is only addressed in an off-handed comment about the ghosts teaching him. So the ghosts taught him about sex, and explosives, and fashion design (a hobby he is able to undertake with no training at all)? It made little sense to me.
When we first meet Sitka, he is near feral and suffering significant mental health issues. This all makes perfect sense given his solitary confinement and torturous abuse from both Portal and the ghosts he hears. So I am pleased to see that Burrelli gives us some realism as to the effects of all of this (particularly since I raised a concern about Storri’s unbelievably easy transition from captivity in his book). However, despite Sitka being nearly incoherent, unable to speak, and, as I said, almost feral when they first meet him, within days he seems almost totally recovered. Just as an example, here we are in Sitka’s POV when Jagger and Huntley first enter his cell:
I didn’t have time to doubt even if I’d wanted to. My cell door slammed open—something I hadn’t seen happen in many, many zalingers.
Was this my time? Was I meeting the reaper? He didn’t smell like death but like bread. And tomatoes. Cheese, lettuce, real mayonnaise—not that fake stuff—and pastrami. They smelled like sandwiches—glorious sandwiches. I said they because there were two, identical, beautiful sandwiches holding very sharp toothpicks.
I didn’t want to become part of the endless waterfall. Not for anything.
I swam to the shadow closest to them, OHP clenched tightly within my five fingers. I could move like lightning when I wanted, but right then, I didn’t want.
Kill him! Kill him before he kills you!
“Shut up!” How was I meant to think with that constant racket in my brain? The screams piled on top of each other like leaves in a gutter until I was sure there was no more room. But there was. Always more.
I swam to the closest shadow while the sandwiches shouted, but I couldn’t pay attention enough to make out the words. OHP weighed my hand down, feeling more like a mallet than a shank I’d carved out of bones I’d borrowed from a demon agent. I swam again, barely looking at the dark patch before suddenly appearing there.
…die in here…
Look at me you filthy—
Sitka, sitka, SITKA!
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” I swam from shadow to shadow, knowing each jump was only making me weaker, but maybe then I wouldn’t notice dying, and it would be sort of okay because—
Tight fingers clenched my arms, sliding quickly down to get a better grip against my skin, and I gasped for air, not understanding the sudden change in pressure.
The absence of screams. No ghosts growling in my ears. No Hanging Man taunting me with his ghastly figure. Nothing. No one. Just…us.
Then, a matter of days later, here are his thoughts:
Huntley kissed me like he needed it—like it was the answer to every question that had ever been asked, perfect knowledge. And maybe I needed it that way too because I clung to him the way a child clings to hope.
I twitched at the sharp click of the door locking. Jagger stood in the corner with his back to us, turning around after music started softly pumping through the speakers. The song was slow, heavy, and dirty, with a beat that left me breathless. Though part of my breathlessness was the result of Huntley’s thorough kisses. I didn’t have time for petty things like inhaling or exhaling when kissing was the other option.
“I know you need reminding plenty enough.” Jagger ripped Huntley’s lips away with a fist of his hair. Huntley’s face inclined sharply as Jagger descended from above.
Their kiss was so beautiful it hurt, but I would never look away. My powerful alphas were like two storms colliding over a roaring sea… and I was the tiny dot floating in the dark ocean clinging to a bright yellow life jacket.
It just was way too fast a transition for me to believe. From a relationship standpoint, things are also fast. The guys literally fall for Sitka the second they see him and so there is little in the way of relationship development. It is more Jagger and Huntley immediately falling hard for Sitka and he for them, which leads to them all just being sweetly (and sexily) in love for the whole book.
I will say I find this a fun series. I enjoy the found family aspect and watching the pack all interact, especially the nephalim. I am really intrigued by the Portal storyline and think Burrelli is doing a great job building it into the series arc. And I definitely am engaged with the series and eager to see where things go (especially with Diesel, whose story is coming next). So while I have some definite issues with the books, I am still enjoying it all enough to keep going. I think if you like shifter, mpreg, magic, and hard and sexy alphas with sweet omegas, plus a nice suspense plot, there is a lot in this series for you to enjoy.