Ash is a fire mage without much magic, at least not anymore. He used to be brimming with magic, until an attack that left him drained. Now, even years later, Ash’s magic hasn’t returned with enough strength to do much more than turn the lights off and on. The whole experience has left him with both emotional and physical scars, but life is still generally good for him in the town of Willow Lake. Ash hasn’t lived in Willow Lake too long, but the town has lived up to its reputation as a utopia for supernaturals. Shifters, mages, mermen, and even a talking house cat all live in surprising harmony. Well, mostly in harmony at least. There is the matter of the wolf pack that splintered off and lives in the hills, causing a rift that still hasn’t healed.
Dillon is a hellhound who has been living with the wolf pack for about a week. Dillon has always been alone and he would love to find a place to settle (and a person to settle with). He heard about Willow Lake and looked up the local pack hoping he could find his place, but he is starting to suspect something is off with these wolves. When Dillon learns about some trouble the pack has brewing, he knows it is time to get out of there. Unfortunately, given what he knows, the wolves aren’t so eager to let him go…
Ash is in the local pub when an oracle has a vision of a hellhound being chased by wolves. It is enough to convince the chief of police and some of the other town leaders to help track down the hellhound and Ash volunteers to help patrol. He doesn’t expect a shifted hellhound, all flames and fur, to come running out of the woods with wolves on his tail, but Ash doesn’t hesitate to help out.
With Dillon having nowhere to go, Ash takes him in and the men immediately click. The attraction is fierce, but each also feels such a sense of comfort from one another. Ash has had trouble opening up after his rough past relationship, but something about Dillon puts him at ease. But the wolves aren’t done with Dillon, nor are they done with the trouble they have planned. Now, it is up to Ash, Dillon, and the rest of the town’s supernaturals to prepare for a fight to protect Willow Lake and make it out alive.
Hellhounds Never Lie by Lori Ames is the first book in the new Willow Lake Supernaturals series and it is off to a wonderful start. This appears to be the author’s first novel under this pen name (though she writes MF and MFM under Lori Whyte) and I am so glad I took a chance on a new-to-me author as I really loved this story and found it a lot of fun. Ames does a nice job here setting up the series and really giving us a sense of Willow Lake. There was the right balance of introducing various side characters and the town, without feeling like a parade of characters just being set up for future books. There is a nice small town feel to the story, and I found myself enjoying meeting these various folks. For example, Paws, a calico cat who talks (but only supes hear anything other than meows). He is a sassy thing and a lot of fun.
There is a bit of a “cozy” quality to this book as Ash and Dillon as so sweet and lovely together. Ash has been hurting for a while and Dillon is just so loving and caring. As the title indicates, hellhounds don’t lie (they are genetically incapable) and being able to believe in the strength of Dillon’s feelings and trust that he truly means what he says means a lot to Ash. Ash has been through an emotional experience with his ex (trigger warning for off-page emotional abuse, gaslighting, and a physical attack), so it takes him a while to feel confident in things with Dillon. But Dillon is so open and sure about his feelings, it helps Ash to really believe it. And Dillon has been looking for a place to belong for so long, and someone to belong to, and Ash’s love and affection just warms him. These guys are just super sweet together, as well as quite sexy. There is also an overprotective, nurturing vibe coming from Dillon, but at the same time, he trusts in Ash and gives him space to regain confidence in himself as well.
Aside from the relationship end, along with settling things with Ash and his magic, this story also deals with conflict involving the rogue wolves. We get some backstory on the rift with the pack about 12 years ago (and the story of that event is woven into a prequel available with the author’s newsletter), as well as get to know some of the town lore. It leads to some excitement and intensity as the town’s supes all work together to stop the bad guys. We get a nice wrap up the main conflict here, but some of the plot arc still looks to be continuing on to further books in the series.
I really enjoyed this one so much and am so glad I gave a shot to a new-to-me author. I found the set up a lot of fun and really enjoyed getting to know more about the town and it’s supernatural citizens. The tone here is playful and fun in many ways, but also with nice depth to the characters and story. I am really looking forward to upcoming books and will definitely take time to read the prequel as well.