Off the Beaten Path by Cari Z
Rating: 5 Stars
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Shifter Romance
Tags: Wolf Shifters, Contemporary Setting, Romance
Length: 200 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com, Dreamspinner Press
When Ward Johannsen’s little girl Ava shifted into a werewolf, she was taken into custody by the feds and shipped off to the nearest pack, all ties between father and daughter severed. Ward burned every bridge he had discovering her location, and then almost froze to death in the Colorado mountains tracking her new pack down. And that’s just the beginning of his struggle.
Henry Dormer is an alpha werewolf and an elite black ops soldier who failed his last mission. He returns home, hoping for some time to recuperate and help settle the pack’s newest member, a little pup named Ava who can’t shift back to her human form. Instead he meets Ward, who refuses to leave his daughter without a fight. The two men are as different as night and day, but their respect for each other strikes a spark of mutual interest that quickly grows into a flame. They might find something special together—love, passion, and even a family—if they can survive trigger-happy pack guardians, violent werewolf politics, and meddling government agencies that are just as likely to get their alpha soldiers killed as bring them home safely.
What would you do as parent if your four year old child, your daughter, is suddenly whisked away from you? No goodbyes, no communication. Nothing. You’re raising her on your own because her mother left. There’s been nothing to suggest she’s anything but human, and you’re a happy family. Then you receive a phone call saying your little girl started to shift on her first day at school and they’ve called in the government to take her away. A government bureaucrat is unsympathetic, tells you she’s been sent to a pack somewhere in the USA and you aren’t going to see her again. The bureaucrats worry about a werewolf’s unpredictability. Their fear of weres killing a human is all pervasive – unless it suits them. Werewolves are a commodity for the government, all because of a failed military experiment conducted in the 40’s. It’s a horrible situation to find yourself in and I felt the emotional burn as both a parent and a grandparent. As a human being.
Ward Johannsen is in the above position. Thankfully he has a knowledgeable friend who discovers where Ava is and Ward takes off from California to Colorado after his daughter. He isn’t a robust man, small in stature and an asthmatic, but he doesn’t care. Doesn’t think the Colorado winter conditions through terribly well either, and ends up found freezing and frostbitten at the fence of the pack compound. Luckily the alpha’s sister, Samantha, is the one who finds him and takes him in. This is an issue in itself because werewolves cannot endanger humans, and Ward being in contact with weres is considered a huge problem. How did he find them? It needs to be sanctioned by the authorities and he won’t be allowed to leave, if accepted, because Ava’s a werewolf. Because of secrecy from the general public.
Henry Dormer is away with the military when Ward turns up. When he comes home a couple of days later he’s already bone weary after another difficult mission – a bad one. He has plenty going on in his fractured pack without a human who showed up out of the blue. He’ll also have to explain to his superior officer, who is disagreeable enough already, how they ended up with the human father of a werewolf pup in the pack compound. The only thing that gives Ward a pass is that Ava hasn’t been thriving since her arrival three months ago. Ava won’t eat much and is totally lethargic and miserable so Samantha makes sure she smooths things over with Henry, offering as much help and support as she can give. Once Ava starts to perk up when she knows her daddy is there, even though they can only see each other through glass, they know Ward is needed if Ava is to have any chance of shifting and surviving.
In this paranormal world it isn’t easy to shift, it’s something the pack has to practice regularly to keep their human side intact. If they can’t shift to human, wolves are killed, so it’s essential Ava shift as the clock is ticking loudly. The kids at the pack school, where Samantha is their teacher, call it furry time when they practice, which is all rather cute for something so important.
“Josie, settle down, or you don’t get any furry time.” Sam turned to me. “Furry time is when the kids get to practice their shift. It’s a nice break from the usual lessons.”
“It’s my favorite thing,” Josie said earnestly.”
Being the alpha of La Garita wasn’t something Henry wanted and he and Samantha share the responsibility, even though the alpha title is his. Unlike her brother, Samantha is human. She chose to come back to the pack after university. She’s also recently married a shifter from another pack, Liam, and they all live together. Henry and Sam have been so close for so long, especially since their parents died, that Henry is finding it hard to adjust to Liam. On top of this, one of the elders of the pack, Gerald, is posturing over every little thing because he wants his son to be the alpha. Tennyson, who is now the pack doctor, was brought in from another pack when it was disbanded not that long ago. He has baggage and hasn’t exactly found his way in La Garita’s pack yet. So a tired alpha with a bits-and-pieces pack is not a good recipe for success. Now there’s a new human who shouldn’t be there under his care too. And this human is someone Henry is finding himself increasingly attracted to. All this on top of the fact the military forces alphas into service and gives them the most dangerous, soul-zapping missions.
“What does he have to do?” I whispered. It might not have been right of me to ask, but I had to know. No one in La Garita pack would tell me.
“He kills whoever his boss tells him to kill. Goes places and retrieves things, people, that no one else would be able to. He shifts and stalks and murders enemies of the state, and sometimes other folks too, the collateral damage. And he’s got to.”
Because the government doesn’t trust the wolves, the pack are kept on a leash that doesn’t allow them much contact with the outside world. Limiting and monitoring their communication, what they can watch, who they interact with, and keeping people away. The pack has a human guardian, John. John is a public servant whose job it is to watch over the pack for the Agency of Shifter Affairs. He’s also responsible for provisions and to oversee who comes and goes from the pack. Unfortunately, John’s wife left because of the isolation and he isn’t too happy or overly accommodating of late. He isn’t keen on Ward being allowed in, and doesn’t buy the excuse that Henry and Sam concocted about Henry asking Ward to visit while out on his last mission because Ava was so despondent. He wants to sight the paperwork for Ward.
This book has an interesting spin on werewolves with some unique contemporary world building linked into some tried and true ideas. I loved the smells that Henry experienced in relation to others. They weren’t the usual smells, you know them – woodsy or pine, cologne or soap, peaches or oranges. It was the smell of deceit or fear or desire or medicine. I thought it a nice touch. But, all in all, Off the Beaten Path’s greatest strength lies in the characters, the emotion it elicits, the storytelling abilities of the author, which are all very, very good. It made me feel so many things, so many emotions. I was angry, tense, worried, teary, sad, happy, relieved. This book was just what I had been looking for. Once I started reading, and as I progressed, I felt excited being in this world with these characters. I was thoroughly connected and engaged as I read. I inhaled it.
If you are looking for a well written werewolf/shifter book with a modern spin on older ideas then I recommend Off the Beaten Path. If you want some feels, then this is your book. Alternating POV help you know what both MCs are thinking and feeling, as well as deftly progressing the plot. Although there is a slow burn between Henry and Ward, this isn’t an especially steamy book. But it is romantic, and the fact that there are other events going on means the pace is on point throughout and it works well. I loudly cheered for the relationship between father and daughter, also willing Ava to shift, loving Henry when he was involved in the ‘furry’ lessons. Wanting the wonderful Henry and Ward to be together and happy. Hoping military service wouldn’t kill Henry. Howled over Wilson. Cursed the treatment of the pack. Loved Samantha’s fierce determination and Liam’s quiet support, that Henry went about the things he had to in order to help others and, ultimately, La Garita’s future. Most of all, Henry truly deserved love, kindness and happiness. He deserved Ward and his own special family.
Another terrific Cari Z book. Clearly this will be a series because it ends with some interesting MCs ready to go in book #2. I cannot wait to be back in this world with this pack. I hope Henry and Ward figure prominently in future books because, while I felt I could breathe again at the end, this is a happy for now ending. There is much to happen with Ward in the house with Henry, Ava, Samantha and Liam. I want to see how they’re going and I’d like some loud and proud declarations of love now that there is some wiggle room for them. I want to see how the pack progresses. On a wider scope, the pack with the government – I say out with the old and in with the new.
I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read by this author so far. Cari Z is now firmly on my radar as an auto-read after this book. The Bad Behavior series she writes in conjunction with L A Witt is fantastic, and this book has topped that off to perfection. If you like books that are hard to put down, if you love shifter books with a good plot, ones with wonderful characters and absolute heart and soul, I highly recommended Off the Beaten Path. 5 Stars!
ARC supplied in return for an honest review