Read my reviews of previous books in the Wild Heart Ranch series:
In a series that has multiple ties between the books but which the author also kind of wants to offer as a stand-alone, it can be difficult to set the scene for readers. Fox solves the problem here by dropping us right in the middle of an action scene that excellently explains the driving force that brings this cast together without a lot of unnecessary info-dumping. It starts us off with a literal bang and sets the vibe perfectly, highlighting a world of those willing to do “bad” in the service of a much greater good.
The immediate aftermath of this action scene is where the romance arc of this book comes into play, in an emotionally charged reunion between the newer hero and his nephew, an important recurring character in this series. Javier would have never met Levy in less tragic circumstances, but this is definitely a series in which the romance provides a welcome counterpoint to the reminder that the bad in this fictional world is also very much alive in the real world. The initial attraction between these characters is mostly surface-level, but it leads to incredibly hot flirting and even hotter spicy moments. I always enjoy characters with emotional intelligence, so I appreciated Levy’s honesty about his needs. In that same vein, I adored Javier’s more hesitant honesty about his unexpected response to those needs, which was possibly the hottest thing of all.
Though this book can nominally act as a stand-alone, the through-line of Ant’s character evolution is the link that draws this series together and is best appreciated in order. This installment features lots of warm, fuzzy moments during important recovery elements, even when they aren’t always easy. However, Fox presents a fascinating “nature versus nurture” conflict in how Ant’s path may diverge from that of others this crew has rescued over the years. The acceptance of the morally gray is real in this book, as this found family faces the dilemma of how best to care for Ant, regardless of whether his current state is a result of personal history or neurodivergence. (Look, he’s either a mini Anders or a mini Hopper, and both versions are equally entertaining and terrifying.) Luckily, Mama Bash doesn’t live too far away, and she continues to be a lovely guiding force in Fox’s intricate shared world (while also being quite possibly the scariest person in it).
The romance and external conflicts of this story nicely intertwine regarding the roles which both Levy and Javier play when it comes to the darker themes of this series. Fox acknowledges and highlights the systemic issues that lead directly to the characters’ overall mission without getting preachy, and even non-romance authors can use Fox as an example of how to craft combat scenes that highlight the primary and second heroes’ contributions without bogging down the reader in gratuitous, extended violence. Though Levy and Javier come at this fight from opposite directions, I found the way they identify each other as kindred spirits as hot and swoony as my delight in the equally dramatic and compelling external story arc.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.