The Wolf at Bay (Big Bad Wolf #2) by Charlie Adhara

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Going home digs up bad memories, so it’s something Bureau of Special Investigations agent Cooper Dayton tries to avoid. When he’s guilted into a visit, Cooper brings along Oliver Park, his hot new werewolf partner, in the hopes the trip will help clarify their status as a couple…or not.

When Park’s keen shifter nose uncovers a body in the yard and Cooper’s father is the prime suspect, Cooper knows they’re on their own. Familial involvement means no sanctioned investigation. They’ll need to go rogue and solve the mystery quietly or risk seeing Cooper’s dad put behind bars.

The case may be cold, but Park and Cooper’s relationship heats up as they work. And yet if Cooper can’t figure out what’s going on between them outside of the bedroom, he’ll lose someone he… Well, he can’t quite put into words how he feels about Park. He knows one thing for sure: he’s not ready to say goodbye, though with the real killer inching ever closer…he may not have a choice.

Rating: B+

Charlie Adhara’s début novel, The Wolf at the Door, was a hugely entertaining combination of paranormal romance and romantic suspense. Set in a world in which werewolves exist and have recently made themselves known to world governments, readers were introduced to the BSI (Bureau of Special Investigation) which is the division of the FBI specifically tasked with investigating werewolf-related crimes. Special Agent Cooper Dayton was seriously wounded in a werewolf attack around a year before the book opened, and once recovered, was offered the opportunity to join the BSI, where he has been partnered with Oliver Park, a handsome, somewhat enigmatic werewolf and former college professor.  Given the way Cooper was injured, and the way his former partner had drummed the necessity for suspicion into him, it wasn’t surprising he wasn’t pleased at being part of what, according to his ex-partner, was a PR exercise designed to pander to the werewolf population; but as the book progressed, it became clear to Cooper – and to the reader – that not everything he’d been told was the truth, and that Park was charming, intuitive, droll and trustworthy – absolutely nothing like Cooper had expected.

By the end of the book, Cooper and Park have moved beyond the professional and become lovers, their physical intimacy evolving naturally out of the strong working relationship they develop during the story.  By the time The Wolf at Bay opens, they’ve been together for four months, although of course, it’s not something they can be open about if they want to remain as work-partners.  They spend a lot of time together, enjoy each other’s company (and the sex) but Cooper isn’t willing to think beyond that, or about what they’re really doing – things firmly on the long list of things he and Park Don’t Talk About.

Following a shake-down that doesn’t go according to plan, Cooper and Park are on their way back to DC when a call from Cooper’s dad, former Sheriff Ed Dayton, sees them making a detour to Jagger Valley in Maryland in order to attend the engagement party being held for Cooper’s brother Dean – which Cooper had completely forgotten about.  Cooper’s relationship with his father is an uneasy one, and he rarely visits his childhood home; he’s always felt the Sheriff never thought he was good enough, and Cooper has never told his father or his brother how dangerous his job really is and lets them believe he’s a glorified pen-pusher, which gives rise to some disparaging comments and not so subtle ribbing from his dad.  He’s not out to them either, and on top of all that, there’s an uncomfortable tension between him and Park he’s aware is mostly his fault because he’s deliberately holding back from him.  On impulse, Cooper asks Park to go to Jagger Valley with him, hoping that perhaps some time away from the professional arena will allow them to just be a couple and maybe to figure out exactly what they are to each other; and Park, being Park, says he’d be honoured to meet Cooper’s family.

The first part of the book does get a little bogged down in Cooper’s insecurities, his reluctance to admit to himself how he really feels about Park and his inability to actually talk to him about their… whatever is going on between them.  Fears of rejection, of being hurt and thirty years of emotional repression  all conspire to keep holding him back, and while he does want to talk to Park about where they stand, he simultaneously keeps finding ways to put it off.  And when a decades old dead body is found buried in the back garden of the Dayton family home, Cooper grabs the opportunity to put it off yet again with both hands.

Once this discovery is made, the pace picks up, and the revelations concerning the dead man – who lived in the house next door but was believed to have upped and left twenty-five years earlier – come thick and fast and Cooper learns some things about his family history that shock and unnerve him.  Even though he’s not there in any official capacity – and is warned off becoming involved – when his father falls under suspicion, Cooper is even more determined to discover the truth about the man’s death.

The mystery plot is extremely well done, but the thing that has really stuck with me about this book is the astonishing amount of character and relationship development Ms. Adhara packs into it, and how skilfully she juggles her different plotlines.  Through Cooper’s investigations into the murder, readers learn more about his past, his familial relationships and how they have informed his character; and even though he and Park are on shaky ground for part of the book, the discoveries they make about each other only serve to strengthen the bond developing between them.  It’s apparent right away that their relationship is about more than ‘just sex’ for both of them; they hang out together, they watch movies, talk about books and enjoy being together, but Cooper is terribly insecure and fearful that eventually Park will just stop showing up at his place, and those anxieties communicate themselves to his lover and send mixed signals.

As with the previous book, the story is told entirely from Cooper’s point of view, but once again the author does wonderful job of showing the truth of Park’s feelings through his words, actions and expressions.  Cooper might not be able to read the signs properly, but the reader can, and it’s crystal clear that Park is very much in love, but is trying to give Cooper whatever he needs while he figures things out.  Unfortunately, Cooper reads his willingness to give him space as aloofness; but thankfully, he does eventually come to realise that his unwillingness to let himself be vulnerable is what is most likely to drive Park away, and after a particularly steamy sexual encounter decides it’s time to man up and be honest with the man he loves.

The mystery is wrapped up neatly by the end and Cooper and Park have at last admitted how they feel about one another, but a plot-thread left hanging for book three suggests that not everything in the garden of love will continue to be rosy.  Although The Wolf at Bay gets a little bogged down in the first part, it’s still an excellent read and one I’m recommending very strongly.  I’m thoroughly enjoying this series, and can’t wait to read book three next Spring.

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