Standoff
by Lauren Dane, werewolf (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-884-4


Standoff, as a Cascadia Wolves story, still sees Warren Palleni bossing everyone around as if he's Magneto and the Cascadia Pack Enforcers are the X-Men. This time around, he's planning on using biological warfare on both humans and wolves.

Unlike what the cover art may suggest, our hero Cade Warden does not have a wolf Siamese twin growing from his stomach. Instead, he's a serious and very responsible Alpha who forgoes looking for a mate even at 42 because he's too busy ensuring the safety of his Pack from villains like Warren. As outright war is breaking out between the Pack led by Warren and the rest of the Packs in Cascadia, Cade has his work cut out for him. What he doesn't expect is to discover that Warren's sister, Grace, is his destined mate. Fortunately for all, Grace has all intentions of double-crossing her brother all along. As a researcher, she is working on Warren's deadly toxin long enough to gather all the information needed to thwart his plan.

Standoff is a pretty entertaining read even as it at the same time frustrates me. I like the fact that Grace is tough without having to be sarcastic or bitchy. The story is very readable and there is adequate buildup and payoff to ensure that this is an entertaining read.

However, I really wish that this is not a werewolf story because the biggest flaw of this story, in my opinion, is how the mate bond plot device is used to have Cade and Grace falling into bed and into love faster than I can say "Eh?" There is a lack of credible conflict here about trust to make the relationship even halfway believable unless I'm to suppose that this amazing mate bond can also guarantee that one's mate will be very well-behaved always. As a result, the "love" thing between Cade and Grace is shockingly superficial. She's with the enemy, after all. There's a wealth of drama and trust-building moments to be mined from such a premise, so it's really a big disappointment for me to discover that Ms Dane uses the mate thing to brush believable trust issues between Grace and Cade under the figurative magic carpet.

Adding to this problem is how Cade and Grace don't have ample quiet time together to make their relationship even a little believable. There are many, many, many secondary characters here and not all of them have key roles to play in the overall storyline, so there is also considerable clutter present in this story. There are also many scenes that will make pleasant fanservice moments to readers of previous books - such as some scenes early on that serve as a pleasant epilogue for Ben and Tegan with regards to their place in the Pack - but these scenes also at the same time take up precious space that could have been allocated to make Cade and Grace a more believable couple.

Therefore, as readable as Standoff is, I can't really say that I find the main romance believable or memorable. I can't help feeling that this one is a huge missed opportunity. The "sleeping with the enemy" premise is rife with beautiful drama, the war of the wolves build-up is pretty exciting, and the prose is clean yet engaging, but the end result is something that feels underdeveloped and has me going, "This is it? That's it? Are you kidding me?"

Rating: 75


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