Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.
But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man—before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire…
Book Six in the Psy/Changeling Series
I've been awaiting the release of 'Branded by Fire' with intense impatience for many reasons. The first and the obvious being that I just wanted more of this author. But an even more important and more intense desire to read this novel began upon the moment that I learned that it would feature two Changelings as the hero and heroine. While I've loved the Changeling/human and Changeling/Psy love matches, I've been aching to see the mating dance between two Changelings. They're wildly intense and highly sexual creatures and beyond that, I love the dynamics of pack life and this pairing would ensure that the novel would be saturated in it.
Riley and Mercy have made annoying one another an additional job requirement to their many responsibilities as pack liaisons. Since the wolves of SnowDancer and the leopards of DarkRiver made a blood pact and became allies, Riley and Mercy were put in charge of interpack communications and to soothe any pack related fur. The problem is that Riley and Mercy don't necessarily play nice with one another. Both are extremely dominant and hold identical positions within the highest ranks of their packs. While Mercy is flamboyant, opinionated, outspoken and daring, Riley is calm, steadfast, quiet and cunning.
As a dominant female and sentinel of the DarkRiver pack, Mercy grudgingly accepts the fact that she may never mate. While the human in her may love with all her heart, her leopard won't be able to stand being tied so strongly to another. This happens occasionally with very dominant and independent females of the pack. But at this moment, Mercy doesn't care if the man's her mate, she just needs release on such a primal level that all other Changelings are picking up on her heat and when "stick-in-the-mud" Riley Kincaid steps out of the trees, Mercy is more than willing to take him on. She could use a bit of violence to cool her need. But when Riley begins tempting Mercy on a highly sexual level during their sparring, it takes her but a moment to dispel any leopard instincts to turn away the enemy wolf.
“Yield.” His nose was almost touching hers.
“You wish.” She smirked into chocolate-dark eyes. “Come closer.”
“So you can bite me?” A flash of teeth. “First you yield. Then I’ll come closer.”
“Not on your life.” If she yielded, she’d be acknowledging his dominance, at least for tonight.
“Then I guess I’ve have to make you.”
“Try it.” Smiling, she went for his throat and almost had him, when — using a move that was all sorts of illegal — he flipped her again so her front pressed into the leaf-laden ground, her wrists still locked in his iron grip and pinned above her head. “Cheater.”
“So says the woman who tried to kick my balls into my throat,” he pointed out, even as he licked the salt off the skin of her neck in a lazy and highly provocative move.
“I’m going to kill you.” It was more hiss than sound.
He bit her.
In the soft, sensitive place between neck and shoulder.
She felt her entire body shiver from the inside out at the blatant show of dominance. “Stop it.” It came out husky, nothing like the rejection she wanted it to be.
He took his mouth from her. “I’ve pinned you.”
“That’s wolf shit. I’m a cat.”
“You’re still trapped under me.” He nuzzled at her throat. “And you smell all hot and wet and ready.” His voice was dropping, going wolf on her.
And the heat between her thighs was turning into a pulsing drumbeat. Her stomach twisted in a vicious wave of need. God she was hungry, so sensually hungry. And Riley had taken her, his hold unbreakable. At that moment, the leopard didn’t care that he wasn’t a cat. It just cared that he was strong, sexy and aroused.
Branded by Fire © Nalini Singh
Not only are Mercy's sensual curves and feline nature a physical draw for Riley, it's also the fact that she's the one person who can break him out of his shell. Not very long ago Riley's sister, Brenna, was kidnapped and horribly abused by a Psy killer. Although Brenna was rescued and now happily mated, he still feels the guilt of her abduction and mind rape. Dreams plague him where Brenna is found dead rather than alive and ever since that horrific time of his life, Riley has closed himself off from others. While his cool demeanor may keep others at bay, it only serves to instigate Mercy's need to crack through his brooding moments of guilt and shame.
It's not long before Riley proves that he's just a tad more dominant than Mercy. And while this knowledge raises Mercy's hackles it also ignites her sexual desperation for the wolf and besides, he makes her cat purr. But when the mating dance blooms, the two must face some serious ramifications to their potential mating. For one, they shift into different animals. How will that affect their offspring if they can even have offspring? And more importantly, how will this affect their packs? Both Riley and Mercy are blood bound to their alphas and neither has the desire to leave their respective packs but if the mating bond is complete, one will undergo the heartbreak of their blood bond snapping apart from their alpha. Because Riley is the more dominant of the two, most likely it will be Mercy that will be forced away from her pack by the mating bond.
In the end, it's the female's decision whether or not to complete the mating bond and this causes the males to be a bit more feral than usual. Given the fact that Mercy holds the same rank within DarkRiver as Riley does in SnowDancer, there will be many times where both must face death. This poses a huge trust issue on Mercy's end for Riley. If his overbearing protective urges come into play, he could very well suffocate Mercy's leopard. Mercy will not drop her position in Pack and it's a real testament of Riley's promises to her when he walks into battle beside his mate.
Throughout all this emotional turmoil, added to the mix is the rise of the Human Alliance. No longer content with being known world round as the weakest link, the humans will not tolerate be looked down upon any longer. When launching a massive strike against the Psy Council members, the Alliance steps on the toes of the DarkRiver and SnowDancer packs thus rising their hackles and their claws. When juveniles from both packs are kidnapped, Riley and Mercy must put aside their mating dance and locate their packmates before its death that they find.
'Branded by Fire' lived up to every impossibly high expectation I set for it. In fact, it obliterated those expectations and rose above them into an entirely new realm of greatness. It's hard to imagine the Psy/Changeling series reaching an ever greater height of amazement but truly, this author continues to pleasantly shock me time and again.
I loved Mercy. It's not often that I fall in love with a heroine, but Mercy embodied traits that sang to my reader heart. She's strong, protective and intelligent and she never hurts anyone who is weaker than her, which is a lot of people. I love that she had courage and although mating to Riley was frightening for her, she trusted her heart. Mercy is a proud leopard but she didn't let that stop her from going to Riley when she's made a mistake and apologizing. Needless to say, Mercy earned my respect as well as my heart.
Riley. What a hero! He had so many shadows in his soul and its Mercy who shines some much needed light into his heart. Sometimes I've felt that in other novels, the heroine was more than the hero deserved, but not in this case. Riley deserved every inch of Mercy's soul. I also loved that although he was more dominant and frightfully protective, he gave Mercy freedom. He may have faltered a few times but in the end, he'd rather revel in the freedom of Mercy's soul than contain it. It showed depth in his love for Mercy that he could fight every dominant instinct and not smother Mercy's leopard. Riley has no wish to break her, he just wants to love her. Definitely a true hero.
The only draw back to this book is that it may not be a suitable start for new readers of the Psy/Changeling series. I even found myself confused at times since it has been a while since I read the book prior to 'Branded by Fire'. This wasn't enough incentive for me to drop the grade but I highly recommend new readers to start at the beginning of the series with 'Slave to Sensation'.