Melinda: We’re back with a completely new dynamic to explore this time around with Caressed by Ice and I know that we’ve both been really excited to get into this one! The first two books of the series featured male alpha changelings with female Psy but this time we get Judd, an emotionally closed off Psy, and Brenna, a volatile and strong changeling woman. I would not have described either of these two as gentle or easygoing…and yet.
Melanie: Judd!!!! I remember loving this book back when I read it almost exactly 2 years ago but upon rereading, I have to say, this book has become one of my top 5 Psy/Changeling books OF ALL TIME. Yes, I said what I said. I adore all of Nalini’s heroines in this series but this is one of those books where I love both the heroine and the hero equally. There are so many topics to tackle in this particular deep dive, not least of which is Judd who is an alpha hero but the fact that he’s a Psy (and a former Arrow – more about that later) means there are some key differences between him and the first two heroes in this series, Lucas and Vaughn.
Melinda: There are so many differences I don’t even know where to start! On the surface there’s the obvious ones such as being Psy means Judd is not one to invite touching. But I think the biggest differences may be that Judd is not one in pursuit of the relationship like Lucas and Vaughn were. And the reason I love him so much, that Judd does not once waiver in his belief in Brenna’s abilities and we see that from beginning to end just steadily being repeated in his words and in his actions.
Melanie: Absolutely! If anything, Brenna is the pursuer in this relationship, the one who wants this bond she senses between them to become a fully realized relationship. Judd is, as I previously mentioned, a former Arrow, a member of the highly trained, elite squad of Psy soldiers who are basically trained to kill. What this means is that his brain has been wired in such a way, unlike the two Psy heroines in the first two books, that if he were to fully break Silence, it would ultimately kill him. So between the fact that becoming emotionally entangled with Brenna basically means a death sentence for Judd and the fact that he himself thinks all he represents is death and therefore, he’s not anywhere close to being deserving of Brenna, he is very reluctant to pursue anything with Brenna.
Melinda: And it makes me laugh to think about because Judd is deadly! He is. But he is also so gentle and and inherently knows how to be good – below is on page 6 – Brenna does not teach him how to be good, he just is.
The boy was no threat—the only reason Judd had allowed him to land any of his punches was because he understood the way wolf society worked. Being beaten in a fight was bad, but not as bad as being beaten without putting up a solid resistance. Tai’s feelings made no difference to Judd. He had no intention of assimilating into the changeling world.
That he either instinctively knows that he should protect Tai’s pride or that he has studied the wolf pack structure enough to know this? Either option is just an example of Judd being a good person. He can claim he didn’t care about Tai’s feelings…but he completely did. And there are so many of these instances along the way. And I’m with you Melanie, I didn’t realize how much I loved Judd but now? I think he’s going to the top of the pack for me.
Melanie: Can we also talk about the sacrifice he makes for the sake of his family? When the entire Lauren family is marked for rehabilitation, he makes the choice to drop out of the PsyNet with them to help protect his young nephew and nieces. As an Arrow, he would have escaped rehabilitation. In a conversation with his niece Sienna he explains why.
There is a line that, once crossed can never be uncrossed…If I had let you all die while I remained safe, it would’ve pushed me over that line.
There is, as Melinda mentioned, something inherently good and decent about him. I like that this is not a morality chain trope where he learns to be good and kind out of his love for the heroine. He’s already there, he just needs Brenna to help show him that it’s already within him.
Melinda: Yes, his love for his family is distinctly un Psy-like and is a trait that actually makes him much more like Lucan and Vaughn than any of them would care to admit. And I actually love a good morality chain trope, which Nalini delivers later in the series, but this isn’t that. Really, it makes him a perfect fit for SnowDancer and for Brenna.
I know we’re both heroine-centric readers and I just adore Brenna so much. Nalini manages to make me love both parts of this relationship equally which, honestly, is incredibly rare for me. Brenna is recovering from a devastating attack in the previous book so she questions everything from her safety to how others perceive her and even her sanity. And I think one of the reasons I was able to love them so equally is that, like I mentioned before, Judd believes in her and backs her up to everyone, including to her own family.
“What the fuck would you know about anything?” Andrew snarled. ”You don’t even care about your own!”
“He knows a hell of a lot more than you!”
“Bren.” Andrew’s voice was a warning.
“Shut up, Drew. I’m not a baby anymore.” Her voice held echoes of darker things, of evil witnessed and innocence lost. “Did you ever stop to wonder what Judd did for me during the healing? Did you ever bother to find out what it cost him? No, of course not, because you know everything.”
Melanie: Yes, like I mentioned before, this is definitely one of those Psy/Changeling books where I adored both of the main characters equally. Brenna, who we initially meet in the very first Psy/Changeling book, has been through a lot. And one of the things that really propels this book and the relationship between her and Judd forward is #1, how she keeps turning to him when she’s in distress and #2, how strong Judd believes her to be. While everyone around her is treating her with kid gloves as if she could shatter at any moment, Judd never does. It’s a fascinating balance he strikes between his protective nature and his desire to help Brenna regain her own trust and confidence in herself. Oddly enough, while Judd thinks all he has to offer her is pain and death, it’s him that Brenna turns to repeatedly for comfort and ultimately, for a deeper connection.
“Do you know the only person in this room who’s never made me feel inadequate? Judd.”
It amuses me that he thinks of himself as such a lone wolf (pun fully intended), isolated and cold and aloof but in reality, Judd at his core is every bit as pack as the rest of the SnowDancer wolves. Andrew, Brenna’s brother puts it best when he finally accepts that his baby sister has fallen in love with a Psy of all people.
I think Judd’s the same as any wolf in the den – he simply hides his animal better.”
Coming from a changeling, being called an animal was the highest of compliments.
Melinda: I love that she is the one to push their relationship forward, and really I don’t think it could have worked any other way. While Judd doesn’t think Brenna is delicate, he is aware that she’s still recovering, and that combined with the idea that she may equate him with the monster that hurt her makes it yet another uncrossable line for him. They both know there is an attraction and something much more, the whole pack knows it, but it’s Brenna who goes for it.
It’s Brenna, whose power, quite literally, was stripped from her previously. It’s Brenna, who was at the mercy of a powerful Tk previously, and now has an even more powerful one on his knees for her. Brenna isn’t seeking him out because of his powers, but by being with him and overcoming this intense fear of those powers he has, she gets to realize her own. And it gives me chills because I love a powerful woman!
Melanie: While Brenna is the one pushing the relationship forward, she’s also reticent to move it forward physically due to Judd’s dissonance issues and her past trauma. First of all, correct me if I’m wrong, but Caressed by Ice has one of the hottest and maybe also lengthiest (er, no pun intended) sex scenes we’ve seen thus far in this series. Which is ironic, considering that half the pairing is an ice cold Psy with massive dissonance issues related to touch and emotional bonds and the other half is struggling with major trauma related to when she was kidnapped and tortured and emotionally raped. Needless to say, they both have a lot of hang ups but somehow, Nalini turns their issues into an advantage.
Judd, being a former Arrow, has infinite patience, which, coupled with his long-standing belief that he might end up hurting Brenna causes him to, ahem, take his sweet, sweet time with Brenna and engage in a lot of foreplay. Adding to this is the fact that Judd is also technically a virgin. As much as I already loved him before this scene, he forever endears himself to me when he admits he’s had a lot of time to plan should he ever have the opportunity to touch Brenna and that he’s also done plenty of research. (As an aside, I would not say no to a 250 page treatise detailing Judd’s “research” and his “plans” just fyi. Footnotes and a bibliography would also be most helpful, thanks Judd). And then out comes this playful, teasing aspect of this formerly aloof Psy and it is just the most gloriously sexy scene, full of heat and tenderness. However, there’s a beautiful moment, when Brenna has had about all she can take of the foreplay and wants to take things further and asks to switch positions.
Ceding control was difficult for him but he trusted Brenna on a level he’d never before trusted anyone. When she sat up to straddle him, he was stunned speechless at the proud female beauty of her.
Yet another example of Judd being protective and conscientious and so careful even while in total awe of the amazing woman he’s fallen for.
Melinda: Omg. Tk sex scenes may be the hottest out of all the sex scenes we get in the entire series? An earlier scene has furniture actually being destroyed by Judd’s power so that he does not destroy Brenna. They both care for each other and combined that chemistry is just fire!
At this point they’re both completely in and Brenna does not understand why there is no mating bond and really Judd is not completely clear either but, as always, he is ready to sacrifice himself to either save Brenna or be with her. What I love about Judd’s ‘big bad’ scene and conflict is that it’s essentially with himself. There is no war time fight scene, what happens is taking place in his mind, as he had to carefully undo the violent triggers in his mind that would kill him if he did one thing wrong.
“Silence.” Shadows in his voice. “It had me wrapped up so tight, I was blocking it, likely stopping you from feeling it, too. To accept it would probably have led to a fatal strike from the dissonance, so my brain protected itself the only way it could.” There was anger now. “Silence tried to destroy us before we could begin.”
“But the bond was always there,” she whispered. “So take that, Psy Council. Not even your damn Silence can stop what’s meant to be.”
Melanie: No lie, I read that scene multiple times. Basically, this is a man putting his life and his heart on the line to have a future with the woman he loves. It’s a very tense scene and yet, there’s a moment of lightheartedness and sexy flirting from Judd, of all people, that truly shows how far he’s come on his journey from being a closed off Psy Arrow to being the mate of a wolf.
And then, when Brenna’s big brother Riley warns him that if he ever makes her cry, he‘ll break every bone in Judd’s body and tear him to pieces and hold a barbeque for the wild wolves, Judd’s response so perfectly on brand for him and how much he loves Brenna and also, how strong he believes her to be.
“I think Brenna is more than capable of doing that herself.”
It’s not only Judd who goes on a journey of growth and change. We also have to mention that due to Brenna’s past trauma, she spends much of the book distraught because of her inability to shift into a wolf. It’s a source of heartbreak for her and so for the book to finally show her ability to shift again at the end is a perfect way to illustrate the trajectory of her healing process. That it happens in the middle of the woods right after an incredibly hot sex scene feels perfect for them.
She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Something came down the bond. Uncertainty. Fear. “What is it?” He thought rapidly. “You’re perfect, beautiful,” he reassured her. “No errors in the shift.”
I know we’ve spent much of this particular deep dive gushing over our love for Judd and Brenna but come on, how can you resist a man who is in such awe of his partner?
Melinda: And I love that she went to Dorian to ask him about not being able to shift. I think that’s such a lovely scene between those two of just frank and open discussion.
So clearly we love this couple, but beyond that there are so many details I was interested in this book. Something I fixated on this time around was that we get brief mentions of other changeling packs such as deer, hyenas, and hawks. Much later on in the series we branch out into other packs but now I’m obsessed with the idea of a deer main character, just seeing the glimpses of them here and having the details about them being teachers and accountant made me want them mate into a bear back down the road in a grumpy/sunshine bond. Just putting it out there!
Melanie: Yes to more stories from different packs! A deer and bear story would be so fascinating with the different dynamics involved!
Another little thing we get in this book is Hawke’s backstory which won’t come into play for many more books but still, he’s one of the most fascinating alpha characters in this series and a major player in the overall storyline. And, we get the Ghost who is wrecking some havoc on the PsyNet. To say I was fixated on this mysterious individual’s identity would be a massive understatement. And if you haven’t read this series, fear not, the identity is revealed…but just not for many more books! But I did love the scenes with the Ghost and Father Perez and Judd. It showcased another aspect of his identity and further proved that he truly isn’t as isolated a creature as he believes himself to be.
This is the first book in the series that takes place away from DarkRiver – it’s a SnowDancer story and I loved getting to know how the wolves lived and loved. I love the pack and family atmosphere – it felt weirdly cozy to me despite the darkness and violence that permeates this book. It introduced a whole plethora of brand new characters and gave us a deeper look into characters we had already met before. And one thing is for certain, back when I first read this book and on my reread: I want stories about each and every single one of them!
Melinda: Getting that glimpse into Hawke’s past broke my heart, and knowing we have to wait seven more books for his HEA…I mean, Nalini is just vicious with her fans sometimes! And, since everyone reading these posts does so knowing spoilers abound, every single mention of Judd’s niece Sienna being bratty or just so much to handle cracks me up to no end.
I’ll admit that I didn’t care about the Ghost the first time around in this book. You’re going to hear this from me so often because I’m always more interested in the main romance, I can’t help it! I only get more interested when we get the realization of how these things are important. I always know that time will come with Nalini, which is excellent, because with a lesser skilled author that’s not always the case.
It was delightful to get to visit this pack and to see this dynamic since it’s so different from the first two!
Melanie: The introduction of the Ghost was especially fun for me this time around because of knowing what I now know. I’m loving all the little crumbs Nalini drops as we go through this series. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it a million times more, she really is a master at the long con.
So, in summation, we both LOVED this book and adored the two main characters. Hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of our Psy/Changeling deep dive and until next time, happy reading!