Melanie: I’m just going to be upfront – this deep-dive will probably be the longest one yet because once again, SO MUCH happens in this book but also, it’s Kiss of Snow (!!!) and neither Melinda nor I have made any secret of the fact that we absolutely adore this book. That’s not to say we’re ignorant about all of the many (MANY) consent issues found within but it’s a good thing we decided to read this book at the beginning of the month because we have a LOT to say. (Also, who’re we kidding, there’s no scenario in which we weren’t going to jump into Kiss of Snow the very second it was time for book #10).
Melinda: We have been talking about this deep dive since January lol! And as we’ve gone through each book and I’ve been surprised at some of the characters and plot points that got lost to time in my memory, I am so happy that this one lived up to my expectations and memory of loving it! Hawke was more of an asshole than I remembered, but an asshole that I could still love thankfully.
Play of Passion was no plot, all vibes as I said last time, and Kiss of Snow was full speed ahead, ALL plot, ALL vibes. There is just so much packed into this book; 2 full romances, the war between Psy and Changelings comes to a head in a battle, Sascha has her baby, the Laurens come out of hiding, and those are just the main highlights.
But we’re going to begin with Hawke and Sienna because this is the culmination of the first nine books that Nalini has been teasing us with. Hawke has been resisting his attraction to her because she’s been too young – which, yes absolutely she was too young! – and the book opens and shows an example immediately of Sienna being too young for him when he has to break up a fight she’s in.
“Be quiet,” he snapped. “If you open your mouth again without permission, I’m putting both of you in the pen with the two-year-olds.”
I love this because it’s a simple way of showing her youth right away and we can see how she changes throughout the book from this opening.
Melanie: Since Melinda brought up the age thing, let’s just address the elephant in the room. Kiss of Snow is many things, among them, it’s an age-gap romance. When the book begins, Sienna is almost 20. That’s right. She’s technically a teenager. Hawke, while it never explicitly states how old he is, with the help of Google, we can estimate that he’s maybe in his mid-30s. Nalini has stated in previous interviews that she had to wait for Sienna to grow up before she could write this book. And I know this pairing is polarizing for some, perhaps because of the age gap. But hopefully, in the course of this deep-dive, Melinda and I will lay out for you all why we think this book and this pairing works, even with the age gap.
If you’ve been following along with this series, you’ll know that this pairing has been teased for the past 9 books but the long-simmering attraction between Hawke and Sienna really ramped up in the past few books.
It was only after she’d gone—the autumn and spice of her scent lingering in the air in a silent rebellion she would’ve undoubtedly enjoyed had she known about it—that he loosened his hold on the wolf who was his more feral half.
It lunged for her scent.
Sucking in a harsh breath, Hawke fought the primal urge to go after her. He’d been battling the instinct for months, ever since the wolf decided that she was now an adult and, therefore, fair prey. The human half of him wasn’t having much success in changing the wolf’s mind, not when he had to fight the hunger to claim the most intimate of skin privileges every time she was in his presence.
There is a push and pull struggle between Hawke and Sienna that permeates much of the book. Some of that has to do with Hawke feeling as if Sienna is too young but a bigger part of that has to do with Hawke’s own past.
It wasn’t simply a question of age—the brutal fact was that Hawke’s mate was dead. Had died as a child. Sienna didn’t understand what that meant, how little he had to give her, give any woman. If he was selfish enough to succumb to the unnamed but powerful pull between them, he knew full well he’d destroy her.
So while Hawke hungers for Sienna in the most sexual, primal of ways, his belief that he already found and lost his mate (and changeling wolves mate for life) keeps him from pursuing Sienna because, in his eyes, all he can really give her is a physical connection and not an emotional one.
Melinda: Right, it’s so complicated but I love that there is no shying away from the age difference. It’s brought up again and again. By Hawke, by Sienna, and by pack members. Riley and Judd, in fact, have previously warned him to stay away from her and specifically tell him they’re fine with him having a relationship with Sienna at this point. I was worried that it would be brushed aside and treated like *bam* she’s of age so it’s okay now, but that’s not the case at all.
His most senior lieutenant, his friend, raised an eyebrow. “You know what I said about taking you down if you so much as looked at her?” A reminder that both Riley and Drew considered Sienna family and thus theirs to protect. “Well, I’ll still beat you bloody if you hurt her, but I won’t stand in your way if you want to court her—she’s no longer as vulnerable as she was back then.”
Hawke is resistant to the relationship because he feels she’s too young, and he cannot give her the mating bond, and while Sienna pursues Hawke she is concerned about the power she has being a cardinal X ruining Hawke and the pack. So…just a few obstacles for them to deal with?
Sienna cracks me up in the first half of this book in so many ways, particularly when she’s plotting how to get to Hawke. She just wants him to see her as a woman, and not a child, and that deserves some careful planning. She puts herself into his path multiple times and in different ways, pushing him to see her as she actually is, and how everyone else sees her, an adult. The most memorable scene to me – maybe in all of the series – is of Sienna and her fellow teens at the local bar. I could use some fan art of this because Sienna is dancing on top of the bar when Hawke storms in to drag her out of there, over his shoulder. Just thinking about it makes me laugh. Particularly because it happens again and we see Sienna passing off the shots she orders to her friends, knowing the bar owner would call Hawke to come to get her. She antagonizes him at every turn because she knows they should be together, and this is one of many reasons I love her.
Melanie: She’s just such a brat to him, antagonizing him at every turn, and I kind of love it. And I love all the advice Hawke gets, from his various lieutenants to even Lucas, the DarkRiver alpha, who urges him to follow his instincts and his heart. As much as there are people who have Hawke’s best interests at heart, I also love all the support Sienna gets from her pack. Sometimes, reading these scenes, it’s very easy to forget that Sienna wasn’t born into the SnowDancer pack. But my favorite scenes have to be the ones between her and the members of the Lauren family, especially Judd and Walker, who despite being emotionally hardened Psy, cannot help but feel protective and nurturing towards a girl they feel endless guilt over not being able to protect.
Leaning forward, he cupped her cheek, the gesture no longer as startling as it once might’ve been – before Judd mated with a wolf who had survived her own nightmare. “I did wonder when you were going to push Hawke too far.” Stroking his thumb over her cheekbone, he brushed a kiss on her forehead. “Take some of this time to think, Sienna, figure out where you’re heading.”
So much of the first half of this book is Hawke acting as if saving Sienna from him is in her best interest and normally, I hate when MMCs unilaterally do things to act in the best interest of the FMC but here, I can see why Hawke believes Sienna is better off without him. That’s not to say I agree with him because I very much don’t, but I can sort of see how Hawke would come to that conclusion. To that end, Hawke decides he needs to move on from Sienna once and for all and satisfy his sexual hunger elsewhere. Even when Indigo calls him on his bullshit and warns him off his plan, he holds firm.
“I know what you’re planning, that you think you’re protecting her – but you do this and Sienna will never forgive you. You sure you want to end any chance the two of you might have?”
“I am who I am.” And what he was, was a man who needed to satiate his sexual hunger before his wolf took the decision out of his hands. Because that wolf would track only once scent.”
Oh, Hawke, you sweet summer child. Before anyone who hasn’t read this book wonders, no, Hawke does not find any relief in anyone else’s arms. He, most shockingly, realizes that the satisfaction he’s seeking can only come from one person. Gee, I wonder who that could be?
Melinda: I forgot what an asshole Hawke is! There are so many instances of him thinking that he knows best, and acting as if he knows better than literally anyone else. The only reason I have an ounce of forgiveness for this behavior is that he is the literal alpha of the pack, so I figure there is some leeway to allow for it instead of just the average ‘alpha’ behavior we’ve seen in a pack member like Clay. So that excuses some of his behavior, but if he had actually followed through with sleeping with another woman during this book, phew, there would be no coming back from that!
But other moments, like when he casually calls Sienna ‘baby’, made me see red, and apparently Sienna too because she didn’t take so kindly to it since Hawke was still in his push/pull phase. He does things like dance in the moonlight with her one night and then tells her they won’t work the next day.
“You’re giving me just enough to make sure I can’t forget you and not enough to go against your all-important principles. Well, fuck you.,,,I don’t want the crumbs from your table.”
His wolf saw red. “Baby, if—”
“Don’t. Call. Me. Baby.” Turning on her heel, she stared at him, her gaze potent with such destructive power, lesser men might’ve trembled.
“I’ll call you anything I damn well please.”
“The only man,” she said, her words wrapped in that cold darkness he hadn’t seen in her since the first few days after her defection, “I’ll allow to use that particular endearment will be my lover. You are no longer in the running for the position.”
I kept hearing “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent going through my head during so many of these scenes because Sienna is basically screaming at Hawke to just, well, take her or leave her. And she pretty much needs to slap him upside his head until it gets through.
Melanie: So, when Sienna realizes what Hawke plans to do, she’s devastated obviously and decides she’s done waiting for him to see her as more than a misbehaving child.
If Hawke refused to acknowledge the pulse of attraction between them – though she’d waited years to grow old enough for him, years where she’d blocked her ears to the gossip about who he was with and when – then she wasn’t going to take it lying down.
And so, Sienna decides to cut loose in the best way she knows how, dancing and flirting and basically living her best life at a local bar, in the scene that Melinda alluded to earlier. I will say while that scene was really amusing in how Sienna just baits him and he just falls for it, there is a part of the ensuing conversation that rubbed me the wrong way.
“Now explain to me how you would’ve stopped a massive fistfight in the bar tonight.”
“That’s not on me,” she said, trying to breathe past the sheer power of him. “The women were an excuse – the males were itching to go at each other since the minute we walked in. They’re always playing dominance games,”
“So you knew that, and still you amped up the sexual energy in the room?”
The truck was suddenly too small, too confined. Hawke’s hotly masculine scent seeping into her very pores, touching parts of her no man had ever stroked. “It wasn’t my responsibility.”
So, to me, this exchange makes it seem like Sienna, in her corset top and skin-tight jeans, was “asking for trouble” and I really hate the insinuation of a man telling a woman that her actions instigated his. The only reason I’m willing to give it a slight pass is that we’re dealing with a bunch of young dominant changeling personalities and an MMC who is, as Melinda stated earlier, the alpha of the pack and therefore, responsible for the safety and well-being of every member of his pack.
The volatile exchange also gives way to one of the first tender moments between Hawke and Sienna, when they dance in the forest and Hawke explains that they can’t be because in his words,
“It’s because you’re barely grown.”
And this is the part where I think Hawke really gets it wrong and despite this being an age gap romance, Sienna is more than capable of being his match, equal in strength and power.
“I haven’t been a child since the day they came for me when I was five.” A cardinal X could not be allowed to live outside of Council control. “Ming LeBon sure didn’t sing me any lullabies.”
Sienna, for being all of 19, has LIVED A LIFE. A life of great pain, brutal torture at the hands of one of the cruelest Psy Councilors, and a life filled with heartbreaking loss that was further compounded when her mother died by suicide. So, to dismiss her as too young or innocent or incapable of being able to accept Hawke and his demands seems arrogant and way off-base.
Melinda: Oh my god, YES, Hawke is wrong in so many areas and that reaction is definitely one of them. There are times when Sienna seems like the older one in the relationship and Hawke the petulant child because of his behavior. Multiple times he comes to her and complains that she’s ignoring him, or tells her she isn’t allowed to spend time with Kit, a pack member the same age as Sienna. Which goes over just as well as you’d think. Later on, we get this exchange:
“Do you really think I’d let you go that easily?”
An implacable glance from eyes that were suddenly decades older than him. “I’m not yours to let go.”
I just think that Nalini does a brilliant job at emphasizing who these two are, and who they are together. Hawke is used to getting what he wants, when he wants it, and that is not what he gets with Sienna at all. As Melanie pointed out, Sienna has not been a child for a long time because of her Psy upbringing. She was fortunate in that she was brought to the changelings and able to see the love and family they have, and what that looks like, but that still was not a childhood. I’m not saying that she was an adult when she joined the pack, but at 19 she definitely is. While Hawke is struggling with accepting that she is ready to make her own decisions, Judd gets mad at him for waffling.
Judd’s own anger was an icy whip. “You insist on seeing her as a child when the truth is, she was forced to make adult decisions long ago. She’s earned the right to live her life as she pleases.”
I love that Sienna’s family stands up for her and while they want the best for her, they also want her to make her own decisions and know that she knows her own mind. And that includes the rest of the pack too. She gets input from so many of them and I love that everyone is so invested and wants them to be happy together. My favorite is Drew giving her advice.
“But you’ve got an advantage, sweetheart. You’re already in his head. And you know how to mess with it.”
Melanie: Normally, I dislike when the FMC’s male family members step in, all paternalistic and act like the female character doesn’t have any agency of her own. But Nalini takes such a different tone with how Judd and Walker handle the progression of Sienna and Hawke’s relationship. They both separately talk to Hawke about making sure he treats Sienna well but it’s never done from a place of acting like Sienna can’t act or speak for herself. There is so much healthy respect for Sienna, for her abilities, and also for all that she has endured in her short life and I really loved that a lot.
And while Hawke may see her as young and inexperienced, Sienna soon disabuses him of that notion. Just as Hawke plans to satisfy his sexual hunger elsewhere, Sienna decides she’s tired of waiting around for him.
She was done with throwing herself at a man who didn’t want her.
“So decisive,” he murmured in that calm tone that had adrenaline flooding her body, the primitive part of her brain conscious she was in the presence of a predator. “Got your eye on someone?”
She didn’t know what made her say it. “No. But I have no plans to die a virgin.”
To say that Hawke doesn’t react well to that would be a bit of an understatement. He reacts, as Melinda stated, like a petulant child and when they’re stuck in a car together (of Hawke’s doing), driving to DarkRiver territory to pay Sascha visit. When Sienna proceeds to ignore him in favor of listening to her music player, he literally grabs the buds out of her ears and throws the buds and the music player in the back seat. It was perhaps this scene that caused both Melinda and me to pause and ask, “was Hawke ALWAYS this much of an asshole?!” The answer is yes and yet, we still love him. When Sienna pushes him to his limit, this exchange makes it clear that maybe they’re finally done circling each other warily from a distance.
A faint smile that made every tiny hair on her body rise in quivering attention. “How fast can you run?” A wolf’s question.
“I’m not running from you.” She held her ground.
The response from Sienna is a show of strength and equality, proving to Hawke once again that she’s well able to handle whatever he dishes out. And it’s in that same scene, that Hawke finally makes a big concession, which definitively changes the tone of their relationship.
“Fine,” he said. “When it’s just us, there’s no rank, no alpha, no soldier. Only Hawke and Sienna.”
That is a major deal because it finally forces Hawke to view Sienna, not as a child or just another member of his pack he’s responsible for, but as an equal, as a woman, as an adult.
Melinda: That is the EXACT moment that I realized how good they could be together and I feel like the two of them also had the realization that if they did this it could maybe work as well. Sienna had gone to Sasha to discuss how to be a mate with an alpha because that’s truly what she wants.
“An alpha,” Sascha began, wanting to give the other cardinal all the help she could, “needs his woman to come to him stripped bare of all pretense. No barriers. No emotional shields. I am the one person Lucas knows is his without question, the one person who will stand by him no matter what, who’ll tell him the truth even if it’s harsh.”
This is such wonderful advice because it coincides exactly with what Hawke said above, and it allows Sienna a glimpse of what their relationship could look like. And gives her the strength to keep fighting for what she knows they both want and need. And once Hawke allows that to happen, and starts to play with Sienna is just pure joy. The scenes where they’re chasing each other and just letting off steam are so fun, and what makes it even better is knowing that neither of them have really ever been able to fully let go before. Sienna has had the weight of her abilities and Hawke has the weight of his past and the whole pack to carry. But together they get to be free and just themselves.
Through that playing together they both let down the last of the guards they’ve left up and peel away that last layer between. Between their moments of push and pull throughout, and their moments of playing, they’ve also had moments of intimacy that intensified their relationship. What I absolutely loved about this book is that their physical relationship is such a slow burn throughout. Not only have we had 9 books of lead-up to Kiss of Snow but we also have just brief scenes of dancing, and then kissing, and we slowly get more and more intimacy. With how physical and touch based changelings are I thought this was such a nice balance to their relationship.
Touching him, being with him, it was only part of what she needed from his man. She couldn’t have his soul, couldn’t have the mating bond, but she’d fight for the rest of him even if it left her bruised and bloody.
Melanie: Sienna turning to Sascha for advice really works on a lot of levels, doesn’t it? First of all, Sascha is an empath and knows both Sienna and Hawke really well. But secondly, who better to turn to for advice than another Psy who happens to know firsthand what it takes to be mated to the alpha of a changeling pack?? It’s such a lovely callback to the very first book in the series and really showcases how these threads that Nalini started all the way back in the beginning of the series are still continuing to be a running theme in the series.
Hawke finally gives into his feelings when Sienna, having once warned him that she has no plans to die a virgin, dangles the idea of her being with another changeling in front of him. And here’s the thing: there are things in PNR that I would never ever accept in a contemporary or even a historical but within the confines of a paranormal, where there are alphas and dominants, I give certain things more leeway. All that to say, a jealous Hawke finally laying claim to what he wants is a very, very sexy Hawke.
He bit her. No warning, no nothing. His teeth just sank into the curve where her neck flowed into her shoulder. She jumped, felt his hands lock onto her hips. Her spine was melting, her skin taut in expectation – but if she gave in now, it was all over.
Once Hawke finally begins to understand that despite Sienna being so much younger than him, she’s never had a chance to play, a chance to really be a child, he takes it upon himself to play with her, literal games of chase and hiding through the woods that envelope the SnowDancer den, in scenes that are so lighthearted and delightful, I for the millionth time, wished someone would adapt this for tv because it’s cute and sexy and tender and just plain adorable.
It’s interesting because this is a pairing that is essentially 10 books in the making but Nalini makes them (and by that, I also mean, she makes us, the readers) wait for the sexual payoff. There is so much buildup, between Hawke’s reservations and Sienna’s fears regarding the true nature of her powers and also all of the other things that are happening, plot-wise in this book, that it does take a while for the physical aspect of their relationship to come to fruition. But in building up to that, there is so much emotional intimacy that happens between the two of them, from each of them finally opening up to each other about their respective painful pasts. It’s a beautiful balance between the playfulness and the tenderness that blooms in their relationship so that when they finally do get to the actual sexy times, the wait is well worth it.
But even while they’re finally enjoying skin privileges and flirting all the cute new relationship stuff, Sienna knows there’s a piece of Hawke she’ll never have because he’s convinced that he lost his true mate as a child.
“I don’t want to hurt you, baby. Never would I hurt you – but I can’t give you what I don’t have to give.”
“Then give me everything else,” she whispered, because while she could fight a ghost, she couldn’t fight the truth in his voice. “Give me not only your joy, but also your sorrow, your hurt. Treat me as – ” She hesitated, because the word mate was a painful wound between them.
“ – as my partner, as mine.”
This part really broke my heart because it’s essentially Sienna realizing she has no shields or defenses against Hawke, that she’d rather have even a little of him if she couldn’t have all of him.
Melinda: It’s a heartbreaking thing to watch, but also beautiful to see Sienna accept all of what Hawke can give her. And Hawke is so moved to have that kind of love that he never expected at this point in his life. And once they’re all in, they’re really all in, To the point that everyone in the pack knows this and loves it. The lieutenants in the pack get together and build their own cabin in an area that will be off-limits to everyone when Hawke and Sienna are together. The gesture is so meaningful as it’s a sign of both love and acceptance of the pair, even without the mating bond. And such a gift to them to have that space to be just themselves, intimately together.
But in the background of all of this love is so, so much going on. Sienna’s X power is increasing exponentially to the point that she has to release the energy more and more often. She only cares about protecting the pack and ensuring that she doesn’t hurt them in that release. Due to there being so few other known Xs there’s no set careful path for her to take. We watch her rush out of the den multiple times to protect the cubs, and when it truly comes to a head – when she is terrified that her power is at that extreme point of overwhelming her – she leaves. She leaves the pack, and she leaves Hawke, knowing that she is breaking both of their hearts.
Hawke is, of course, furious at being left behind, and goes after her. The scene when he finds her is steamy as hell but also reinforces how much he truly loves her.
“Rissa’s death, her life, shaped me. She’ll always be a part of me, but I haven’t been the boy she knew for a long time. You—and only you—hold the man’s heart.”
Sienna froze. “You mustn’t say that.” They’d never have the mating bond, but this, what he was giving her, it was as precious, as binding. As painfully beautiful. “You mustn’t.”
“Ah baby, you know I do what I want.” Rubbing his chin on her hair, he squeezed her hip. “Man and wolf, we both adore you. No way am I letting you go after the hell you’ve put me through over the years.”
This is a huge moment in their relationship, as they both recognize that this is a real, binding thing they have, and that Hawke is going to choose her. He will choose to be with her, and to try to save her from this Psy ability trying to actively kill her.
Melanie: So, obviously, they are meant to be mated and there is a mating bond that snaps into place but in order to explain how we get to that point, we have to backtrack a little and talk about all the other stuff that is happening in this book. Leading up to this book, there have been clues placed that Henry and Shoshanna Scott are planning an attack on the San Francisco area and also on the SnowDancer and DarkRiver territories. They believe in furthering a cause labeled Pure Psy and want to basically eliminate all other species and just adhere to the strictest kind of Silence.
In addition to that, Sienna’s powers are growing day by day, putting her and those around her at great risk. She is, as she describes it, a living weapon. And since so little is known about the X power, especially because so few of them reach adulthood, Judd asks his mysterious friend, the “Ghost”, for help in locating a seemingly lost manuscript written by Alice Eldridge, who also wrote a book about the Empaths. While the Ghost doesn’t find the lost manuscript, he finds something better: the body of Alice Eldridge, preserved via cryonic suspension.
All of this comes to a head, when Pure Psy operatives begin to infiltrate the SnowDancer territory, basically inciting a war. Sienna, desperate to help her pack, reveals her true powers, destroying the enemy. But when Hawke realizes her true intentions are to destroy herself as well, he realizes what he needs to do.
Man and wolf both realized what she intended to do, said, FUCK NO!
Using the doorway she’d opened when she punched into his mind, the wolf shoved wild changeling energy into her, bowing her back, snapping her eyes open again, and shutting off that lethal blue flame. “What have you done?” A question filled with horror as the violent snap of the mating bond brought him to his knees beside her.
While Sienna manages to stop the Pure Psy from causing further damage to the pack, the truth still remains that she’s basically a human incinerator, capable of causing mass destruction. And despite Alice Eldridge being unconscious, she regains consciousness long enough to reveal that the answer to Sienna managing her powers has been in front of her all along.
Melinda: The scene of the Psy attacking the pack is yet another one that would be amazing on screen. There are so many different elements happening – with different abilities being used – that having that come to life with special effects could possibly be incredible! And for us, this confrontation has been building for 9 books, just like Hawke and Sienna’s relationship. That the two things coincide? It’s ridiculously effective at building this tension to a massive boiling point – and we get both sides of the coin here because Nalini provided the good and the bad. We get the glimpse at what could have happened if Sienna flared out and took out the pack, and the possibility of the Psy winning their ultimate goal of destroying them.
Sienna is furious at Hawke for putting the pack in danger, because she assumes she will hurt everyone, which has been her fear every single day since leaving the Psy.
“Hawke! The X-fire is spreading on the psychic plane. I can’t cut my mental bonds, but you can—” Wolf-blue slammed into her eyes.
“Don’t you dare ask me to hurt you. Don’t you fucking dare.”
The pain and fear of that scene just about broke me. But Alice’s words of needing a valve, while cryptic, proved to be true as Sienna’s X ability filtered through the mating bond to the SnowDancer Web. That solution to this insurmountable problem they’ve faced for so long…is perfect. After a huge burst of energy to all of the Lieutenants and Lara, they figured out she should act like a mini-reactor and Sienna won’t be a danger to anyone.
Melanie: That Sienna is basically a mini-reactor and that Walker Lauren, whose Psy powers were largely focused on telepathic deceptions, is the person who can act as her valve and basically filter her power is a twist that really no one saw coming. It’s kind of amazing how ten books in, Nalini is still managing to figure out interesting ways to keep this story fresh and keep readers invested. All of this is revealed after the battle is over and everyone within the SnowDancer Web comes down from their power surge, for lack of a better term. During a pack-wide debriefing, Walker and Sienna lay out how her powers work, how to control it and what I really love about this particular scene is that Sienna is having a lot of guilt because of how her powers going haywire affected everyone within the pack. Hawke, super tuned in to his mate, immediately picks up on her discomfort.
Leaning over, Hawke nipped at her ear. She turned bright red. “Hawke.”
“No one is angry at you, Sienna,” he murmured. “Look at them.”
In fact, that whole scene is a really good info dump but also a great way to show just how far Hawke and Sienna have come in their relationship. And the most important little piece of information that’s revealed in that scene other than how Sienna’s power works and Walker’s role in controlling it, is the fact that the Psy Council is now aware that the entire Lauren family is still alive when all this time, they were laboring under the misconception that they had all died the second they left the PsyNet.
Speaking of Walker Lauren, remember how at the beginning of this very, very long deep-dive, we told you this book contains two full romances?? Well, the central romance is obviously Hawke and Sienna but there’s a beautiful secondary romance that plays out between the taciturn Walker Lauren and Lara Knight, the SnowDancer healer. While Hawke and Sienna’s romance is packed with drama and a lot of emotional upheaval, Walker and Lara’s slow-burning romance is far less dramatic but packs just as much of an emotional punch.
Their story is actually hinted at in the previous book, Play of Passion. In this book, it’s revealed that they two shared a steamy kiss during a party thrown by the pack. But afterwards, Walker had gently pushed her away and then later on, had dashed her hopes by stating that the kiss had been a mistake.
She knew when a man wanted her, and Walker had wanted her . . . enough to kiss, apparently, but not to keep. If that was the case, he was plenty big and strong enough to have stopped her kiss before it ever touched his lips. He hadn’t. He’d held her as if she mattered before breaking her heart. And that, she couldn’t, wouldn’t forgive.
While the two don’t get a whole lot of page time in this book, the scenes they do share are so emotional and powerful, with Lara initially trying to keep her distance, reeling from hurt caused by Walker’s rejection, and Walker continuously taking care of Lara, unable to express his feelings with words. But as the saying goes, actions speak much louder and Walker’s actions in regards to Lara throughout this book speaks volumes about the depth of his feelings for her.
Walker also has a complicated past. He has a biological child, Marlee, conceived through artificial insemination as is the Psy way, and the mother of his child chose to save herself rather than potentially sacrifice herself for the sake of their child. Walker, despite being a Psy and Silent, has always been a loving father to his daughter as well as to his niece and nephew, Sienna and Toby. As the de facto head of the Lauren family, he’s always put his family first, a highly unlikely trait in a Psy. And as their relationship slowly progresses, it’s very apparent that Walker, despite being as stoic and silent as he appears, is basically simmering with feelings for Lara that are ready to boil over. I don’t know what it is about the Psy male characters who are laid low by love that speak to me, but Walker, much like his younger brother Judd, absolutely stole my heart.
Melinda: That slow progression of their relationship feels lightning fast compared to the glacial pace of Hawke and Sienna’s for the readers! But I also am just so drawn to the icy Psy characters having to deal with these intense emotions. While these two don’t get the spotlight, their scenes being interspersed between the main relationship is really impactful because they’re so much quieter and their relationship has less overall potential impact fallout. All of which doesn’t mean their relationship isn’t important, it just means the dichotomy of the relationships throughout the book is so great to have.
Walker is like most of the male Psy when we meet them – not used to emotions, which obviously is hard for Lara to deal with, particularly as a healer. As they grow closer and closer and Walker discusses his past with her, she tries to make him see how that shapes him.
“Liar.” A whisper that put him on notice that she wasn’t about to back off. “What she did hurt you on a level you won’t accept, and that hurt continues to drive the decisions you make about women, about relationships.”
He struggles with this realization until he comes to her to comfort her after so much healing. And Lara is the kind of Nalini heroine I love – vulnerable and fierce.
“You were honest with me, so I’ll be honest with you. The kind of rights you want, the kind you’re trying to claim? They’re intimate rights.” Wet shimmered in the expressive depths of her eyes. “I can’t give them to you. They belong to the man with whom I’ll build a life, have children.”
Their intimate conversations about Walker’s past and Lara’s desires for her future draw them closer and closer until Walker has to face the truth of how he feels for her. And like Melanie, every single time this happens to a Psy, I am so into it! There’s a moment when Walker has an intense conversation with a human in the pack, Kieran, and made his intentions towards Lara loud and clear. And…talk about problematic fave? Maybe because I know that Lara wants Walker and not Kieran; I am completely okay with this and loved it. And then with a completely logical discussion between the two their relationship is decided on
“You have to be sure.” She was so vulnerable to him that he could destroy her. “This isn’t something we can come back from.”
“I’m certain.” An implacable look. “Do you need time to come to a decision?”
It would’ve been smarter to say yes, to allow them both to cool off. But she was a predatory changeling wolf with a man she’d craved for so long, a man who was offering himself to her in a way dominant men rarely did. She tugged him down with her hands in his shirt.
I love that so much because it says so much about them – Walker is cool, calm, and collected, and Lara, as the healer, knows how to be exactly the same.
Melanie: I just want to add that Walker and Lara are such a great pairing that Nalini not only made them the secondary romance in one of the most memorable books in the series but also wrote an entire novella dedicated just to them. We will cover the novella at some point but I do want to also add that we don’t typically add novella heroes into our rankings but Walker made such an impact on the both of us and his pairing with Lara is a big focus in this book and in a novella, it makes sense (at least to us) to include him in our Psy Changeling hero rankings. Basically, we really love him and want to highlight him in our overall P/C ranking of heroes.
That being said, I agree with everything Melinda stated above. Secondly, Walker has MOVES. It just made me laugh and also remember Judd’s book and how, despite being so inexperienced sexually, he did his “research” and I don’t know if Judd shared his, um, RESEARCH FINDINGS with his big brother but if he did, I would LOVE for Nalini to write us a little short snippet of THAT scene.
Walker, despite his icy armor, is all heat and heart within. When he comes to pick Lara up for their first date, the plan is to watch a movie but Walker makes it apparent he has other ideas.
“I,” he said, tugging the two parts of the dress farther apart, “don’t know much about intimacy.”
Of course, Walker, being a Psy, is never going to act without explicit consent either.
“Do I have permission to touch you, Lara?”
And then, later on in this scene, Walker shows that he understands the true basis of this relationship isn’t just focused on their physical attraction.
“This” – a squeeze of her thigh that had her stomach tensing – “isn’t the only kind of intimacy, is it, Lara?”
Always he surprised her, this man. “No,” she whispered, stroking her fingers up over his nape and into his hair.
And then comes the revelation about what exactly his role was in the PsyNet. That a man as calm and entrusted with leading the children in the SnowDance pack would have, once upon a time, been the teacher entrusted to instruct apprentice Arrows like his own brother is a fascinating dichotomy.
But my favorite moment with these two probably comes towards the very end of the book, after the battle, when Sienna is revealed to be a mini-reactor and everyone has come down from their energy surge. When Lara shows signs of still being a little amped up, his reaction is to suggest they work off her excess energy in a much more intimate way.
In a scene where they have sex and their mating bond comes into play, Walker shows his possessive, dominant side as well as his surprisingly playful side.
Her wolf snuggled up next to him, too, bathing itself in the radiance of the mating bond. It was strong and steady, just like the man who was her mate. “You know this is for life, right?” she asked, half afraid he’d want to back off now that the buzz was gone.
“Yes.” He stroked his hand over her butt. “The mating bond will make it easier to keep an eye on you.”
And then, after they, in Walker’s words, “explore the concept of oral sex”, he reveals that the steadfast, determined focus that allowed him to help his family escape the PsyNet also has all sorts of other advantages for Lara.
Because once Walker Lauren put his mind to something, it didn’t budge – and the man did not leave any task unfinished. “Hmm,” he said after the orgasm left her a quivering mass of female flesh. “Let’s do that again now that I know what I’m doing.”
Never let it be said Walker Lauren is not dedicated to being the very best he can be…at WHATEVER he puts his mind to. That powerful intensity and focus towards the women they love is why both Lauren brothers hold a very special place in my heart. They are both initially resistant to leading with their hearts but then, when they finally fall, they commit wholeheartedly with everything they have and everything they are.
Melinda: There is just something about those Psy heroes…which will be reflected in our rankings lol. Okay, we’re almost done but we have to talk about the Psy manipulations being done on the other side. We’ve talked about glimpses into Nikita and Anthony’s relationship (???) before and we get the most interesting one in this book!
“Did you both read the report we sent through?”
“Yes,” Nikita and Anthony answered simultaneously.
Again, interesting. It made Hawke wonder what other machinations the two were getting up to behind everyone else’s backs.
My eyebrows were at least to my hairline when I read that because I wanted to know exactly where they were, and what they were thinking at that moment. I’m so torn because I both love the minute details we get and am dying to know EVERYTHING.
And speaking of Nikita, we get some really almost touching moments from her and Sasha. I mean they could be construed that way since at this point we know Nikita as we do. Sasha has her baby!! So we get to see how Nikita reacts to the baby – which is extremely unique to Nikita. But how Sascha responds kind of says everything about how their relationship has changed so vastly.
“I’m a mother now, Lucas. I would do anything to keep Naya safe, even if it meant she would hate me for the rest of her life.” Swallowing, she touched a finger to their baby’s plump cheek. “It makes me wonder if that isn’t exactly what Nikita did.”
Naya’s birth scene was just so precisely perfect to who Lucas and Sascha are, my favorite part of which is that Sascha had been hiding her pain and Lucas had been pacing around because he knew she was actually in labor. It cracked me up to see how the two of them know each other so well. She was able to funnel her pain through the mating bond and it was just such a beautiful moment, only beaten by the moment when Lucas gets to cut the cord and then I cried.
“Papa’s got you.” When he looked up, those wild green eyes shimmered with such protective love that she knew their child would never, for one single minute, feel unwanted, unloved.
Melanie: See, we TOLD you so much happens in this book! Besides the 2 romantic plots, there’s a whole war being waged, things with Nikthony, the Ghost discovering the body of Alice Eldridge, big important scenes between Aden and Vasic, two members of the Arrow squad who will feature heavily in the coming books, oh, and yes, Sascha gave birth!!
I adored the birth scene, adored that it was Sienna who was present for it, and loved watching this dangerous, alpha changeling panther become an enamored, besotted daddy. One of the things that I found really interesting about Sascha being so close to delivering was that it drove Lucas to be even more alpha and possessive than usual and literally everyone was cognizant and sensitive to that, from his own pack to members of the SnowDancer pack, even Hawke!
“I’ll go for a run. Luc doesn’t like me close to Sascha at the moment.”
“Really?” Startled, she looked toward where the DarkRiver alpha was waiting with his mate, a small light illuminating the outdoor seating area. “I thought you two had trust.”
“His mate is pregnant. It changes the balance.”
And then, as Sascha got to see her mate become a father, it was like Sascha was basically representing the entire fan base of the series in those scenes.
Fatherhood suited her panther – though she knew she’d have to watch out for his overprotective tendencies or poor Naya would never go on a single date. A quiet laugh bubbled out of her. It delighted her to think of the future, of all they’d experience together as a family.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: one of my absolute favorite things about this entire series is how couples from the earlier books keep popping up in future ones so you get to see how the relationships progress and deepen and mature between these couples, get to see them start families and grow stronger in their bond. It’s like every book has its own story but also sometimes serves as an extended epilogue for a previous couple.
And like Melinda, I too am intrigued by this new facet of Nikita that makes it clear that, at least with her, everything is definitely not as it appears to be. Nikita has some hidden emotional depths and watching all of that rise to the surface is very interesting.
Melinda: So. Much. Happened! This is truly one of my favorite books in the entire Psy/Changeling universe because of the dual romances, the achingly slow burn coming to fruition, and so many of the seeds Nalini planted so many books ago blossomed completely! But I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate it, we rank the heroes here, not the books. I thought long and hard about this.
I just really love the Psy men so much with their icy exteriors and I feel like Judd isn’t going to have competition until we come to another of those. I truly have no idea if anyone will unseat Clay lol. But I put Hawke in the middle of the pack pretty solidly because he is just such an asshole, so possessive, and just hot and cold. Walker, when he let down his guard finally, made me melt. So my rankings stand:
Melanie: I feel as if we ought to maybe apologize to you for the length of this deep dive…or perhaps congratulate you for making it all the way through it…? We clearly had a LOT to say and there was a lot that needed to be discussed. But a pairing that was teased over the course of 9 previous books is really a slow burn for the ages and we wanted to give the time and consideration it deserved. The first time I read this series, I casually wondered out loud if I should just skip ahead to this book and my co-deep diver, Melinda, rightfully yelled at me to read in order.
While our rankings have definitely diverged, there are a couple of things Melinda and I stand united on: Judd still reigns supreme for both of us (we do love those icy Psy men and watching them be laid low by love) and I’m beginning to suspect that poor Clay will forever languish at the bottom of our lists. While we both loved Hawke, I think we loved the overall book a whole lot more and in our minds, it’s really Sienna who carries the bulk of this book.
If you made it to this point in our deep dive, congratulations, and well done! Thank you for sticking with us! I know this one was long, like SUPER long, and we appreciate you coming along with us for the ride. Until next time, happy reading!