Ellie married her sweetheart and thought they would live happily ever after, with lots of children and a secure life surrounded by family and friends. But when her handsome young husband takes her to a distant city and then dies, Ellie and her young son are left alone among strangers. She is separated from her son and sold to be the prize for a Bride Fight. Quill still mourns the loss of the girl his wolf chose to be his mate and when he learns that Ellie is widowed and about to be forced into marriage to a stranger he rushes to her rescue. Ellie sees him as her cousin’s kind kinsman, but Quill has waited long enough to claim his mate.
Ms. Barone's After the Crash series continues to entertain in this intense paranormal read set in a post-apocalyptic world where the line between the haves and have-nots has never been more obvious. Women are in short supply after a virus has killed off many of them and those without protectors are constantly in danger. Which is exactly what happens to Ellie after the death of her husband leaves her and her son in danger from a dangerously manipulative man who sells her to be part of a Bride Fight after she spurns his advances. Along the road towards the Bride Fight she befriends two other women who band together to keep each other safe while waiting for Ellie's savior to arrive. Ellie cared for her husband but was angry he took her away from friends and family. She's now desperate to save her son and it's a heart-pounding series of events leading up to her and the other ladies' rescue, along with the saving of her son. Ellie is a strong-willed woman not afraid to stand up for herself and those she cares about. Even as she's repeatedly put in danger due to the nefarious villains coming out of the woodwork she shows very little weakness and is definitely a heroine to admire. The relationship between her and Quill evolves slowly as the sexual tension strengthens through the close quarters they're put in as they travel to the safety Quill's kinsman represent. They take the time to get to know each other which makes their burgeoning relationship richer and more rewarding.
Quill and his kinsman are wolf-shifters who most know about and fear. It's been many years since he last saw Ellie and realized she was his mate, but he's still just as drawn to her and will do anything to now claim her. The Bride Fight is intense and bloody but he and his kinsman are willing and able to fight others to the death to save Ellie and the women she's come to think of as family. Their journey home is rife with danger and he comes close to death trying to keep Ellie safe. He's the perfect hero, sexy and caring, and impresses in both his human and wolf form. He's waited a long time for a family of his own and quickly endears himself to both Ellie, her son, and another boy they've saved in a way that wins the reader over too.
The relationship between Ellie and Quill is sweet yet sexy with numerous steamy encounters on their journey home. It's immensely satisfying seeing all of them work towards becoming a family as they work together keeping each other safe. The secondary relationship between Sara, the loud and sometimes obnoxious pampered young woman, and Stone is enjoyable to see as he relies on his kinsman for ways to woo which leads to much humor. The tough Mel who is more than capable of taking care of herself, after killing the previous man who tried to hurt her, is now joined to the gruff Snake who also has no idea how to win over a woman but refuses to leave her side as his actions speak louder than words in another relationship that left a smile on my face. Along with those secondary characters comes the emotionally/physically scarred Paint who's lost his mate but clearly deserves a HEA of his own as he's loyal and charming. The mysterious Rye, who has a surprising heart of gold, has a hand in saving Ellie more than once and it's hinted at that he could change the future. He has an interesting connection to someone of power and I hope to see him in future books as he has the power to make this post-apocalyptic world a better place for women and the poor.
Ms. Barone has created a vividly intriguing world where typical western life resides alongside the grittiness of city life. The overall feel of this story is of a western with laws that are modern and put women in the role of wife or prostitute. The big city is dangerous and full of disillusionment but is where radical change is just starting to bubble up through subtle civil disobedience. I've not read the previous books in this series but that in no way took away from my enjoyment of this story. The characters were well and fully developed, both primary and secondary, with a storyline that was action-packed but with a journey that went on just a bit too long. Fans of the paranormal will find this an entertaining and unique story and I look forward to the next installment of this series as we get one step closer to change.
My rating for this is a B+/A-
*I received this book from the author for review in exchange for my honest opinion.