Ann Gimpel is making a repeat visit today with the next installment in her Underground Heat series, Wolf Born, an exciting futuristic paranormal story. Keep reading to learn more about this book, get my impressions of it through my review, and then add it to your bookshelf.
Witchcraft, Writing, and Cooking......
I was in the beauty shop the other day and my hairdresser carted out lots of little plastic bowls for the various colors we streak my hair with. She chatted about mixing a little of this and a little of that and said she cooks the same way. Then she grinned and said she was probably a witch in a former life.
I can sure relate to that one! Not so much mixing hair color, but cooking. I rarely use recipes. Just sort of toss things in until it tastes right. It’s probably not accidental that Ceridwen and her cauldron show up in some of my books. Not that she was a witch, but she was the Celtic goddess Shakespeare probably used as his prototype for the witches in Macbeth hovering over their cauldron.
Back to cooking. Many years back, I baked a lot of bread and made pastries and pies. I still do, just not as much. Bread dough and pie crust are two items that are different every time you make them. I look for a certain consistency and manipulate the flour/water balance until I have what I need. In many ways, writing isn’t all that different.
I start with characters (my ingredients). They have to be fresh, the best I can obtain, just like when I cook. Then I mix them together in unique ways, add heat and tension—not too much, just enough—and voila! A novel emerges in much the same way I pulled bread or a soufflé from the oven. Thank goodness I can alter my books until they feel “right” to me. If I blew the timing on that soufflé, or overcooked the bread, there wasn’t much I could do to remedy the situation.
Creativity, whether in the kitchen, at the keyboard, or studying agrimoire for a handy spell, taps into right brain fluidity. That’s the side of the brain that does math and listens to/appreciates music. It’s also the side that allows writers to enter their fictional worlds and make their characters come alive. The linear, left brain function is what allows writers to edit and cooks to assimilate a recipe before they begin tinkering with it.
How about you? Where does your creativity lie? Is there something you yearn to do, but haven’t?
In a futuristic California that’s almost out of resources, Max leads a double life. A Russian wolf-shifter, he heads up the State of California as its governor—and the shifter underground. He took on the governorship to help his people. Threatened with genocide, many shifters have gone into hiding. Some blame Max and the underground for their plight, rather than the governmental edict that’s meant death for so many.
Audrey works for Max. Unlike most humans with low levels of shifter blood who bless their lucky stars they avoided the purge, she wants to be a shifter. If she could find a way to finesse it, she’d quit her job in a heartbeat and go to work helping the shifter underground. The only sticking point is Max. She’s been half in love with him forever.
Against a dog-eat-dog political backdrop where no one knows who their allies are, Max and Audrey spar with one another. Max fears she’s part of the group trying to kill him. Audrey has no idea about Max’s double identity and worries she won’t be able to walk away from their fiery attraction to help the underground.
After a second attempt on his life, Max faces critical choices. Should he follow his head or his heart?
After a second attempt on his life, Max faces critical choices. Should he follow his head or his heart?
…Loren double parked the electric car outside the restaurant and shadowed them inside, along with the redheaded guard. “Looks pretty good.” Loren eyed the private, sound-shielded room. “I’ll be right outside, and John will be here, too, just as soon as he takes care of the car.”
“Once reinforcements arrive, feel free to go hunt for your men,” Max said. “You must be worried about them.”
“Thanks, boss. I am. Go sit down. I’ll scare up a waiter to at least get you a bottle of wine or something. John’s going off-shift in an hour, so there will be two new guards outside when you’re done eating.”
“Thanks for letting me know.” Max pulled the door shut and walked to the table. Audrey had already seated herself and was sorting through the stack of papers, arranging them into piles. “It’s all right if you don’t work for a few moments,” he said, taking a seat across from her.
“It’s better if I have something to, uh, take my mind off what happened. You asked if I’d gotten a chance to practice with the gun. The answer is yes. My brother sort of smuggled me into the cop shop gun range in the middle of the night a couple of times. But I’ve never been around anybody who was dead.” Her voice cracked. He saw her swallow hard. Max’s estimation of her edged up a few notches. Audrey was one tough cookie, even though she might not realize it. Most women would have dissolved into hysterics.
“You did fine. Good thinking to be in front of the elevator door with your gun.”
“Really?” She met his gaze with lovely hazel eyes that were shading toward green at the moment and rested her chin on an upraised hand. “I wasn’t certain what to do. I thought I should call the elevator back, but I didn’t want to subvert whatever you were doing. Then I wondered if I should take the stairs to a lower floor, but that wouldn’t have helped if you were still in the elevator… Ach.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind me. I’m babbling.”
“You did fine,” he repeated just as the door opened, and a waiter swooped in with a silver bucket holding a wine bottle and two glasses.
“Good evening, sir and madam.” The waiter bowed slightly. He was in his fifties with a bald head and merry blue eyes. “The gentleman outside thought you could do with a spot of something relaxing. How does a cabernet strike you? If you’d rather have something different, I haven’t opened it yet.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.” Max held out a hand for the bottle and inspected the label. “What’s on the menu tonight?”
The waiter rattled off a series of dishes while he opened the wine. Max glanced at Audrey. “What sounds good to you?”
She smiled warmly. “I’m used to whatever my ration coupons will buy. If it’s not too expensive, I’d love to have a steak.”
“How would madam like it cooked?” the waiter inquired, arching a brow. He poured a jot of wine into a glass and handed it to Max.
“Salad and rice or potatoes?”
“Salad and potatoes, please.”
“I’ll have the same,” Max cut in and took a sip of what was a very good wine. Rich and oaky, it had an enticing bouquet. “The wine is perfect,” he told the waiter, who immediately poured some into a glass for Audrey and added more to Max’s.
“This is really quite wonderful,” Audrey said once the waiter left. “Everything. Not just the wine. I can’t remember the last time I ate out at anything but one of those diners where I flash my wrist computer at the glass cases, and it debits credits from my account.”
“Enjoy it.” Max smiled. “You deserve to be pampered after what happened. I can still barely believe…” His voice trailed off. He needed to be careful not to say too much. “Um, what’s in those documents that’s so important?”
She leaned toward him. Her scent was even more intoxicating than the wine. He caught himself inhaling deeply and pulled away, aware of a pressure against his trousers where he was suddenly hard.
Audrey wriggled in her seat. She bit her lower lip and blew out a tense breath. Finally, she lowered her voice and murmured, “I probably shouldn’t do this, but I need to be honest with you. It’s all in my employment records anyway, but since I was here long before you were governor, well, you may not have looked at them… Cripes! I’m blathering like an idiot.”
“Whatever it is, just go ahead and tell me.” Max felt oddly protective toward her, though he didn’t understand quite why. Worse, the moment his cock had gotten hard, his wolf had begun a steady patter of lewd side remarks that made Max want to throttle him.
“There’s no easy way to do this,” she went on, her knuckles so white against the wineglass, Max hoped it wouldn’t shatter from the pressure. “If you decide I can’t work for you afterward, well…” she set down the stemware and spread her hands in front of her. “Not much I can do about it. I have shifter blood. Roughly 35 percent. Some of my relatives have been killed in this purge, so I’m not the most ardent supporter of the governmental edicts to round up shifters and imprison them.”
She sucked in a ragged breath and raised her gaze so she looked right at him. A combination of defiance and pleading etched fine lines around her eyes.
“Miss Westen. Audrey. I’m not going to fire you. It’s all right. Thank you, for trusting me.” Deep inside, Max felt the wolf push him to say more, to tell her about the serum. To offer it up, for God’s sake. He resisted. “You told me that for a reason. I assume it’s related to the documents. Could you walk me through what’s in them?”
She nodded. “Sure. It’s intel about something called the shifter underground.” Her eyes flashed. “Frankly, now that I know about them, I’m on their side, but don’t worry, I wouldn’t ever say that publicly.”
Max listened as she relayed the story he’d lived for the past couple of days. Everything was there, including the serum that pushed cops with a low percentage of shifter blood into full-blown shifters. Before the series of intravenous infusions that law enforcement had forced on their elite tracker task forces, a person needed 50 percent shifter blood to morph into their bond animal. After the infusions, 10 percent was sufficient. Max had gotten unutterably excited by the prospect of thousands of new shifters to swell their ranks and perhaps turn the tide of the war in their favor.
Another set of nationwide reports detailed those same cops betraying their oaths and going rogue. Predictions about anarchy ran wild. By the time Audrey was finished, Max was ecstatic, but he couldn’t let it show. Everything he’d assumed would happen was playing itself out like a well-oiled machine. He couldn’t wait to let the underground know.
“Well?” Audrey raised her gaze from the stack of papers and gathered them together.
“Interesting material. I understand why it was classified top secret.” Max tried for a neutral expression. Just because she’d confided in him was no reason to let his guard down.
The door to their private dining room opened. The waiter pushed a cart laden with wonderful smelling dishes. Max’s mouth watered. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was pushing nine at night. For the moment, his sexual hunger receded, and he tucked into a succulent, barely cooked piece of meat.
“Where do they get this?” she asked, cutting into her steak and chewing slowly. “None of the shops where I exchange my ration coupons ever have anything but ground or processed meat products.”
“There’s a black market,” he replied around a mouthful of salad.
Her brows drew together. “So it’s real,” she muttered. “I never paid much attention.” Her mouth curved into a smile. She set down her fork and knife. “It’s so good, I feel like I should save what’s left and take it home. I’ve already eaten far more than I usually do.”
“I can ask the waiter to box it up for you.”
“That would be wonderful. Thank you.” She glanced at him shyly through long, dusky lashes. “You’ve taken the worst day of my life and turned it into something special.”
He wanted to move to her side of the table and gather her into his arms. Not only was Audrey one of the most stunning women he’d ever seen, she was level-headed and seemingly oblivious to how gorgeous she was. Max put himself on a tight leash. He had bigger problems to attend to than his non-existent love life. At least so far, Audrey hadn’t asked about O’Hare’s accusations in the elevator. Christ! Maybe she thought he was tossing the shifter epithet at her.
Max nodded to himself. It made sense. Likely, that was why she’d fessed up about her shifter blood.
“Penny for your thoughts, boss?” She focused her alluring hazel gaze on him. In the low light, her eyes held a violet cast.
“Nothing. Are you about ready to head home?”
She nodded. “I suppose we should. Tomorrow morning will come around early.”
He laughed. “Right you are, Miss Westen. It always does. It’s all right with me if you take a few hours off—”
She waved him to silence. “Nothing happening at home. The neighborhood’s gone to hell. I can’t even go out for a walk anymore. All I do is sit barricaded behind a bunch of deadbolts.”
Part of him wanted to bring her home with him, to his uptown mansion where she’d have gated grounds to roam. He cleared his throat before something untoward slipped out. “Let me find the waiter.” He realized he was still hard and pulled his jacket around to shield the evidence as best he could.
As if the waiter had been waiting right outside and could read his mind, the door opened before Max had gotten up. “Would sir and madam like anything else? A touch of dessert perhaps?”
“You can box up the rest of the lady’s meal,” Max said. “You wouldn’t happen to have that delectable chocolate mousse?”
The waiter’s mouth formed an apologetic moue. “Not tonight, sir. We have lemon cheesecake, a cheese and fruit plate with brandy, or ice cream.”
“Does any of that sound good?” Max glanced at Audrey. Her eyes were wide with delight.
“Oooooh, it all sounds wonderful. I can’t even remember the last time I had real ice cream. That frozen crap they sell nowadays doesn’t even have any dairy products in it.”
“Could you bring us a sampler plate with a little of everything?” Max asked.
“Of course. Coming right up.” The waiter snatched their plates and left.
“Not that I wouldn’t love something sweet,” she said a bit wistfully, “but I thought we’d decided it was late and—”
Max kicked himself. They had decided that—sort of. He was enjoying himself, and he didn’t want the evening to end, but that wasn’t the sort of thing he could—or should—say to his secretary. He shrugged. “You seem to finally be relaxing. After what happened at the office, you deserve a little R and R. You really can come in an hour or two later tomorrow.”
Her gaze softened. “Thank you.”
MY IMPRESSIONS OF THIS BOOK:
Wolf Born picks up shortly after the ramifications caused by the forced inoculations of the police force in the previous book in the Underground Heat Series. Fear and distrust reigns with wolf-shifter Max, California's governor, trying to keep things under control while keeping his shifter abilities secret and dodging bullets from an assassin. With fringe groups angry over their continued persecution, and the police force now more powerful than ever and being sent out to hunt shifters, chaos is apparent in every scene so any chance at love is a welcome respite.
Max has lived for hundreds of years and always appears in control, but recently his wolf side has been demanding he find a Mate. For months he's been drawn to his secretary Audrey but work and pleasure aren't allowed to mix. But after being caught together twice in the crossfire of assassins, and through the machinations of others, their mutual attraction becomes too much and they finally give into each other in some super hot scenes that lead to something special that changes the course of the rebellion. Max is suave and debonair but love brings out a boyishly giddy side, a possessive side that borders on unstoppable rage once Audrey's life is put in peril.
Audrey's father is a shifter who's gone into hiding after the mandated hunt for shifters. Therefore she's always felt sympathetic to the cause and wants to do even more for the cause by using the injections to become a wolf-shifter. This puts her life in jeopardy, as does her growing connection to Max. Being in his presence confuses her, but with her wolf-side guiding her, the future of the rebellion takes a dramatic turn in a melodramatic quickly wrapped-up conclusion. Audrey isn't my favorite heroine as I found her reason for using the injection a bit convoluted. I found her a bit weak-willed as well as overly emotional. I did admire her honesty though and her easy acceptance of shifter ways and her connection with Max was sugary sweet and scorching which made for a good match.
I loved the vivid details of this futuristic world, the automated transportation, food rationings, and the forbidden but necessary black market. Ms. Gimpel portrayed this new way of living in deeper detail than in the previous installment and it increased my satisfaction of this story. I enjoyed the secondary characters and the mysteriousness of each of them, particularly Johannes. He's super sexy and willing to put his life on the line for Max after being friends with him for hundreds of years. Though their friendship is tight it's clear he's lonely and jealous of this newfound mating and I hope to see his story told soon. There were many heartpounding action-packed sequences throughout the story as we dug deeper into the fringe groups that intruded into the burgeoning romance that kept the story moving at a fast pace. Though the ending sputtered a bit I still enjoyed this story and look forward to revisiting this intriguing futuristic world.
My rating for this is a B.
*I received this book from the author for review in exchange for my honest opinion.
Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche's Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for three more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: To Tame a Highland Dragon, Earth’s Requiem and Earth’s Blood.