Bitten: Detour (Chapter 20)

TW: Rapey

Bitten: Detour (Chapter 20)

When we last left off, Elena and Clay were fully clothed on the couch downstairs.

When Elena wakes up, they’re both naked in her bed.

Ew. I can’t even. Just. Ew. Nope. Not touching this.


Bitten: Detour (Chapter 20)

We pick up this week with Clay and Elena naked in bed.

Outside the room, the house was silent. There wasn’t any reason to get up yet and no need to invent a reason. It was comfortable here. We needed the rest. The thought and feel of Clay’s naked body against mine sparked a few unbidden images and ideas, but he wasn’t doing anything to provoke the need to fight them. […] After a few minutes, he started to kiss the back of my neck. Still no cause for alarm. The back of my neck was hardly an erogenous zone.

So Elena is basically talking herself through panicky, rape-survivor feelings so she can continue to be sexual with Clay. Clay evokes panicked, “I’m about to be raped” feelings in Elena.

Nope. Nope. Nope.


Bitten: Detour (Chapter 20)

When we start this chapter, Jeremy informs Elena that Philip called while she was sleeping, and Jeremy had picked up her cellphone.

I hadn’t called Philip because I forgot him. It sounded awful, but it was the plain truth. I loved this man, I knew I did, and that only made it worse. At least if I could say I wasn’t in love with… In love? Was I in love with Philip?[…] I forgot Philip because that was how I was coping with this mess, splitting my life into two compartments, human and Pack.

Because something as simple as forgetting to call home when you’re preoccupied with people dying around you and torturing people is obviously A Sign and not just human forgetfulness.

No, I know this trope. She actually forgot to call Philip because she was too busy fucking Clay and that means she and Clay are meant to be together because Clay is in both her worlds or something and ….

Nope. I deny that that’s the ending coming and I’m going to stick my fingers in my ears and sing at the top of my lungs until the thought goes away.


Bitten: Detour (Chapter 20)

In today’s chapter, we find out that the Pack has an elaborate procedure for hiding a body. See, with DNA testing and forensics, they now have to spend a whole half a day disposing of the people they murdered because of their draconian rule over everything werewolf. Elena and Clay drive out to the sites, burying the body at one spot (going so far as to cut off the bruises made when Clay snapped Cain’s neck just in case they could pull thumbprints) and burning his personal effects at another. They’re on the way back home when they get pulled over by the cops, who are looking for Clay.

Good.

“Lots of storage space, ” he said. “How much stuff can you fit in these things?”

Subtle. I don’t get “Can you hide a body in your trunk” from that at all.

The cops have an anonymous tip saying Clay knows something about the murder of Mike Braxton, which Elena figures is a trap set by the Mutts, but then inexplicably, she decides the mutts won’t jump them in a building full of armed guards because…. they care so much about human life? They’re smart enough to stay out of danger? Both things she’s explicitly contradicted in previous chapters. Plot reasons, I guess.

The police station waiting room was smaller than my bedroom at Stonehaven and had probably cost less than my silver vanity set to furnish.

Way to sound like a rich snob there, Elena.

Elena realizes people are staring at her because she was found naked in the woods with her clothes all over creation.

Towns like Bear Valley had a special spot for women like me– as guest of honor at the annual summer picnic and bonfire.

Is she implying they’d burn her at the stake? For being into kinky forest sex on private property? Um… ok. Seems a bit tasteless to me.

Marsten strolls in, pulling off the relaxed, disinterested, sexy look perfectly — more evidence against Elena’s assertions that all mutts are stupid and can’t hide what they are or pass for human.

Marsten was one of the few mutts who didn’t kill humans. Like so many things, that was beneath him. […] Yet we kept a closer eye on him than on any mutt besides Daniel.

Marsten, it seems, wants territory, with a single-minded purpose that worries the Pack. So… give him some? Oh wait, Pack law, yadda yadda, mutts are all evil. Goddamn. The chapter ends abruptly here, just before LeBlanc is going to speak with Elena.

Wow, that was a short chapter, wasn’t it?

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Bitten: Prisoner (Chapter 19)

When last we left our protagonists, Clay had abandoned Elena while she was at the bank.

I could imagine only two reasons for them abandoning me. One, the meter maid had been making her rounds and neither had a nickel for the meter.

Charming.

There was a third possibility: Clay was really pissed off at me, knocked Antonio unconscious, and drove off, abandoning me to my fate.

PSA: If this ever crosses your mind as something your significant other is seriously capable of doing to you, seek help. Pretty sure Elena’s being wry here, but I could totally see Clay doing it because she broke some bullshit rule he just thought of, so who knows.

I closed my eyes and tuned out everything else. The Mercedes was less than a few blocks away, the sound of its engine fading, then growing, then fading as it seemed to be moving in slow circles.

I don’t care how luxury it is, you can’t identify a car by the sound of its engine from a few blocks away in the middle of downtown. Fuck, really? Really?

[G]ravel crunched behind me and the edge of a large shadow encroached on the left of my vision field. Clay. He was downwind, but I didn’t need to smell him to recognize his flavor of practical joke.

As I whirled around, a hand grabbed the back of my shirt and sent me sailing face first to the ground. Okay. Not Clay.

Remember a few chapters ago when she could tell wolves apart by the sounds of their paws on the dirt? Now she can’t. Amazing consistency here.

Elena tries the witty banter thing on Cain, who is basically standing around looking intimidating. She insists that mutts always stand their ground while Pack know when to run, because once again, anyone not in her super sekret speshul club is a sub-human monster who hasn’t got two brain cells to rub together.

Elena pulls a Bella Swan:

I lifted both arms to wave and my left foot hit the gravel wrong. As I fell, the silver car slowly vanished from sight.

Now Cain feels like hitting her. Raping her, more likely, since he rips her shirt open. But when she was right in front of him a moment ago, he crossed his arms and glared at her, like he was waiting for something.

I’ve just noticed Cain doesn’t have any lines here, at all. Is he capable of speech? Oh, wait, no, I missed one. Twice, earlier, he says “Get up”. So I gather the narration agrees with Elena’s opinion of Cain’s intelligence.

Apparently Clay and Antonio sensed a trap, so they left a train and were circling so that Elena would walk right into the ambush and set it off for them.

This is how werewolves fight:

Cain took a step left toward Clay. Clay mirrored the maneuver, moving forward to the right. They repeated the dance steps, gazes locked, each watching the other for the lunge. The pattern for the ritual was ingrained in our brains. Step, circle, watch. To win, you either had to lunge without warning or catch the other about to lunge and sidestep. […]

This was how we fought. One-on-one, no weapons, no tricks. It was the wolf in us that dictated the rules of battle; the human side would goad us into winning at all costs.

Here’s some great footage with explanations of wolves fighting for dominance at the International Wolf Center:

As you can see, it’s not one-on-one, and there’s not the prolonged, tense, circling behavior. Instead, it’s over very quickly, with little to no injuries at all.

Here’s a pair of dogs dominance fighting in a closer example to the text:

But as you can see, their movements are constrained by the one being on a leash. Here’s an unconstrained dog fight:

But it’s anything but silent, dogs are rather vocal compared to wolves. In fact, the fight reminds me most of this:

So I’m not thinking it’s the wolf bit of them that makes them fight like this, is all I’m saying. Clay wins, and they bundle Cain into the car, pick up some submarine sandwiches, and head back to Stonehaven.

Elena stays upstairs because:

I’m squeamish about torture. Maybe that seems silly, considering how much violence I’d witnessed and participated in during my life.

There’s definitely a difference between what she can dismiss as a fair fight or a fight for her life and torture, though, so I’m glad to see the book recognize it.

Years ago, I went to see Reservoir Dogs with Clay. When it came to the infamous “Stuck in the Middle with You” scene, I covered my eyes and Clay picked up pointers.

I could take yet another point off Elena and Clay’s already negative compatibility score, but I think I’ll instead point out that being squeamish about violence is a stereotypical feminine trait, making this a scene that plays out in any number of teen romance flicks every day: boy and girl go see horror film, boy is keen, girl is squeamish, they make out.

When he tortured a mutt, he was completely methodical, showing no emotion at all.

As opposed to…?

Most people torture for information. Clay did it for instruction. For every mutt he’d maimed and let live, five more would see and take a lesson from it.

That’s not instruction any more than the Mafia sell you insurance.

Of the three experienced mutts in Bear Valley, Zachary Cain was the worst choice for an informant. Any plans Daniel and Marsten had deigned to share with him had since become lost in the empty wasteland of his brain.

Seriously, that level of stupidity isn’t typical. Is Cain supposed to have a mental handicap? Is it the werewolf in him hijacking his ability to think straight when he’s in danger? The text plays it off like he’s just your ordinary below-average intelligence person, but even stupid people can remember the basic outline of the plan they’re signing on board with for a few days. I could probably have phrased this paragraph better, but I’m really getting concerned that Clay is torturing someone who is mentally incapable of giving him information due to a disability, which is really kind of gross.

Cain had joined them because he was seeking “release from tyranny”

he says as he’s being literally tortured for not wanting to join up with the goddamn werewolf Mafia.

[Cain] was “sick of having to watch my fucking back every time I piss the wrong way.” Since the Pack has never taken any interest in the urinary habits of mutts, I assumed he meant that he was fighting for his right to kill humans

Fuck you, Elena! Your Pack literally kills people for being Mutts, tarring them all with the human-killing brush, and then you have the GALL to insist that he’s the evil one because obviously he’s killing humans because he’s a Mutt!

[Daniel] wanted to wipe out the Pack and start his own, probably envisioning some kind of werewolf Mafia

How is the current Pack not a werewolf Mafia?! In 500 words or less.

He’d say anything to save himself from torture, even if it meant condemning his coconspirators to death. The loyalty of a mutt was an inspiring thing to behold.

You racist piece of shit. I suppose it’s better to lie and cover up murders on behalf of your buddies in the Pack?

Then they kill Cain. Then sit around making plans to murder his friends, which puts Elena in a content mood, so she cuddles up and has a nap on Clay.

Fuck. This. Book.

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Bitten: Conviction (Chapter 18)

The title of this chapter is Conviction.

I could talk about how the police show up and basically exonerate the pack because the body was killed elsewhere, or about how Jeremy feels he has to be perfect and strong at all times because that’s what it means to be Alpha, or about Elena’s assertion that the police ask her no questions because she’s female, but since the title of the chapter is Conviction, let’s begin with the sentence in which the word Conviction appears.

Clay is speaking:

“I’m not the stubborn one. You’re the one who can’t get past what I did no matter how much–”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Of course you don’t. God forbid any truth should complicate your convictions.”

The truth is that the police think Elena is Clay’s wife because he’s engineered a situation in which everyone in town believes they are married despite the fact that they are not.

The truth is Elena has repeatedly insisted she wants nothing to do with Clay and Clay overrides her every. Damn. Time.

The truth is Clay is violent, lashing out at anyone and everything that displeases him like a toddler having a tantrum.

But clearly, we have to tar Elena with the same brush so that when they find “true love” they’re both deserving of each other and both have to accept each other’s “flaws”.

Clearly we have to dote on Clay’s few high points, like his intellect:

[Clay] didn’t have a photographic memory, just the uncannny ability to absorb everything he read, making it pointless to save any form of the written word

Or the fact that her surrogate-father likes him:

[Jeremy would] start talking about how difficult my circumstances were, with Clay and being the only female werewolf and all, and how he didn’t blame me for being confused and wanting to explore my choices in life. Though he’d never say it outright, he’d imply that he was certain if he gave me enough latitude to make my own mistakes, I’d eventually see that I belonged with the Pack.

Or his manly concern for his pack members that basically extends solely to avenging their deaths:

Clay walked out from the study. His eyes were bloodshot and dark. Though he was exhausted, he wouldn’t sleep. Not now, with two Pack brothers dead, his Alpha wounded, and none avenged.

Or the assertive way he takes charge of the situation:

“Truce?” he said.

“Whatever.”

“Love those definite answers. I’ll take that as a yes.”

Which is obviously a sign of, er… “maturity”?

In a crisis, we were both capable of summoning enough maturity to know we couldn’t afford to threaten the stability of the Pack with our fighting.

Right.

In yet another stellar move, Clay and Antonio ditch Elena at the bank while she’s getting out cash for groceries after she’s insisted she doesn’t want to go but gets dragged along anyway. Conviction, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently a bunch of bunk standing in the way of Elena’s true love. The prosecution rests.

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Bitten: Ambush (Chapter 17)

We are at the 50% mark, and we’ve got a plot, after a fashion! So of course we’re immediately derailed by Clay entering a “battle of wills” with Elena’s CAR. For chrissakes.

When it hesitated, Clay rammed the gas pedal to the floor, revved the engine into the red zone, then slammed the gearshift into reverse, ignoring the clanking sounds coming from under the hood.

Elena closes her eyes, though she doesn’t admit to being afraid of Clay’s driving. I have been reading the Parasitology books by Mira Grant recently, and one of the things I like is that the main character has a crippling fear of car rides stemming from a bad car accident. Throughout the books, her boyfriend does his best to put her at ease while they’re forced to drive around during the apocalypse, knowing this is awful for her but unable to sheild her from it. It’s actually really sweet.

Clay,  of course, doesn’t give a shit how Elena feels about his abuse of her car.

[Clay] whipped into the lots, circled around sharp enough to induce whiplash, and tore out again.

Seriously…. I’m not getting a sense of urgency so much as a sense of “what an asshole”.

Stealing was the number one occupation among mutts. Their lifestyle didn’t encourage them to stay in one town long enough to settle into a job. Even if they were inclined to lay down roots, it wouldn’t last. The Pack routinely rousted mutts who seemed to be settling into a non-nomadic lifestyle.

So all mutts are thieves and therefore bad people. They are all thieves because they’re shiftless, nomadic types who would never settle down. They don’t settle down because if they tried, the Pack would roust them. Am I supposed to be seeing a connection between mutts and Travellers and therefore feeling bad for the mutts who likely didn’t ask for this life any more than Elena did? Because that’s totally a thing.

They find Peter dead and Jeremy bleeding from a bad attack, being bandaged by Antonio, who wasn’t there when they were jumped. Apparently the mutts used a knife, which is weird for werewolves.

The killer this time was apparently Daniel, who grew up at the same time Nick and Clay did. He’d hated Clay from the start, and therefore Clay’s arrival split up him and Nick from being best friends.

The precipitating event seemed to have occurred when Daniel eavesdropped on Nick and Clay’s conversation and raced off to regale the pack with the story of Clay’s expulsion from kindergarten, which had something to do with dissecting the class guinea pig to see how it worked.

Clay insists the pet was already dead before he began taking it apart, which would make this a cute story about a curious boy who would probably grow up to be a biologist or a doctor or something if we didn’t already know how incredibly violent Clay can be and how he bullies people to get what he wants, something I doubt is new. It takes a lot to get expelled from kindergarten, but threatening other students will do it in a hurry, and I suspect there’s a lot more going on here than just misaligned morals regarding dead pets. Apparently Clay hates Daniel because the story upset Jeremy, and not just for tattling on him. Sure. Whatever. That had to be at least twenty years ago.

Daniel and Clay fought for supreme position among the younger generation. Or, I should say, Daniel fought for it. Clay simply assumed it was his and squashed Daniel’s aspirations with the lazy contempt of someone batting away a mosquito.

You see! That there. That’s what I mean. Apparently Clay killed Daniel’s brother when Jeremy took over the pack, which caused Daniel to leave.

Oh jesus christ I’m done with this book:

After I came along, things got even worse. Daniel decided he absolutely had to have me, if only because I “belonged” to his archrival.

Nope. Not a single likeable werewolf in the whole goddamn book.

When I got to [Daniel’s] apartment, I caught him trying to hide a woman in the closet. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the woman was still alive. Apparently, she had been, right up until I rang the doorbell, upon which Daniel snapped her neck and tried to stuff her into a closet so I wouldn’t find him with someone.

Can we talk for a minute about the tone of this chapter? I feel like the genre is slowly sliding into “Horror via Gossip”: we’re hearing about all these horrific events as though we were standing by the water cooler gossipping with Elena about a new coworker. Which, she’d be good at it, she knows how to turn a phrase and drop revelation after revelation, but it feels almost disrespectful when the revelation is “So A killed C, and then B killed A, and then C’s brother went on a rampage and killed 15 women, and there were body parts stuffed into refrigerators, can you even imagine!”

Anyway. Apparently Jeremy became a doctor because Clay, as usual, fucked everything up. In this instance he broke his leg and the hospital ran blood tests and apparently that’s a big no-no for werewolves, so they had to kill the doctor and steal the file, and Jeremy decided the Pack needed a doctor of its own. Elena has to sew Jeremy up, but she’s bad at home ec! I’m really not amused by the book’s attempts at levity here.

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Bitten: Stalking (Chapter 16)

So at the end of the last chapter, Nick, Clay, and Elena decided to go drive out away from the murder scenes to go for a run and hunt deer. Apparently Nick is a professional playboy who squanders money with his dad’s permission, which Elena apparently thinks is sweet:

I envied […] the thought of growing up in a world where someone cared so much about your happiness and so little about what you accomplished in life.

Gag me.

Clay manages to somehow pick a fight with Elena based on her trying to be polite but not implying that she’s going to stick around forever, which pisses him right off because he can’t stand to not get everything he wants.

Just ignore Clay. Good advice. Really, really good advice. For practicality, though, it ranked up there with telling an acrophobic “just don’t look down”.

The ground doesn’t usually jump out of the bushes and tackle you, though. Apparently she can’t find it in her to be mad at Clay anymore (probably because it’d get in the way of the burgeoning love story), though it’s hard to tell if they’re playing or what when he abruptly lashes out and trips her. I guess it’s supposed to be playful, but given his violent sulks when he doesn’t get his way….

Apparently Nick is a bad werewolf and can’t hear what his wolf side is telling him, but it’s okay because Clay and Elena are the dominant pair here. Or some bullcrap. There’s this thing that fantasy werewolf writers do where they basically have the two communicating as though they were talking based on slight eye motions, like:

[Clay] caught my eye with a look that said “what the hell, you only live once.” I snorted my agreement.

which honestly just feels lazy, particularly when it’s done basically constantly while they’re in canine form. There’s no real effort, just put what you want them to be saying in quotes and ascribe it to “a look”.

They kill their deer and have a nap, and while they’re napping, Cain the mutt pulls an Edward and apparently sneaks up to watch them sleep. Creepy.

I felt the vibration of running paws hitting the ground somewhere behind me. That was Clay and Nick. I recognized them without looking

Apparently Elena can pick out specific werewolves by the distinct vibration their feet make when they hit the ground. Wat. A line later she picks out Clay’s “rhythmic breathing” at her heels. Sure. Why the fuck not. This is officially magic.

Apparently bigger men make bigger wolves: Cain is “literally” twice Elena’s size, since he’s 6’4 in human form. So either she’s 3′ tall in human form or it’s an exponential function of some kind.  Cain nevertheless runs away from Elena, who is then promptly attacked by Clay. Just as I’m thinking he’s done some kind of illusion magic to make them not recognise each other, Clay shifts back so he can talk using words. Apparently he just tackled her to get her attention because he’s sure this is a trap. What a dreamboat.

 

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Bitten: Mistrust (Chapter 15)

The first thing the search party finds when looking for the missing human is Elena’s panties, as well as the shredded remains of her and Clay’s other clothing.

So anyway.

The human is dead, of course. Worse, Elena finds Clay’s hair and prints, which she can distinctly tell are his as though they were familiar shoes because obviously paws have tread patterns and come in many distinct sizes like shoes so they’re readily identifiable…. anyway.  Clay insists that he didn’t do it, and he was with her last night, but she points out he was gone when she woke up. She takes this as a sign she shouldn’t be with him, but she knew that in chapter 1. Nothing here is surprising, except maybe in a meta sense in that I’m sure the author intends to exonerate Clay.

“Why do I bother? Nothing I say will change your mind. Do you know why? Because you want to believe that I did it. That way, you can hole up in here and dwell on how wrong you were to come to me last night, curse yourself for having given in to me again, for forgetting what a monster I am.”

Clay’s right on the money, but for good reason: this relationship is a sick joke, something that’s not healthy for Elena. For all his demands that they be together, he really doesn’t care that he’s wrong for her, that he’s cruel and domineering and abusive. So he turns it around on her: she’s wrong to hate him because hatred is bad, rather than admit that she’s right to hate him because he’s cruel to her.

Sometimes I think Elena makes excuses for Clay because Jeremy’s the same way:

“A meeting implies a group meeting, […] a group meeting implies that all the members of hte group are expected to be there.”

“What if I’m not a member of the group?”

“You are as long as you’re here.”

“I could remedy that.”

Jeremy lifted his feet onto the footstool and leaned his head back against the headrest. “Beautiful weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

“Do you ever discuss anything you don’t want to discuss?”

“It’s the privilege of age.”

I snorted. “It’s the privilege of position.”

“That, too.”

Jeremy orders everyone around  ignoring what they want or how they feel. He’s the leader they all take as a role model, so of course the men of the Pack are like him to a certain extent. And yet…

As someone who’d once been human in a democratic society, the idea of an all-powerful, unquestionable leader rankled. How many nights had Jeremy and I spent debating it, here in this room, drinking brandy until I was too tired and drunk to walk up to my room and fell asleep here

I was going to comment on how she knows better and calls him out on being an asshole but I’ve been sidetracked by how he used his superior capacity for liquor to implicitly win arguments. Fucking asshole.

Jeremy’s plan is to take everyone but Elena, Nick, and Clay to go find out who the killer is, and in the meantime forbid anyone from running in the woods until this is sorted out. Clay predictably explodes. On a practical level, why would any leader want to keep around a werewolf who was prone to violent outbursts when he didn’t get his way? How could that be good for the Pack, or for morale? Seriously?

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Bitten: Synchronous (Chapter 14)

Trigger Warning: Rape, violent/painful sex.

This is the chapter where I am officially Done With Elena.

We rejoin our heroes upon their having returned from their narrow escape from the three mutts; the chapter begins in media res as Jeremy is adamantly forbidding some course of action in front of Nick, Peter, and Antonio, who are primarily here just to prove that there are other wolves involved besides Elena and Clay. They make no meaningful contribution to the scene, which is the classing dressing-down of the protagonists by their overly strict boss as they propose to do the impossible.

This being Bitten, of course, it goes south very fast.

“If [Karl Marsten] wants territory, he has to join the Pack,” Jeremy said.

“Fuck that,” Clay spat. “Karl Marsten is a thieving, conniving son of a whore who’d stab his father in the back to get what he wanted.”

I’m sure this is just meant to be Clay being a cowboy, going off the handle in true Maverick fashion, but it’s telling somewhat that he insults a man by his mother and shows his honor (or lack thereof) by the respect he shows to his father.

Clay goes off the handle entirely, to the point where Jeremy has to deal harshly with him:

“If you go, don’t come back.” Jeremy’s voice was barely above a whisper, but it stopped Clay cold.

I’m really disinterested in the political jockeying between Alpha Males, particularly when I despise both of them for their utter lack of empathy or humanity, so I’m rooting for Clay to storm off and get his ass exiled. The book, however, plays this off as a tough decision for poor ickle Clay, who does storm off but doesn’t leave the grounds so I guess got off on a technicality.

[Clay] walked until we were out of sight and hearing of the house. Then he slammed his fist into the nearest tree, making it rock and groan in protest. Flecks of blood flew.

I am not impressed by how hard the neanderthal can punch. That makes him no less worthy of Elena than before. He screams and rages and punches trees, torn between his inability to betray his father-figure and his inability to let Logan’s killer run free. Again, if he wasn’t such a fucking awful person, I could buy into this. There could be real dramatic tension here.

Instead….

His lips touched mine lightly, tentatively, waiting to be shoved away. I could taste his panic, his fight to control the dueling instincts that raged stronger than anything I could imagine. I put my arms around him, hands going up and entwining in his hair, pulling him closer. A moan of relief shuddered through him. He let the mantle of control slide free and grabbed me, pushing me back against a tree trunk.

He ripped at my clothes, nails scraping against my skin as he tore my shirt and pants free.

Sex between Clay and Elena, that we have seen, is a violent, messy affair. It’s a classic struggle for dominance, with Clay using his larger size to physically shove her around, forcing himself into her, taking as much control as he can — in this instance, he physically lifts her off the ground so she’s helpless as well as pinned. With this scene we also introduce blood — his injury leaves the smell and taste of blood all around them. His wedding ring is a physical reminder of their strangled relationship, digging into her hips and causing her a small measure of pain to remind her what she’s doing. The adjectives in this section reinforce the narrative of sex as violence: “slammed against me”, “desperate lust”, “my battered back”,  “shuddered convulsively”.

In my own book, Wolfbound, when Zachariah and Eileen finally have sex, it’s an experience that is likewise ringed with pain: he has taken her on a run through the woods, a run her body is not physically prepared for, before tackling her to the ground and taking her earlobe into his teeth. I chose to shy away from the pain once they got around to the actual sex part; due to the first person narration, the reader cannot remove themself from Eileen’s head as she disassociates from the experience, focusing on the sense of surrender and safety that her Wolf feels in being mastered by the Alpha rather than the physical discomfort. Through this, we can see what Eileen sees in Zachariah; he is more myth than man to her, the Peter-Pan esque introduction to the world of the supernatural despite being at times carelessly cruel and never seeming to care much for her as a person.

So I can see where Armstrong could have been going with this. Clay is a violent sociopath, a monster in the skin of a man, and yet Elena is drawn to him almost against her will. I, too, have felt the call of the Bad Boy, the lure to be with someone who hurts you and uses you because deep inside your traitorous body says “yes, he is strong and dominating, he would make strong babies”. I’ve wanted to be there with Elena as she slowly comes to terms with what Clay is and what he’ll never be for her; and yet, she seems to already have gone on that journey years ago, when she left him and the Pack behind to try and put together what remained of her life. So what’s this then? What story is this book telling?

“I love you, Elena. I love you so much.”

[…]I stayed there, listening to his heartbeat and waiting for the dread moment when reality would return. It would happen. The fog of lovemaking would part and he’d say something, do something, demand something to send us snarling at each other’s throats.

Is this meant to be a love story? The story of a flawed man and an equally flawed woman coming together despite themselves, struggling to make things work in a fucked-up world?

Clay invites Elena on a run, and they shift into their other skins. As soon as she’s ready to go, he tackles her — yet again, he connects to her via violence, rather than with any sign of care or tenderness. After a few rough tackles, he entices her into a game of “tag”; only when he has tired of proving that he is the strongest, fastest wolf of the two does he change his tune. Now he feeds her rabbit, and shows concern when she feigns injury on the way to go swimming. Now he offers to make her breakfast. Only once he has what he wants: he has conquered her, and now can relax his posture and allow for her womanly weakness, providing for her as her rightful owner.

This is what makes me give up on Elena:

I knew if we went tot the house first, we’d never come back out to go swimming. Something would happen. We’d remember Logan was dead and there were three mutts in Bear Valley. Real life would destroy the fantasy world we’d built so carefully over the past night. I didn’t want it to end. Just a few more hours, a little more time to pretend that it could really be like this, with no past or future to intrude on our utopia.

This is her fantasy: being conquered by an abusive asshole, being shown tenderness because she has given up her right to agency and self-determination. Clay and Elena are our pairing for this book. The author ships them.

When I was younger I had a friend who was going through some hard times. I wanted to be there for her, to help her and comfort her and be the shoulder to cry on that she needed. But over the course of several years, I realized something: nothing was ever resolved with her. It was always something new, some new drama causing her misery and heartache. No matter how many friends she had, it was never enough. No matter what she did, she somehow ended up right back where she started. She didn’t really want her situation to get better. She just wanted to milk every last bit of comfort out of those around her and then, when they got tired of always giving and never receiving, cut them loose in search of fresh bait. Elena wants to be with Clay, despite all her complaints, despite her better judgement. So be it. Let her have him.

No, that’s unfair. It really is. I can understand the desire to be with him, as I said above. But something about this book frustrates me beyond reason. Perhaps it’s that I can see where this is going: Clay promises to change, Elena stays with him, we’re spoon-fed assurances that this is a happy ending, and I’m yet again left bereft, wondering if the book is really that bad or if it’s just me reading negativity into everything. Wondering if maybe it’s right to settle for what you can get because sometimes all you can have is a monster. And then I snap out of it and I return to rage that this book would be well-regarded enough to be turned into a TV series. Everyone picks on Twilight, but there is nothing on this book’s Wikipedia page to condemn this relationship, and on Amazon, the “most helpful” review doesn’t mention Clay, while the second-most “helpful” asserts that “Their bond is fascinating and multi-faceted — in many ways they are reflections of each other.”

I haven’t felt this deeply unsettled by a series since Anita Blake tricked me into liking the protagonist and then careened off the rails until I hated everyone in it equally. New quest: Can I find one decent character in this book to get behind? Someone to root for? Anyone?

Oh, also, some human is missing after coming out to their house. Clay probably ate him. Yay.

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