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Branded by Fire - Nalini Singh Branded By Fire is the sixth full length novel in the Psy/Changeling series of Nalini Singh and after I finished reading it I wondered; “Why should I be surprised to, once more, bring a serenade to this series?” After 5 novels it is not only the imagination or writing skill of an author that weighs heavily in how a story is experienced. It is also the fact that I care so much about the DarkRiver and SnowDancer pack, the recurrence of beloved characters who shape, form and give such a distinctive feeling to these novels. It is difficult to keep a series on such a constant level for the reader, but Nalini Singh pulls it off and she delivers another incredible tale with Branded By Fire.

Whenever there’s a Changeling in a romantic relationship you can expect skin on skin privileges, playful sensuality and a bit of rough love. It is the animal half that demands and revels in such behavior and brings a sultry vibrancy to the story. In Branded By Fire this means double the fun because Riley, a Lieutenant in the SnowDancer pack, carries a burning torch for Mercy, a Sentinel from the DarkRiver pack. They’re the liaison to each other’s pack and thereby work closely together, so with kidnapping and murders Riley and Mercy have much on their plate to solve. Let the story commence when Mercy goes into heat…

Riley is the kind of male who can go all wolf on a female when provoked, but the chance to get him in such a state is a rare occasion. Riley is all wolf, all stark male demand, in control, responsible, rarely plays and is protective of those he calls family. To see him so out of sorts in regard to Mercy is just exhilarating to read. I encountered Riley in previous novels and there he was just one among the cast of delicious male characters but how he knocked the ball out of the park for me in his own story. Strong when he needs to be, making mistakes along the way and vulnerable when you least expect it. I reveled in every side of him.

Now Mercy was a character who already made herself known to me just by being a female Sentinel of the DarkRiver pack, the only female Sentinel. She is a she-warrior, agile, no-nonsense, take-me-as-I-am kind of changeling but underneath all that attitude of hers lies a woman who is a protective, caring and nurtures a very strong pack and family loyalty. Mercy was all I came to expect from her with fears and questions that were among the first I would have asked myself too if I were in her position. She was strong, she was vulnerable, and she was more than willing to play with “the big bad wolf.” How could I not cheer for such a wonderful heroine in her quest for her mate? She gave it all and more, and kept me on the edge of my seat in the mean time.

It was in the mere first pages Riley and Mercy go all out in a carnal battle of wills and I knew right there and then that this was going to be a rollercoaster ride which I intended to fully enjoy! If Branded By Fire is one thing then it is most definitely the romance of Riley and Mercy. The chemistry between these two is a heady sizzle throughout the pages. The back and forth dialogues are stimulating to say the least! It is also provoking, expressing a hundred and one emotions going from being pissed-off, to comforting one another and going back to being enticing. Riley and Mercy are equal in every aspect that is important and it emanates from their pores, it crackles in the air and can consume these two changelings in a struggle to be victorious and finding strength in surrender. They are both flawed, both have issues, with Riley being a wolf and Mercy being a cat at the foundation of it all. They gave me a fiery romance that made my eyes burn with tears, my throat go dry from their intimate love play and my heartbeat go faster if everything would eventually work out for them. Because if there is one thing Nalini Singh can do is put two mismatched people together and find a way for them to have an exceedingly beautiful happily ever after.

The plot, which always plays an intricate part of a Psy/Changeling novel is subtly intertwined, it kept me intrigued to say the least but allowed the romance to thrive in all its changeling dramatic emotions. The power play between various groups opens the door to the next level in the ongoing plotline. Not only does the Psy Council work its devious schemes, there is also the Human Alliance who step up to the center field. People get murdered, juveniles get kidnapped, the Councilors, the NetMind, the DarkMind, the Ghost and the Information Merchant, all characters who are shrouded in mystery and information about them is scarce. There are sequences of mysterious events that kept me on my qui vive, something was up but the who, how and why was eluding me. Of course a conclusion is given but the bigger picture, the larger questions remain hidden in the shades and is one of the reason why I am so addicted to this series. Each time I am getting a step closer but Nalini Singh always manages to keep a few important things in the open. In every story certain threads come together, allowing the element of surprise to create a full impact but still upon closing the novel, satisfied in every way, I am immediately on the lookout for the next Psy/Changeling release.

With such a rich and considerable supporting cast this tale is filled with juvenile mischief, pouncing and playing which is so integrated within pack attitude. I think of Kit and I grin, he’s such a Alpha Male in the making, both literary and figuratively speaking. Sienna breaks my heart, also one of the younger cast and her persona is one I follow with great interest. Hawke, the Alpha Male of the SnowRiver pack, has my love and loyalty, one day I do hope he will come to Nalini Singh and tell his story, until then I am helping myself with the tidbits he is giving me. Lucas, Sascha, Dorian, Tammy, the family of Mercy, many more come and add their vibrancy to this wonderful word, especially Lucas and Sascha have a few intriguing things to say in this story. It is what I always long for, just to be invited back into these wonderful packs, meet up with key characters again and get that feel, that unique vibe Singh has established from the very first novel.

Branded By Fire is a high-voltage erotic fusion between two changelings who will scorch up the pages, just by the persons they are. I savored every page and Riley and Mercy create the most sensuous Psy/Changeling story to date.

Quote – Mercy’s wish list for a male:
“I don’t need a mate,” she muttered, staring up at the bright circle of the early autumn moon. “But can’t you send me a nice, sexy strong male to dance with? Pretty please?” She hadn’t had a lover for close to eight months now and it was starting to hurt on every level. “he doesn’t even have to be smart, just good between the sheets.”

Quote Mercy:
“But Riley, I’ll only bend so far. You can’t meet me halfway, this will end. It wasn’t a threat. No, it was something far more important. And he understood. I’ll try, Mercy. I’ll give it everything I have.” It was a raw promise, from the heart of a wolf, from the soul of a man.