Love Me Still, by Maya Banks
A novella-length paranormal published in December 2007 by Samhain in the Perfect Gift anthology, Love Me Still is my first exposure to Ms Banks’ writing (even though I do have one of her novels published as Sharon Long in the TBR mountain range—must find and read asap).
This story could be considered inappropriate for minors because the premise involves a formal marriage/mating/relationship between two brothers and their wife, but there is neither language nor graphic sex in it. It is a brief and moving look at the complexities and resilience of relationships.
Here’s the blurb:
Forgiveness is the most difficult thing to give but the most cherished thing to receive.
Beloved mate to two wolves, Heather lived an idyllic life until hunters destroyed the pack’s peaceful existence.
Believing their mate betrayed them and was responsible for their father’s death, Cael and Riyu cut Heather from their lives. But when they realize their terrible mistake, can they ever gain her forgiveness and win back her love?
Because of the length—barely 60 pages—there is a lot of background that is sketched rather than explained. Heather is a human who has been mated into a pack of wolf shifters. For the most part, these beings remain hidden in the mountains, limiting their interaction with humans as much as possible.
We are left to guess at how Heather came to meet and be adopted by the wolves, even though there is a bit of a hint about her losing her mother as a young child. Anyway, her mates and the pack are her family, all she wants and all she needs.
Until, that is, a vicious attack that costs the pack their alpha’s life and leaves them believing that Heather betrayed them to the hunters. The only person, other than Heather, who could explain the situation, is gone hunting for revenge, and in the face of their father’s words, her mates shun her.
Once the truth comes out, guilt eats at both Cael and Riyu, but the bigger issue is finding Heather—left wounded and betrayed, vulnerable to the elements—and getting her forgiveness.
I loved the characterizations even as I had some serious issues with the story.
We see events unfold from Heather’s and Cael’s perspectives, which felt just a bit lopsided considering that it’s a three people relationship, but it still worked in telling the story. I loved that the narrative wasn’t cluttered with extraneous stuff—everything that is there is necessary, period. Nico, John Quincy, even Lorna (Heather’s mother in law). Each of them is necessary both to move the plot forward and to provide the backdrop for the relationship between Heather and her mates.
The time elapsed from beginning to end is not clear; there is about a month between the attack and when Cael, Riyu and Nico find Heather again, but she is so sick and feverish when they take her back to the pack that anywhere between another week or even more could have passed. This works well because Heather was not only beaten but raped by the hunters who wounded, and eventually killed, the previous alpha, and it would not have been convincing in any way that she could have worked through her emotions and the first wave of pain and horror of the attack any sooner than that.
But even with the passage of time providing a buffer, I would have liked it if Ms Banks had made it clear that Heather is still healing and that both she and her mates have rough times ahead.
I enjoyed—mean person that I am—how vivid Cael’s and Riyu’s guilt and horror at themselves over having betrayed Heather’s trust is portrayed. Simultaneously, their reactions when they believed, based on what proof they had, that she had betrayed them and cost their father his life, rang true. Between grief at losing their parent and shock and horror at her perceived betrayal, killing her wouldn’t have been too harsh (of course, there would’ve been no story then, but you know what I mean, it felt deserved).
Heather’s feelings of loss, bewilderment, betrayal, grief, are so vividly written that my stomach clenched in sympathy and my eyes teared as I read the scene where she walks to the edge of the ridge, wondering if dying wouldn’t be better…
Sometimes, all the love in the world is not enough. And sometimes, it’s the only thing that helps.
Huge quibble, though: Heather is very obviously hurt—from a wound to her forehead to a broken leg, it’s beyond evident that she was attacked as well, so while her mates reaction while in the grip of grief and shock was understandable, I wonder what the rest of the pack was thinking, feeling, doing.
My last serious issue with the story is that it would seem, based on one of the last paragraphs, that Heather feels that the pack has a right to forgive her…for what, exactly? For being raped? Or for having her mates doubt her so badly? That line, perhaps a bit throwaway, irked me tremendously.
Love Me Still gets 6.75 out of 10, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Ms Banks’ work.
Update: I’m an idiot. I misread this line: “Heather stood back, humbled by the reception, her pack’s willingness to admit wrong and embrace her once again.” *head desk* Humblest apologies, Ms Banks.
(Mind, it doesn’t change the overall rating of the story, because the other issues remain, but it does make my heart good to know it’s the pack eating crow for having jumped to conclusions.)
Heh, sorta like I’m eating crow for the same reason.