Two wolf shifters agree to be fake mates but unexpectedly find something real in this steamy paranormal romantic comedy by Lana Ferguson.
Mackenzie Carter has had some very bad dates lately. Model train experts, mansplainers, guys weirdly obsessed with her tail—she hasn’t had a successful date in months. Only a year out of residency, her grandmother’s obsession with Mackenzie finding the perfect mate to settle down with threatens to drive Mackenzie barking mad. Out of options, it feels like a small thing to tell her grandmother that she’s met someone. That is, until she blurts out the name of the first man she sees and the last man she would ever date: Noah Taylor, the big bad wolf of Denver General.
Noah Taylor, interventional cardiologist and all around grump, has spent his entire life hiding what he is. With outdated stigmas surrounding unmated alphas that have people wondering if they still howl at the moon, Noah has been careful to keep his designation under wraps. It’s worked for years, until an anonymous tip has everything coming to light. Noah is left with two options: come clean to the board and risk his career—or find himself a mate. The chatty, overly friendly ER doctor asking him to be her fake boyfriend on the same day he’s called to meet the board has to be kismet, right?
Mackenzie will keep her grandmother off her back, and Noah will get a chance to prove he can continue to work without a real mate—a mutually beneficial business transaction, they both rationalize. But when the fake-mate act turns into a very real friends-with-benefits arrangement, lines start to blur, and they quickly realize love is a whole different kind of animal.
When The Fake Mate arrived in the mail, I was initially sorry to see that it’s written in first person, present tense. That’s really not my favorite. However, the story drew me in so quickly that I forgot to notice that structure.
The story opens with Mackenzie (Mack to her friends) in the hospital break room on the phone with her grandmother. Lest Gran set her up with yet another in a series of blind date mismatches, Mack blurts out that she’s seeing someone. Gran naturally wants details about this imaginary person. Mack is fumbling to come up with some when Noah comes into the break room. Desperate, she blurts out his name. This gets Gran off her back, but now she has the problem of convincing Noah.
They discuss their mutual problems and agree to pretend to Mack’s grandparents that they’re dating and to the hospital board and staff that they’re mated. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, deceiving almost everyone they know is tougher than they expect. Add in a strong mutual attraction, and complications ensue.
So what sets The Fake Mate apart from other “pretend courtship” romances?
Ferguson’s voice is engaging. Even as Mack remembers the bad dates Gran set her up with, she doesn’t whine about it. She doesn’t describe them all as weird or too socially inept (though one was . . . seriously weird), just as not good matches for her. Mack’s interactions with her friends, only one of whom is in on the secret, involve internal narrative that’s a little wry but often affectionate. It’s obvious that she loves her grandparents and appreciates the concern behind Gran’s matchmaking even though it frustrates her.
Each chapter has the point-of-view character’s name at the top of the first page, but I would’ve known which character was narrating without that. Ferguson gives them sufficiently different voices and world views that it’s easy to tell. Noah’s narrative doesn’t have the teasing, sometimes-joking-as-cover notes of Mack’s.
The supporting cast characters range from smarmy and scheming to sweet and loyal. One is a dedicated gossip whose mom knows Noah’s mom, and Ferguson uses that to great effect in the story.
This is the first shifter romance I’ve read to make extensive use of scent to convey presence, mood, relationship, and sexual reactions. (There may be others, but I’m not familiar with them) In worldbuilding, using the five senses scent often gets short shrift, but Ferguson wields it effectively. In her world, mated shifters smell of each other, and she uses that to bring Mack and Noah into physical contact from the beginning of their ruse. One thing leads to another as the emotional attraction grows.
Ferguson also creates anatomical differences—beyond the shifting, of course—between humans and shifters, particularly alpha shifters like Noah and the type of shifter Mack is, which I’m not revealing to avoid spoilers. There’s also one other factor important to shifters that plays a critical role in the relationship arc.
One thing I most like about the book is the way Noah gradually realizes that keeping his secret has rippled through his life. His relationship with Mack shows him another way, and his responses to that made perfect sense.
When the crisis comes for Noah and Mack, he reacts as many people would. It takes a conversation with someone important to him to change his thinking. Mack reacts in her own way, probing and questioning, and the resolution was thoroughly satisfying.
Readers should be aware that the love scenes are not only explicit but fairly lengthy. I would’ve preferred to have them a little shorter, but others may disagree. They’re used effectively in developing the relationship.
In summary, The Fake Mate has engaging, layered leads it’s easy to root for, a logical plot that works, and inventive worldbuilding. The secondary cast are varied and used well, and the story moves at a good pace. My only quibble is my preference for shorter love scenes.
Readers, what do you think of shifter romances? Do you have any favorites?
Have you read The Fake Mate or any other books by Lana Ferguson?
One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, February 9 will receive a print ARC of The Fake Mate.
*Must be 18