I made the terrible mistake of starting this book at 10:30 pm. I planned to pick a book that I would read the next day, but instead I kept reading until 2 am. I could not stop laughing. Finally, I got so tired that I dropped my tablet on my face.
Technically, this is a romance. But it’s really more about the MacKilligan sisters – Charlie, Max, and Stevie. Charlie, Max, and Stevie share a ne’r-do-well father, a honey badger shifter named Freddy McKilligan. Charlie, the oldest, is part wolf, Max is all honey badger, and Stevie, the youngest, is part tiger. Charlie’s life work is keeping herself and her sisters safe from their father, keeping Max out of jail, and protecting Stevie from her own genius and those who want to misuse it. Things start off with a bang when Charlie is forced to flee armed assailants while almost naked and runs into Berg Dunn, a grizzly bear shifter who helps her out and gives her a shirt and gun.
When they meet again, Berg keeps helping Charlie, finding her a safe house in a bear neighborhood and backing her up when she needs it. Berg is a triplet and shares a home with his siblings. He isn’t phased by Charlie’s siblings or her commitment to them. Most adorably, he doesn’t try to take over, he supports (looking at you, Conner Rogan). Berg doesn’t so much romance Charlie as create a safe space for her in his life. He is very careful not to add to the enormous pressure she is already under.
“I’m a bear, so we’re naturally loving and giving.”
“Really? Because when I hear about bears, they’re either going through people’s garbage or attacking people in Alaska who were out on a jog.”
“Because we were startled. Don’t startle us, we don’t attack.”
“Unless you’re really hungry.”
He gave an excruciatingly sweet grin. “Unless we’re really hungry.”
While Hot and Badgered is the first in a series, Laurenston has been building this world of shifters for a long time. I have never read any of her other books, but it’s clear that many of the people we meet are from previous books. In some books, that can leave me feeling lost. In this case it grounded the shenanigans in a fully realized world. The shenanigans never stop. Charlie’s sisters are a lot. Max is cheerfully violent and Stevie is neurotic (and violent). The MacKilligan sisters probably kill more people in one book than Murderbot does in four novellas and a novel. In more than one instance, people greet each other with physical assault.
Berg and his bear community are the stability the sisters need. Charlie endears herself to them with stress baking and they charm her with their mostly calm acceptance. I loved this book from the first firing of a portable rocket launcher to the introduction of Benny the dog’s new girlfriend.
So how is this a guide to making friends with bears? I have a joke with friends that bears are just looking for a cup of coffee and a pastry. It was a joy to read a book that reinforces that joke. In real life though, please don’t offer coffee and pastries to a wild bear.