Review:Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill

It's no secret that many of us adore Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series since we've talked about it early and often as long as we've been a blog. But even those of us who are superfans don't often agree on our favorite characters, let alone our favorite book of the series. And that's okay, because we can appreciate one another's tastes. For the record, my favorite character is Merit (which I told you about when I shared my favorite UF heroines) with Ethan coming in a very close second.

Twelve books in, though, my favorite installment in the series remains the third chapter in Merit's tale, Twice Bitten. While this book is almost six years old now, and nine books and three novellas have come out since then, this one contains my very favorite quotes from the series, my favorite scenes, and the moments that laid the foundation for the Methan we would all come to adore. I talked about the journey Methan took to get to one another, here, and Twice Bitten is critical in that journey. 

Come with me through the jump and I'll tell you, with all the dirty details, why Twice Bitten is the best book in the Chicagoland Vampires saga. Spoilers will be rampant, so follow me at your own risk.

Yeah, you do, girl!
By the third book Merit has accepted her new life as a vampire, has moved into Cadogan House, and is accepting her role as Sentinel, recognizing that it's an important and powerful job. She's also starting to warm up to Ethan despite her reservations and her rock-solid conviction that he only wants her because of chemistry and nothing more. Yeah. Sure.

While Merit and Ethan made some social calls in the previous book, dancing, eating, and looking fly as hell while rubbing elbows with Chicago's elite, Twice Bitten marks the first time that our intrepid couple embarks on adventures together with the understanding that they may have to pull their steel. One of the best things about the entire series is Ethan and Merit adventuring together: fighting together, solving problems together, and protecting Chicago and Cadogan House. Together. Which all starts in Twice Bitten.

This book is the point in the series where things really started solidifying and picking up steam. It's where Merit became a leader among the House Guards, where Ethan learned that Merit can not only hold her own, but that she would be an asset to the House regardless of the situation. It's where we see alliances forming, even if certain stubbornly fearful shifters wouldn't make them formal. And it's where we see Cadogan House and the Ombuddies starting to become a team, hints of the well-oiled machine they will become.

I adore Twice Bitten because of all of these foundational events, because of the the always-sharp wit that feels so right to me, and because we see Merit truly kicking ass for the first time. But most of all I treasure this one because of the delicious angst. Because, really, what is a great love story without a little angst. Now, I understand that some of my friends, and probably other readers were so disgusted with Ethan's dissembling in this one that they gave up. I had a friend say that she just couldn't forgive him because no one fucks over her girl and gets away with it. I respect her conviction, but I personally love Ethan's choices in this book.

First of all, let's discuss the Pizza Party. I've said before and I'll say it again, that is one of the single best seductions scenes I have ever read. How could Merit not give in? The actual sex is much more implied than described, which it perfectly fine with me, because that wasn't the point of the scene. But the seduction, Ethan's demeanor and words, blow me away, every single time I read it.

"You undo me, Merit. Wholly and completely. You don't take me at my word. You challenge me at every opportunity. And that means when I'm with you, I am less than the head of this House...and I am more that the head of this House. I am a man." He stroked my cheeks with his thumbs. "In my very, very long life, I need you more than I have ever needed anything."

It's the day after the Pizza Party where things really start to go awry, and Ethan's decision to put his House before Merit is painful, but completely understandable. This man is a warrior, a soldier and a leader, who has never really known intimate relationships, as far as we know. Yes, he has loved and he has had lovers, but nothing has ever been as important to him as his House is. He is the leader of more than 300 vampires, the maker of most of those. It must have been terrifying to contemplate putting those vampires at risk for the sake of his own needs. And I love him for it, as painful as that decision was. It's also important to acknowledge that it wasn't exactly easy for him, either. His speech about what he wants but can't have guts me, every time. That man deserves some happiness, too.
"...You think I haven't thought about  what it might be like to return to my rooms at the end of the night and find you there--to find you in my bed, to have your body and your laugh and your mind? To look across a room and know that you were mine--that I'd claimed you. Me. He drummed a finger against his chest. "Me. Ethan Sullivan. Not the head of Cadogan House, not the four-hundred-year-old vampire, not the child of Balthasar or the Novitiate of Peter Cadogan. Me. Just me. Just you and me."
I know, Hook! It's so great!
Now, the last page is where this book goes from wonderful to "holy shit this book is perfect why doesn't everyone realize the perfection of this book??" for me. Shifters attack the House, friends come to the rescue, and everyone (vamps, shifters, Ombuddies, RG) fights together to save the House from disaster, including Merit and Ethan fighting back-to-back. At dawn everyone is exhausted, of course, and those staying in the House retreat to their rooms, including our Merit. At dusk there's a knock at her door, and it's Ethan, contrite, knowing how badly he fucked up, but determined to win back the woman he needs more than anything in his very long life. And with these words I became Team Ethan for life. Actually, teams aren't necessary. There is no one but Ethan after this. Game on. 

 "I pushed you away for fear of what our relationship would do, could do, to this House. And then we protected this House together. That is the true measure of what we could do."     He paused, then tapped a finger against the box. "This is a wish," he said quietly, "that even after four hundred years of experience, a man can be strong enough to accept the gifts he's given."

Wench Rating:
Five stars aren't enough. This book gets all the stars!

And a few more perfect lines, just for S&G!

"You are my greatest strength. You are my biggest weakness."

"Always remember," he whispered to me, "that you are an uncommon soldier, whatever they say. And you are quite a thing to behold."
"It should be illegal for smug vampires to look that good," Lindsay said, clucking her tongue.
"That is so true," I agreed, thinking a little less hotness would make my relationship with Ethan a lot simpler.

"All of our lives are intertwined," Gabriel said. "Vampire or shifter, man or woman, our heartbeats echo the very pulse of the earth. And ours are not the only hearts connected." He looked at Ethan, then me. Someone handed him a cup, and Gabriel raised it to us. "We offer our friendship."

He smiled grandly. "I do enjoy your smartassery, Kitten."

We stood there quietly for a moment. "If that's all you wanted," I said, "I'm going back outside." I walked toward the door, but he finally stopped me in a word.
I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my hands into fists. I was eager to resist him, but he was my Master, and he'd called my name, and that alone was enough to halt my march to the door.
"Unfair," I told him. "Unfair and too late."

Jeff bounced on his heels, fists curled. It was an odd-looking position for the lanky computer programmer, but I knew Jeff could take care of himself.
And unlike the convocation, where we fought on different sides of the room, this time I got to watch. While I fought off the perps on the right, Jeff took the left.
And he brought it.
It was like watching a monk do battle--complete calm in his expression and his eyes, but every move perfect, every move precise. He was a fantastic fighter, his strikes and kicks on target and his blocks perfectly timed to defend against the blows of his attackers. At one point, he caught my stunned gaze and offered back a cheeky grin.
"Sorry, babe. I'm taken"
I rolled my eyes and swung my katana, and together we fought back the army of people and shifters hell-bent on destroying our House.

And then we fought.
Whatever miracle of vampire genetics I might have been was nothing compared to the miracle of our fighting...together. {Barb's note: this is Merit and Ethan fighting. So great!}


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