Cole Sawyer, Army Ranger, has just returned from a devastating tour of duty in Afghanistan. He blames himself for the death of a group of soldiers, because the suicide bomber that he didn’t shoot was a woman; he hesitated a beat, and that was all it took. He reacts on instinct the day he sees a bank robbery start to unfold, but moments later, the real robbers escape, with Lisa Meador’s toddler son! Frantic to save her child, she and Cole engage in a pursuit that will cross Texas.
This is my first Harlequin Intrigue title; it was a great suspense story, with a fantastic series of plot twists and turns that will keep you reading straight through. When you get to the reveal toward the end, and all the pieces start to fit into place, you just might “Ah-hah!” with pleasure. I didn’t see the big surprise coming, at all, so it was really nice how well that piece of the story was told.
That said, this story is not as strong, in my opinion, in the “romance” aspect. According to the writing guidelines for this line, “hero and heroine must share a palpable physical and emotional attraction throughout.” Well, yes, they did, in a manner of speaking; they were rather-quickly attracted to each other, even though Cole, once he discovers her identity, has something he really, really needs to tell her, but can’t, in the busy and fury of chasing down the villains. That secret keeps him feeling bad about his growing attraction for her, which is understandable, but her understanding and compassion after the reveal show her to be a truly beautiful person.
As near as I can tell, romance is not the primary driver for this line–the mystery to solve together is what should be driving it, and the romance kind of happens along the way. I certainly get that sense from Relentless Protector; it’s a great story, just may not be my line-of-choice, since I prefer…erm…gushier…romances, than this is. If you have a person in your life who likes mysteries, this would be a good ‘un for them, and a good introduction to Harlequin, and to Thompson’s work. I’ll be interested to see what Anne says about this one.
Let’s get away from my misgivings about this being listed as a romance, and talk about some great story mechanics by Thompson. Our hero and heroine are fairly thoroughly described, and we get to spend a great deal of time in their heads, so they’re understandable, real people. We never get into the villain’s head much, instead keeping track of her through the actions and internal conversation of an accomplice. This is a useful device, given the nature of the mystery that must be solved here, and it’s well-done. One might almost feel sorry for the poor guy, once he starts to realize just what a horrible person villainous “Evie” is.
The setting is Texas–we start in central Texas, and end up chasing all the way out to Terlingua, and everything “clicks” really well for me; Thompson, like me, is a Texan, and she knows how to describe it well. The places and supporting cast all reinforce that sense of place and give us a firm lock on the progress of the story.
I enjoyed this book a great deal; it’s got an engaging story and decent people solving a difficult problem together. It’s not as gushy and sugary a romance as I am used to, but what of that? It’s a nice change of pace for me, and a good introduction to the line.