Hard Target (Cobra Elite #1) by Pamela Clare

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A life debt…

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private military company, Cobra International Security. When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down. The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker. But Jenna isn’t just another assignment. She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him. There’s no way Derek can refuse.

An inescapable attraction…

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father. She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security. She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell. As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset. And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

A merciless enemy…

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone. Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core. But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

Rating: B-

Hard Target is the first book in a new series of romantic suspense novels from popular author Pamela Clare featuring the men (and maybe women?) who work for Cobra International Security, the high-end security firm owned and run by Derek Tower, who was a recurring character in the author’s earlier I-Team series.  I confess that I haven’t read any of those books yet, so I was pleased to be able to jump in on the ground floor with this new series. Hard Target is an exciting, fast-paced read set mostly in Afghanistan, a country that is still unstable and tearing itself apart, and the author does a great job of showing just how dangerous it can be and how people like the heroine – who have gone there to help – walk a tightrope every day in order to do their jobs and stay safe.

Derek Tower is furious when he receives a call from Senator Hamilton, demanding Derek personally brings his daughter – currently working as a midwife in Afghanistan – home to the US.  The senator sits on the Armed Services Committee and thus has the ability to make life very difficult for Derek and his company, but even so, Derek refuses to be intimidated.  He can’t just kidnap a US citizen and tells Hamilton so – but he agrees to fly to the hospital Jenna Hamilton works at to see if he can persuade her to come back to the States.  But he doesn’t do it for Hamilton or for Cobra. He does it because Jenna’s brother had been Derek’s best friend when they were both green berets, and had died saving Derek’s life.  He owes it to him to try to keep his little sister safe – although he doesn’t hold out much hope of being able to persuade the young woman to return with him.

And he’s not wrong in that.  Jenna is six months into her two-year contract working  with and helping to train badly needed midwives, as well as running in education and outreach programs to help women to understand more about the changes their bodies undergo during pregnancy.  Jenna is a spirited, independent woman who refuses to let her father dictate her life any more, and is determined to see out her contract and refuses to budge.  She’s doing good, much needed work; she’s saving lives and hopefully more will be saved in the future and she’s not about to give it up because her controlling father insists she should be sitting at home waiting to get married.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Trick Roller (Seven of Spades #2) by Cordelia Kingsbridge (audiobook) – Narrated by Wyatt Baker

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s the height of summer in Las Vegas. Everyone believes the serial killer Seven of Spades is dead – except Levi Abrams and Dominic Russo – and it’s back to business as usual. For Levi, that means investigating a suspicious overdose at the Mirage that looks like the work of a high-class call girl, while Dominic pursues a tough internship with a local private investigator. The one bright spot for both of them is their blossoming relationship.

But things aren’t so simple. Soon, Levi is sucked into a dangerous web of secrets and lies, even as his obsession with the Seven of Spades intensifies. Dominic knows that Levi isn’t crazy. He knows the Seven of Spades is still out there, and he’ll do anything to prove it. But Dominic has his own demons to battle, and he may be fighting a losing war.

One thing is certain: the Seven of Spades holds all the cards. It won’t be long before they show their hand.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B+

Note: The Seven of Spades series has an overarching plotline, and all the books need to be listened to in order so as to get the most out of the story as a whole; there will be spoilers for book one, Kill Game, in this review.

Trick Roller is book two in Cordelia Kingsbridge’s gripping Seven of Spades series, which follows the hunt for a devious and enigmatic serial killer exacting vigilante justice in Las Vegas. At the end of Kill Game, the killer was apprehended, committed suicide in custody – and the case was closed. Homicide detective Levi Abrams is convinced that they got the wrong guy, but his boss refuses to listen to his protestations and has warned Levi not to attempt any further investigation; the Seven of Spades is dead and that’s an end of it.

Three months later, life goes on much as usual and Levi and his work-partner, Martine, are investigating the murder of a doctor who was in Vegas in order to attend a major medical conference. Given that the man was known to use escort services, their initial thoughts are that he was probably the victim of a trick roller, a prostitute who drugged and then stole from him. But when Levi and Martine track down the woman whose ‘company’ he’d paid for that night, that scenario begins to seem unlikely; she works through a very high-end escort agency that pays well, and certainly wouldn’t have needed to steal from a client. Once they’ve completed their interview, the detectives are sure the woman is innocent – until a stash of Rohypnol is discovered in her house, and even though she swears it doesn’t belong to her, Levi and Martine have to arrest her for the murder.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

This title may be purchased from Amazon

By day, Willa Heston is a mild-mannered Quantum Physicist; by night, she’s on the trail of stolen classified documents. Technically that means Detective John Tilbrook is on her side, only Willa has secrets she’s not sharing. Though she keeps her distance, John is fascinated by the new physicist on the block. A fan of coincidence and happy endings, John has plans for the secretive scientist with the wicked sense of humour. Trouble is, Willa has more than her heart on the line — her best friend is the prime suspect for espionage, she’s leading a double life and she’s having one hell of a bad hair day. As days speed past, Willa’s life unravels as she struggles to come to terms with her unexpected feelings for a man she just met. John’s a big fan of happily-ever-afters, but will he believe in love and happiness when Willa divulges the real reason she’s in town? Will he break the law he’s sworn to uphold — for love?

Rating: B

Having read and greatly enjoyed the two novels that (so far) comprise Sandra Antonelli’s In Service romantic suspense series featuring a spy and the (female) butler who loves him, I decided to delve into her back catalogue. I liked the sound of For Your Eyes Only (a title the author tells me she originally suggested as a joke!), a story revolving around a forty-something physicist-turned-FBI-agent who is sent to investigate the leak of sensitive information from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Ms. Antonelli’s writing is clever and witty, her plots generally well-executed  and her books all feature romances between characters in their forties and fifties, an age group that is still sadly underrepresented within the romance genre.

Dr. Willa Heston isn’t too thrilled by her latest assignment.  A quantum physicist, she’s also worked for the FBI for a number of years as an Intelligence Analyst before being recruited into undercover work.  She’s heading to Los Alamos to take up a fellowship at the National Lab (where she used to work) but her real job is to find out how classified information from the lab was found at the site of a recent drug bust by the local PD.  And that would all be fine were it not for the fact that the investigation is likely to turn up links to her dear friend Dominic Brennan – whom she knows is completely innocent  – a former colleague, and the man who helped her keep her shit together after the tragic death of her husband.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, her car has a flat tyre on the road and while she’s perfectly capable of changing it, the final lug nut is screwed on so tightly she just can’t get it off.  A passing motorist stops to offer his help, and discovering the spare tyre is flat, too, ends up driving Willa to the nearest town so she can get it sorted out.  Even Willa’s foul mood can’t stop her noticing that the guy is really attractive, with a truly disarming smile – or from admitting there’s a definite spark between them, something she hasn’t felt since losing her husband a couple of years back.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Inferno (Flashpoint #3.5) by Rachel Grant

This title is available as part of the FLASHPOINT box set

US Embassy Officer Kaylea Halpert needs a date for a black tie event at a dangerous foreign national’s lavish home. Preferably someone with brains and brawn who can watch her back. Special Forces Sergeant Carlos Espinosa is more than happy to escort the beautiful, brilliant diplomat—who just might be a CIA case officer—to the party. Their night together only gets hotter when he discovers Kaylea burns for him too.

Date night in Djibouti turns deadly when foreign agents target the couple. But who is the intended victim, the covert operator or the Green Beret? As Carlos and Kaylea use their combined skills to escape their captors, they uncover treachery that could ignite relations between the US and Djibouti—already at a flashpoint—and trigger an inferno.

NOTE: INFERNO is currently available ONLY as part of the box set of FLASHPOINT novels (see Amazon link above). It will be released separately in June 2019.

Rating: B+

Rachel Grant’s recent Flashpoint series of romantic suspense novels set in and around the Horn of Africa is one of my favourites in the genre; fast-paced, action-packed, sexy and incredibly politically astute and informative, they’ve pretty much ruined me for all other romantic suspense stories!  So I may just have squeeed a little when I learned the series wasn’t quite over, and the author was publishing a novella featuring two of its main secondary characters, US diplomat (and CIA Case Officer) Kaylea Halpert and Sergeant First Class Carlos Espinosa, another member of the team of special forces operatives based at Camp Citron in Djiboutu.

When Kaylea learns she’s been invited to a party being hosted by Saudi businessman Sheikh Rashid bin Abdul al-Farooq, she isn’t keen on attending.  Al Farooq has only recently emerged as a player on the political stage in the region; backed by the Russian Bratva, he’s positioning himself as a philanthropist and benefactor to Djibouti, and Kaylea is concerned that the traitor Seth Olsen (Firestorm), whom Al Farooq met recently, may have blown her cover and revealed her to be a CIA agent.  In addition, the man has taken a personal interest in her that Kaylea finds worrisome, to say the least.  Seeing her unease, one of her colleagues suggests she takes a date to the party – which gives Kaylea an idea.  She needs someone to watch her back who won’t be easily intimidated – and who won’t shy away from being intimidating if necessary – and who better than one of the Special Forces guys from Camp Citron?  And if that guy just happens to be a certain gorgeous, Puerto Rican explosives expert… well.

Sergeant Carlos Espinosa (Espi) is looking forward to shipping out and returning Stateside.  The mission he and his team have been given – that of training Djiboutian soldiers – has come to an end, and they’re heading home in seven days. It’s been a tough tour and he’s not sorry to be leaving… although he has to admit that he wouldn’t have minded spending a bit more time there if it meant he could get to know a certain CIA operative a bit better.  Kaylea Halpert is his ideal combination of beauty, brains and badass but their paths are unlikely to cross again once his deployment comes to an end.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Under Fire (Love Over Duty #1) by Scarlett Cole (audiobook) – Narrated by Amelie Griffin and Alexandre Steele

This title may be downloaded from Audible US, via Amazon

Hot, hard-bodied Sixton Rapp is a former SEAL who’s raring to begin his brand-new civilian life. He and his Navy “brothers” start a security firm that offers the kind of services only a team of military-trained professionals can provide. But nothing prepared Six for his new client: an innocent woman on a mission to improve thousands of lives…unless someone takes hers first.

Dr. Louisa North knows time is against her as she tries to create a “miracle” medical treatment for a disease with no known cure, until she creates a sample so powerful that the wrong people want to use it as a chemical weapon. At first, Six is unwilling to accept Louisa as his client. But soon he realizes that the danger is real and that there’s much more to this plain-Jane scientist…including a burning passion between them that neither of them can resist.

And now that an enemy is on Louisa’s trail, Six will do whatever it takes to protect her – or die trying.

Rating: Narration – C/B-: Content – C

Scarlett Cole’s Under Fire is the first in her Love Over Duty trilogy of romantic suspense novels featuring three friends – all former military – who throw in their lots together to form a high-end private security company. The author and both narrators are new-to-me (although I think I may have heard Alexandre Steele before under a different name), so this was one of those times I took a chance because I liked the sound of the synopsis, which promised a nerdy scientist heroine teaming up with a hot former SEAL in order to prevent one of her experiments falling into the wrong hands and being developed as a chemical weapon.

Well… that is a fairly accurate outline of the plot, but what should have been an exciting, high-stakes tale full of action and danger turned out to be a bit of a yawn-fest.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Blind Justice (Men of Steele #5) by Gwen Hernandez

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Tara Fujimoto’s quest to avenge her sister’s death makes her a target, a sexy security specialist steps in to watch her back, but his quiet appeal threatens her carefully guarded heart. Can she resist their lightning-hot attraction, and stay alive long enough to expose her enemy?

Former military special operator Jeff Patarava has good reasons to keep his distance from his impossibly perfect coworker, but when her life is threatened, his resolve is shot to hell. Forced into close proximity, sparks fly as he learns she’s far more than her flawless appearance suggests. Now, he’ll put everything on the line to keep her alive.

Rating: B

Blind Justice is the fifth book in Gwen Hernandez’s Men of Steele series of romantic suspense novels centred around the men – and in this book, women – who work for the high-end private security firm owned by Kurt Steele.  I’ve read some – but not all – of the previous books in the series (I reviewed book three, Blindsided) but Blind Justice works perfectly well as a standalone, so readers new to this series and author can jump in here without feeling lost.

Tara Fujimoto is Steele Security’s business manager.  She’s smart, tough and determined;  she’s worked hard to put her messed up past and poor choices – especially in men – behind her, and is finally in a place where she feels comfortable with herself and who she is.  She’s happy in her work, thinking of the guys at Steele as brothers, men she can admire from a safe distance – and they all view her as a kind of ‘office mom’, someone who won’t let them get away with any crap and who tells it like it is.  Her job doesn’t involve field work, but as the book opens she’s mounted an operation of her own to bring down the man she holds responsible for her sister’s recent suicide, a photographer named Mars, who promised modelling careers to young women and then forced them into having sex with him.  Although it’s not a Steele Security operation, she’s asked one of the team – recent addition Jeff Patarava – to provide back-up, and while they’re waiting for the police to arrive, Tara examines the camera to see how many shots of her were taken. As she’s flicking through the files, she sees an image that makes her feel even sicker than she already did, a picture of a man having sex with a girl who can’t be more than fourteen.  The man in the picture has a distinctive tattoo that seems oddly familiar, but before Tara can think more about it, the police arrive, and she and Jeff become involved in giving statements.

Jeff, a former Air Force combat weatherman (and yes, we do find out more about that job later in the book!) hasn’t been with Steele Security very long, but he’s slotted into the team really well and gets along with everyone – although he can never quite relax around Tara, the tension of an attraction he doesn’t want or need seeming to weigh in the air between them whenever they’re in proximity to one another.  He enjoys his job, but his stint with Steele is only meant to be temporary, something to provide an income while he focuses on his one and only priority – finding his four-year-old son Evan, whom he hasn’t seen in months.  Finding out he was a Dad was the reason Jeff left the military, but the boy’s mother moves them around a lot and hasn’t been in touch for ages; now she’s disappeared and Jeff is desperate to find his son.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Thrown to the Wolves (Big Bad Wolf #3) by Charlie Adhara

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Agent Cooper Dayton is going to meet his boyfriend’s werewolf family. Unarmed. On their turf.

And he’s bringing his cat.

When Agent Cooper Dayton agreed to attend the funeral for Oliver Park’s grandfather, he didn’t know what he was getting into. Turns out, the deceased was the alpha of the most powerful werewolf pack on the eastern seaboard. And his death is highly suspicious. Regardless, Cooper is determined to love and support Park the way Park has been there for him.

But Park left him woefully unprepared for the wolf pack politics and etiquette. Rival packs? A seating order at the dinner table? A mysterious figure named the Shepherd? The worst is that Park didn’t tell his family one key thing about Cooper. Cooper feels two steps behind, and reticent Park is no help.

There are plenty of pack members eager to open up about Park and why Cooper is wrong for him. Their stories make Cooper wonder if he’s holding Park back. But there’s no time to get into it…as lethal tranquilizer darts start to fly, Cooper needs to solve the mystery of the alpha’s death and fight for the man he loves—all before someone else dies.

Rating: A-

Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series has been something of a surprise hit for me.  I’m not normally into stories about werewolves, but AAR’s review of The Wolf at the Door convinced me to read it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Although each of the three books features a self-contained mystery that’s solved by the end, the romantic relationship between the human FBI agent Cooper Dayton and his werewolf partner, the enigmatic, coolly-collected Oliver Park, develops throughout the trilogy, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping into this one without having read the other two.  And if you were waiting for the final book before starting the first, be warned that there are spoilers for The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay in this review.

Cooper and Park have come a long way since they first teamed up in order to solve a case involving a string of vicious murders.  Moving from suspicion and animosity to professional trust, personal friendship and more, they’ve struggled, at times, to admit to the truth of their feelings for one another and talk through their issues (just as you’d expect of two stubborn, alpha males!), but by the end of The Wolf at Bay they’re committed to each other and to their relationship, even though there are still a few bugs to be ironed out – not least of which is the fact that Cooper is sure there are things about himself Park is still keeping from him.

When Thrown to the Wolves opens, Cooper and Park are on their way to Nova Scotia in order to attend the funeral of Park’s grandfather Joseph, the alpha of the Park pack. Oliver has been on edge ever since receiving news of the man’s demise a day earlier, and although he is no longer a member of the pack (having turned his back on it when he learned they’d been concealing the truth about the deaths of his parents) he decides to return to the family estate to attend the funeral, and asks Cooper to go with him.  Unlike Cooper, who wasn’t out to his family before the events of The Wolf at Bay, Park’s family knows he has a boyfriend and accepts his sexual orientation without a problem.  But as soon as Cooper and Park arrive – following a life-threatening accident – Cooper realises something is off; and it doesn’t take him long to figure out what it is.  The Parks may be fine with the fact that Oliver is gay – but the fact he’s in a relationship with a human?  That, they’re not pleased about.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.