Special Ops Seduction (Alaska Force #5) by Megan Crane

This title may be purchased from Amazon

She’s the last woman he ever wanted to see again…

After an official operation turned deadly, Jonas Crow began a new life in Grizzly Harbor with Alaska Force. But when fellow soldier Bethan Wilcox joins the group, she forces him to remember things he actively prefers to forget. That’s unforgivable enough. But now the two of them are forced together on a mission to uncover deadly secrets tied to their complicated past, and with the heat between them at a boil, forgiveness is the least of his worries…

And the only woman he needs.

Bethan Wilcox, one of the first women to make it through Army Ranger school, didn’t join Alaska Force to deal with Jonas’s foul temper. Or her own errant attraction to him. Thrown together in a race against the clock, they have to pretend to be a couple and play nice to throw the enemy off their scent. She knows better than to let their pretend love feel real…especially while time is running out.

Jonas has always been good at saving the world. But it’s Bethan he needs to save this time around—if she doesn’t save him first.

Rating: C+

Special Ops Seduction is the fifth book in Megan Crane’s Alaska Force series of romantic suspense novels and I picked it up mostly because I’d enjoyed the previous book (Delta Force Defender) and because I liked the premise of the romance in this one – two tough-as-nails special operatives who have an uneasy history have to pose as a couple in order to gain much-needed intelligence pertinent to their current mission.  Unfortunately however, the suspense plot, while quite compelling, doesn’t really get going until around three-quarters of the way into the book, the hero has as much personality as a plank of wood (which is partly intentional, but still makes him very difficult to relate to or like) and the middle section of the book is kind of all over the place and failed to hold my attention.

Bethan Wilcox is the only female member of the elite Alaska Force, which is comprised of former special forces operatives who wanted to continue to fight the good fight after they left the military.  As one would expect of a former Army Ranger, she’s strong, tough and fiercely competent; a woman operating in a man’s world, Bethan works harder, longer and with more intensity and determination than anyone, conscious she can never let her guard down and compartmentalising the different sides of her personality.  A fearsome hardass is the face she shows to everyone on the team; behind the locked door of her cabin home is the only place she allows herself to indulge in her softer side and be wholly herself.

Big, brooding, taciturn and deliberately unknowable, Jonas Crow is a perennial thorn in Bethan’s side.  He’s one of the founding members of Alaska Force and is known for his ability to be almost invisible – in the sense that he somehow does the exact opposite of attract attention – and for being utterly implacable and completely unemotional; more machine than man.  He and Bethan have a history that goes way back, well past the eighteen months she’s been with Alaska Force – a past he refuses to talk about or acknowledge, but one which clearly makes him uncomfortable (insofar as he feels any emotions about anything).   I have to admit here that given the way it’s built up, I expected this history to be something incredibly shocking – but it isn’t.  Bethan saved Jonas’ life following a bomb attack in the desert and kept him alive until help arrived; he apparently told her all sorts of things he now regrets saying as he drifted in and out of consciousness and – er… that’s it.  He behaves like a total dick to her for eighteen months because Mr. Big, Bad ‘n’ Broody is pissed he got saved by a girl.

Moving on.

The book opens really strongly with Bethan, Jonas and other members of the team on a mission to rescue Iyara Sowande and her brother – a brilliant biochemist widely touted as the world expert on a new form of chemical warfare – and get them both well away and to a safe-house.  Their mission is successful – although not without a couple of hiccups – and all goes to plan afterwards, until a few days later, they learn that the Sowandes are missing.

Here’s where the plotting gets a bit… tenuous.  There are apparently five men who could either have arranged for the Sowandes to be kidnapped OR have made a deal to gain access to Tayo Sawande’s research  – three high-ranking military officers and two Fortune 500 CEOs – and by a stroke of luck, all five of them are to be present at the wedding, in two weeks’ time, of Bethan’s sister, Ellen.  (Bethan’s father is also a high-ranking military officer, so they’re all members of that particular Boys Club).  Bethan doesn’t get on with her family and spends as little time with them as possible; her father is Air Force (she joined the Army to rebel against him), her mother disapproves of her because she’s not good at “the serious girl stuff” (telling her once that she was worried Bethan would show up at an event wearing fatigues) and her sister, well, they don’t have much of a relationship because Bethan’s hardly around.   So Bethan is about to go undercover in her parent’s home – as herself.  When Jonas volunteers to be her date for the week, Bethan is as surprised as everyone else.

Around half the story is taken up with the visit to Bethan’s home and the lead-up to the wedding.  We – and Bethan – finally get to see a different side of Jonas, although his one-of-the-lads act is just as much of a fake persona his usual day-to-day one.  He’s starting to struggle to keep his mask in place around Bethan though, and it’s not long before tempers flash and walls come tumbling down; but desperate, heated kisses and wall-banging sex aren’t enough to keep those walls from going up again almost immediately afterwards.  There’s definitely chemistry between Jonas and Bethan, but their relationship is severely underdeveloped, and while I could see what Jonas saw in Bethan – her competence, her abilities, her big-heart – I was at a loss as to what Bethan saw in Jonas, other than he’s hot.

In fact the best part of that section of the story was watching Bethan reappraise her family situation and realise that perhaps she’d misread it and misread them;  I was pleased she found a way she could be herself and have her family back in her life.

As I said at the beginning, the final section is where pretty much all the action is, but as with the previous book, the lead up to the HEA had me scratching my head.  It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but Bethan makes an assumption that directly contradicts something she and Jonas had said to each other just hours before, and it’s such an obvious way of manufacturing a delay to the HEA that it made me really cross.

I dithered a bit over the grade for this one, because while I really liked Bethan and her journey towards reconciling with her family and realising she could have both them and her job, this is supposed to be a romantic suspense novel and neither of those elements works all that well.  Jonas is one of those typically strong, silent, alpha types, but he’s almost entirely a one-note character – all about being dead inside and having no feelings and not wanting to think about Bethan in any way, shape or form. It’s like he’s TOO badass to have an actual personality, which made it hard to root for them to be together, because I couldn’t get a handle on him – and Bethan deserved better than someone who treated her like shit for years, especially considering she’d saved his life.

So I’ve reached the conclusion that while Special Ops Seduction has its good points, there aren’t enough of them – and certainly not enough of them in the romance or the suspense departments  – to merit  a recommendation.

Delta Force Defender (Alaska Force #4) by Megan Crane

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After an explosion that should have killed her, Caradine barely escaped her criminal family by leaving her old identity behind. These days she runs the Water’s Edge Cafe in a rugged little town on the edge of nowhere, vowing never to let anyone close to her again.

After his career in the military, Isaac is back home playing the part of an unassuming local in Grizzly Harbor, while also overseeing Alaska Force’s special ops work as the founder and commanding officer he once was in the Marines and beyond. He has better things to do than obsess over a woman who claims she hates him, but every glimpse he gets of the vulnerability beneath her prickly exterior is a distraction . . . and a challenge he can’t ignore.

When Caradine’s demons catch up with her, her cafe isn’t the only thing that blows up. Her past pushes them together, and closer to a future that’s been waiting for them all this time. They just have to survive long enough to enjoy it.

Rating: B

Delta Force Defender is book four in Megan Crane’s Alaska Force series featuring a group of elite special forces operatives based out of a remote location in Southeast Alaska.  I haven’t read the other books, and although the central romance between Alaska Force leader Isaac Gentry and prickly café owner Caradine Scott has obviously been building throughout the series, Delta Force Defender worked perfectly well (for the most part) as a standalone.

The book opens with a prologue set ten years earlier in which we meet sisters Julia and Lindsay Sheeran daughters of a dangerous and violent criminal and arms-dealer with connections to crime syndicates all over the world.  Julia – who is paying her own way through college against her father’s wishes – has been summoned home, but as she arrives, Lindsay comes outside to warn her away, and before she can say more, a massive explosion destroys the house killing everyone inside.

Ten years later, Isaac Gentry is woken in the middle of the night by a phone call telling him the Water’s Edge Café in the tiny fishing village of Grizzly Harbor has blown up. The news momentarily stuns him, but he quickly makes his way to the village, arriving to find members of his team on site who tell him the place was fire-bombed but that it seems to have been a warning rather than intended to kill. Indications are that Caradine got out alive, but she’s yet to come back – and when all the signs point to the fact that she’d been prepared for such an eventuality, Isaac knows she’s running.  They’ve been sniping at each other and occasionally falling into bed together ever since she first arrived five years earlier, and Isaac has always sensed that she’s been holding something back. There’s no doubt about their mutual physical attraction, but Caradine has refused to let anyone close, even him – maybe especially him – and after waiting for her to tell him the truth, Isaac decides it’s time to drag the ghost that was Caradine Scott out into the light, no matter what happened.

Julia – Caradine – spent the first five years after the explosion at her home moving around from place to place, never settling anywhere for long and staying under the radar.  She’s always known that staying in Grizzly Harbor for so long was asking for trouble,  but somehow she’d found herself becoming Caradine, settling into a life she’d known could never be hers, making connections with the villagers and a man she had no business wanting.  Leaving it all behind is hard, but she’s done it before and she’ll do it again.  She must.  Even if the memories of Grizzly Harbor and the man she knows will want to save her won’t leave her.

A week or so finds Caradine on the other side of the country and at last starting to think that she has actually managed to evade Isaac, whom she has no doubt has been searching for her.  But she’s quickly proven wrong when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find him standing by her bed in the small Maine B&B she’s staying in.  Adopting her most sarcastic, jaded, cutting manner, she pointedly tells him she doesn’t want or need his help – but nothing she says will sway Isaac from his purpose. She’s getting his help whether she likes it or not, before whoever is after her catches up with her and finishes the job.

Delta Force Defender is an entertaining read with a well-executed suspense plot and lots of sexual tension between Caradine and Isaac, a pair of equally stubborn, determined, capable individuals who obviously care a great deal for each other even though they try pretty hard not to show it.  Caradine is a strong-willed, spirited heroine who has learned that the only person she can rely on is herself, so letting others in goes against her strongly ingrained sense of self-preservation.  I like a plucky heroine who can give as good as she gets, but I have to admit that it took a while for me to come to like her because some of the things she says are mean-spirited and deliberately meant to wound. I know it’s her self-defence mechanism and because she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt on her account, but even so, she came off as spiteful and dismissive as a result.

Isaac is pretty much your common-or-garden ex-special forces badass alpha male.  He’s gorgeous and highly competent, he wants to keep Caradine safe no matter what, and if he had his way, would wrap her up in cotton wool while he and his team flush out whoever is after her.  Fortunately, he knows all too well that there’s no way Caradine is going to let him do that; he might not like it, but he accepts the need for her to be involved with his plans, and they work together surprisingly well.

There’s plenty of action building to a high-stakes finale as Isaac and Caradine get closer to the truth, and I really appreciated that the romance plot is never sidelined;  Caradine and Isaac spend a lot of time together on the page, and the author keeps the chemistry between them bubbling nicely along.  I was, however, a bit confused by the turn things took near the end.  It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but when, for most of the book, Caradine has been the one trying to keep Isaac at a distance, and she then turns around and accuses him of not really wanting her now she doesn’t need to be rescued,  I did a cartoon-character-style double-take.  She gives him all this guff about how she’s ready to commit, but all he knows is the fight, and how he doesn’t want to win, but wants to suffer… I was scratching my head and wondering where it was all coming from.  Maybe if I’d read the previous books in the series, it might have made more sense, but I was completely baffled; throughout the book I’d seen a man who wanted desperately to keep someone he loved safe and who would do whatever was necessary to do it – and who was possibly more invested in their relationship than Caradine was.  That wasn’t a man who was only interested in saving damsels in distress just for the hell of it, and I honestly don’t know what the author was trying to accomplish apart from an unnecessary delay to the HEA that was obviously on the cards.

That part cost the book half a grade point, and if anyone who reads it can explain what the hell happened there, I’d really appreciate it!  Otherwise, Delta Force Defender is a fast-paced, entertaining and suspenseful read; I liked the rapport among the Alaska Force members, the evocative descriptions of the various locations and, apart from that late-book huh? moment, the romance is nicely done.