Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert

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Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: B+

Arctic Wild, book two in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, is a gently moving, slow-burn romance between two very different men who find themselves re-evaluating their lives following an almost fatal accident.  There are places where perhaps the pacing could have been a little faster and the focus a little sharper, but I really liked the way the romance developed and how the author explored the dynamics between the leads and the secondary characters/family members who also appear in the story.

Workaholic corporate lawyer Reuben Graham has been persuaded to take a long-overdue vacation with a couple of friends when a last minute change sees him heading off to Alaska on his own.  He’d much rather just have cancelled, but was pretty much guilted into going and anyway, he’s got plenty of work with him so when there’s no decent  internet connection he’ll just hunker down and read all that paperwork he’s got piled up.  With any luck, his guide will be some “grizzled old mountain man pilot”  who is disinclined to talk and will leave Reuben to work in peace.  But he’s out of luck in that department and is instead greeted by a gorgeously attractive, vivacious, younger (too young for him, anyway) man who definitely doesn’t seem as though he’s the strong silent type.

Pilot and tour guide Toby Kooly (whom we met briefly in the previous book, Arctic Sun) is very good at what he does. Personable, informative and fun, he genuinely enjoys making sure his clients are having a good time and doing whatever he can to help them make the most of what is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   But on meeting Reuben Graham he instantly senses the man is going to prove something of a challenge; he obviously isn’t particularly enthusiastic about being there and seems resistant to enjoying himself.  And he presents another sort of challenge, too; older guys don’t normally do it for Toby, but something about this tall, distinguished silver fox – no, silver bear – with the broad shoulders and the commanding presence most definitely turns his crank. But hooking up with clients isn’t something he makes a habit of, so he pushes temptation aside and concentrates on doing his job, determined to win Reuben over and get him to enjoy himself.

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

The Brooding Duke of Danforth by Christine Merrill

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Stranded at a house party…

…with the mysterious Duke…

When a storm hits, outspoken Abigail Prescott is trapped at a house party with Benedict Moore, the Duke of Danforth—the very man she was once betrothed to! Wishing to know the man she’s to marry, Abigail had called off their sudden engagement. But reunited once more, Benedict seems determined to win her back and make her his Duchess. His method: irresistible seduction…

Rating: C-

You know that feeling when, after finishing a book, you sit and wonder what on earth you just read?  That’s me after finishing Christine Merrill’s The Brooding Duke of Danforth.  It had the potential to be an engaging second-chance romance/courtship story played out against a look at the way gossip and rumour affected the relationship between the two principals; he, a wealthy duke who, by virtue of his gender and title is practically bullet proof, she the product of a union between drunkard and a social–climbing cit who has to care about what people think and say.  The trouble is that the book is… well, a bit of a mess.  There’s a Big Mis that could (and should) have been cleared up before the story even started but which isn’t really tackled until almost the half-way point and even then, isn’t completely cleared up until the second half; the romance is almost non-existent, the heroine’s willingness to jump into bed with the hero is out of character and even when the pair talk out their differences, they still manage to screw things up at the eleventh hour.

In the book’s prologue, we’re introduced to Benedict Moore, Duke of Danforth, and his long-standing friend, Lenore, the widowed Lady Beverly.  Benedict has decided it’s time he married and is thus attending Almack’s Assembly Rooms with the intention of looking about him for a suitable bride.  His attention is captured by a lovely and poised young woman who is accompanied by her loud, obnoxious father and overdressed mother.  Danforth immediately determines to rescue her from her father’s obvious tirade by dancing with her, but is impressed when he realises she doesn’t need rescuing at all, handling her father’s anger with coolly controlled aplomb.

Chapter one opens three months later, and we find Abigail Prescott and her mother taking refuge from a broken-down carriage and some terrible weather at Comstock Manor, home of the Earl and Countess of Comstock.  It turns out that Abigail did indeed receive – and accept – a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Danforth, but that she jilted him on their wedding day, realising she couldn’t marry a man who hadn’t spoken to her since he asked for her hand, and had shown no signs of being interested in her or of wanting to get to know her.  Sadly, the weather and carriage problems aren’t the only bad news Abigail is destined to receive that day – Danforth is one of the Comstocks’ guests, and meeting him again is going to be unavoidable.

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

End Transmission (Galactic Cold War #3) by Robyn Bachar

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Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

Rating: C

I enjoyed Relaunch Mission, the first book in Robyn Bachar’s Galactic Cold War series, set in a future in which the Cold War never ended and which follows the adventures of the members of the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa.  I somehow missed the second book, Contingency Plan, but decided to pick up this third instalment anyway;  although I would probably have benefited from reading the previous book, the author includes enough information about what happened there for me not to have felt too lost.

Because this is the third in a series with an overarching plotline, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

When End Transmission opens, we find Mombasa’s chief engineer Maria Watson and ship’s surgeon (and the captain’s brother) Tomas Nyota at a small lab at an ex-mining facility attempting to analyse the tiny Project Compliance prototype they managed to get hold of at the end of book two, a mind control device developed by the Soviets that they plan to implant (secretly) among the population.   The task is proving frustratingly difficult; there’s to be no way to open it up and it’s resistant to scans – and as it’s the only one they have, they can’t do anything that might risk destroying it.  While Tomas and Maria are arguing about different approaches, alarms start blaring out and on contacting the Mombasa are told to get back fast – there’s a fleet of ships from the Soviet Navy about to arrive.  Before Maria and Tomas can make a move, there’s an explosion at the facility that sees Tomas injured by falling debris and cuts off their route to the Mombasa.  Their only option now is to escape aboard the Tiger Shark, a small ship (formerly property of the Soviets) docked at the opposite end at the base.

Having patched Tomas up as well as she can, the pair make their way to the ship and have to fight their way through enemy ships and a minefield in an edge-of-the-seat sequence that sees them finally get away by the skin of their teeth, but not without damage to the ship.  The Tiger Shark needs repairs and for that, they need to find a safe port where they can get what they need and lie-low while Maria fixes the ship as best she can.  On the run from the Soviets and the Alliance – which has labelled the Mombasa crew as wanted terrorists – Maria and Tomas have only each other to depend on as they race against time to find out more about Project Compliance and make their way to their rendezvous with the Mombasa.

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

The Dark Bones by Loreth Anne White

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She’s come back to solve the mystery of her father’s death and confront her own dark past.

When Detective Rebecca North left her rural hometown, she vowed never to return. Her father’s apparent suicide has changed that. The official report is that retired cop Noah North shot himself, knocked over a lantern, and set his isolated cabin ablaze. But Rebecca cannot believe he killed himself.

To prove it, she needs the help of Ash Haugen, the man she left behind. But Rebecca and Ash share more than broken hearts. Something darker lies between them, and the investigation is stirring it back to life. Clues lead them to the home of Olivia West and her deeply troubled twelve-year-old daughter, Tori. The child knows more about the murder than anyone can imagine, but she’s too terrified to say a word.

And as a cold-blooded killer resurfaces from the past, Rebecca and Ash begin to fear that their own secrets may be even harder to survive.

Rating: B+

When I picked up Loreth Anne White’s The Dark Bones for review, I wasn’t aware that it was linked to one of her earlier books, A Dark Lure, in which a young woman who was abducted and repeatedly assaulted is making a new life for herself in rural Canada only to have to face the prospect that her abductor may still be at large.  But never fear; it’s perfectly possible to read The Dark Bones as a standalone as the author brings new readers quickly up to speed, and the plots in both books are self-contained, so there’s no real overlap.

When Rebecca North left her small Canadian home town, she moved to Ottawa, where she has built herself a successful career in the white-collar crimes unit with the RCMP.  She hasn’t been home in years and doesn’t have plans to do so, until her father, a retired police officer – calls her out of the blue to tell her that he knows she was lying about an event that happened twenty years earlier, and that he needs to talk to her urgently.  He’s clearly drunk – he’s rarely been sober since the death of his wife – and Rebecca’s about to go into court, so she puts him off, promising she’ll  call him soon… but she can’t put his words out of her mind.  Her father is referring to the day she’d found the man she loved stumbling along a country road, bruised and bloody, a long gash down one side of his face he’d attributed to a riding accident – but why is he asking about it now?

The next day, Noah North is found dead in his home, all the evidence pointing to his having set fire to his remote cabin and then shot himself.  The police are convinced it’s suicide, and the coroner’s report seems to bear that out, but Rebecca isn’t satisfied.  Her father may have been overly fond of drink, but she doesn’t believe he was suicidal, especially given what he’d said the last time they’d spoken; that he’d found new evidence in an old case he’d worked – and that he thought he was being watched.  She decides to do a bit of investigating of her own, and in the process discovers that her father was looking into the disappearance, twenty years earlier, of an old schoolmate of hers.  Evidence given at the time said that Whitney Gagnon and her boyfriend were seen getting onto the bus heading out of town – but it seems that evidence was false, and Noah was convinced that the young couple were killed before they could leave.  If that’s true – who murdered them and why?  And could someone have killed Noah because he was getting too close to the truth?

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

Hard Target (Cobra Elite #1) by Pamela Clare

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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.

Never Deny a Duke (Decadent Dukes Society #3) by Madeline Hunter

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He is the last duke standing

. . . the sole remaining bachelor of the three self-proclaimed Decadent Dukes. Yet Davina MacCallum’s reasons for searching out the handsome Duke of Brentworth have nothing to do with marriage. Scottish lands were unfairly confiscated from her family by the Crown and given to his. A reasonable man with vast holdings can surely part with one trivial estate, especially when Davina intends to put it to good use. Brentworth, however, is as difficult to persuade as he is to resist.

The Duke of Brentworth’s discretion and steely control make him an enigma even to his best friends. Women especially find him inscrutable and unapproachable—but also compellingly magnetic. So when Davina MacCallum shows no signs of being even mildly impressed by him, he is intrigued. Until he learns that her mission in London involves claims against his estate. Soon the two of them are engaged in a contest that allows no compromise. When duty and desire collide, the best laid plans are about to take a scandalous turn—into the very heart of passion . . .

Rating: B+

I was really relieved to discover that Never Deny a Duke was a big improvement on the previous book in the series, A Devil of a Duke, which just scraped a C grade from me last year. And I liked the premise of this one – and the way Ms. Hunter handles it – quite a lot. Davina MacCallum has come to London in order to petition for the return of the Scottish lands and title she believes were unfairly … ‘diverted’ to an English nobleman following the Jacobite uprising in the mid-1700s, but although the King (George IV) had given her reason to believe he would support her when they met during his recent visit to Edinburgh, when he returns to London nothing happens, so Davina comes south to further her cause. It turns out that the lands in question were given to the Dukes of Brentworth, and the current holder of the title – reserved, discreet and formidable Eric Marshall – has no intention of just handing over part of his estate. This story could so easily have been one of those “feisty-heroine-stomps-her-foot-a-lot-while-driving-reserved-hero-round-the bend” stories, but Ms. Hunter instead presents two grown-up, sensible characters who, while striking sparks off each other, approach the situation with a degree of common sense. They are opponents and neither wants to give way, but they’re not stubborn for the sake of it and while each wants to be proven right, there’s no sense that they’d resort to underhandedness to do it.

Dabney Grinnan and I discussed this latest book by Madeline Hunter over at All About Romance.

Hide and Seek (Criminal Profiler #1) by Mary Burton

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She’s hunting. He’s watching.

Special Agent Macy Crow is a survivor. After a vicious hit-and-run nearly kills her, she gets right back to work, and now she’s gunning for a spot on the FBI’s elite profiling team. As an audition, she offers to investigate the recently discovered bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared fifteen years ago.

While investigating with local sheriff Mike Nevada, a former colleague and onetime lover, Macy discovers a link between Tobi’s case and several others that occurred around the same time as her disappearance. As Macy interviews victims and examines old cases, she uncovers a sinister picture of a stalker who graduated to sexual assault—and then murder.

Macy and Nevada race to put this monster behind bars before he can come out of hiding. But the murderer’s had years to hone his skills, and soon Macy herself becomes a target. She’s no stranger to pain and terror, but will Macy’s first profiling case be her last?

Rating: B

Hide and Seek is the first book in the new Criminal Profiler series from popular romantic suspense author Mary Burton. This story features FBI agent Macy Crow, who was first introduced in the author’s last book, Cut and Run, where Macy was the victim of a serious hit and run accident she barely survived – but it’s not necessary to have read it in order to enjoy and understand this one.

When Hide and Seek opens, Macy has been working a desk job since being cleared to return to work some months after being discharged from hospital, and is keen to get back to work in the field.  She’s applied to join the small but legendary team that tackles violent crime and is given a case file to review as part of her interview, that of a teenaged girl named Tobi Turner who went missing around fifteen years earlier.  The previous week, the girl’s skeletal remains were found during a renovation project on an old barn in Deep Run in the Shenandoah Valley, and the local sheriff – a former FBI agent named Mike Nevada (with whom Macy had a brief fling before the accident) – requested the bureau’s assistance after DNA evidence suggested a link between Tobi’s death and the activities of an unknown serial rapist who’d been active around the same time.

The team leader isn’t offering any guarantees, but gives Macy an assignment – five days in Deep Run to find out everything she can about the case followed by a debrief in Quantico the following week – after which he’ll make a final decision about her application.  It’s what Macy had hoped for – she’s good at her job and she’s ready to get back in the game; now she just needs to prove it.

Mike Nevada hadn’t intended to run for sheriff in his old home town, but after receiving an anonymous tip off about the fact that the incumbent had failed to submit a number of rape kits for testing, and a meeting with the man that left Nevada furious and frustrated, he’d immediately declared his intention to run for the post – and surprising even himself, had won.  One of the first things he did after taking over as sheriff was to have those rape kits tested – and of the eight kits, three of them contain DNA that is a match to that found on the backpack belonging to Tobi Turner. But that DNA isn’t on file anywhere.

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