A young girl runs into a gas station, begging for help, just as Tessa Novak is grabbing some coffee. Before Tessa can do anything but ask a few questions, the girl is gunned down in front of her eyes. All Tessa glimpses are the fancy hubcaps on the car and the killer’s arm in black leather. And later, when she’s recounting what she’s seen to the police, she sees a man watching her. A man with a shoulder-length pony tail, wearing worn jeans...And a leather jacket.
But Julian Darcangelo, known in the ‘hood as Dark Angel, isn’t the killer. He’s the one hunting for the killer, and the people who forced the dead girl into the life she was escaping. A federal agent under cover, he’s spent the past three years hunting for the man responsible of enslaving and selling young girls. Julian knows his life depends on his cover and him remaining anonymous, but the snooping investigative journalist just might succeed in blowing that cover wide open...Among other things.
After the “breath of fresh air” that was the first book in this series in terms of main protagonists’s employment, this second one is more along the lines of “straightforward” romantic suspense with a law enforcement hero. Which means a more “straightforward” suspense element in terms of procedural, investigation, and subject matter as well.
It’s the subject that keeps this story in a much darker and somewhat bleaker territory than its predecessor, but also heightens the intensity, increases build-up, and pretty much scares the crap out of the reader. Because yes, getting murdered to shut down an investigation is bad, but we all know there is a worse fate than death, and the topic of this book touches rather heavily (and chillingly) on that.
I loved the intensity, the increasing pace, the gripping suspense of it all, the feel of danger creeping closer, I almost felt the impotence Julian must’ve felt each day as he waited for the right moment to tie up all the loose ends and end the agony once and for all. The procedural, the surveillance, the stakeouts, the interrogations, the action... It all worked.
But while in the previous book I felt the suspense and romance walked rather hand-in-hand, mixing and blending well together, the romance in this one wasn’t so prominent or balanced compared to the suspense.
For me, that had much to do with the characters. The hero, the tortured, brooding soul who thought he didn’t deserve any sort of kindness or soft emotions, and kept pushing the heroine away, and the heroine who was pretty much all over the place.
I got him. I understood his reasoning; his job, the life he’s chosen, the guilt, the chip on his shoulder. She, on the other hand, was just annoying. Although she got better in the last 40% of the book, the first 60% left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
While many would say Julian was the messed-up one, for me, it’s Tessa Novak that takes the cake.
For an intelligent human being, she exhibited loads of stupidity both in her professional and her personal life. I know she was an investigative reporter, and she was supposed to poke her nose into things that were potentially dangerous, but while Kara (the heroine of Extreme Exposure), also an investigative reporter, knew her limits, and actually listened to the police when they told her she was in danger, Miss Novak utterly ignored any warning whatsoever in the first half of the story, ignored any survival instinct in the book, and not only put herself in danger, out of sheer stupidity, but others as well. And it took the guy who kept warning her, taking five bullets to his back, for her to see reason and climb out of the TSTL hole.
And what was it with her men/intimacy/baby issues? She didn’t want to have sex with a man who only wanted her for sex? Welcome to real life, honey! She wanted a man who truly loved her, would make a good husband, and a good father. How will you get one when you keep pushing men away before learning whether he’s stick-around material? She didn’t want to end up raising a baby alone like her mother did, so she refused to have sex. Have you ever heard of birth control?
Anyway, once these two messed-up individuals finally got together, everything melted due to the heat they generated, and although they were scorching hot together, the romance in the truest sense of the world never happened. Because it couldn’t. There’s no place for roses, chocolates, and candle light when the world is crashing down around you.
So let’s say, the “romance” was main storyline and character-appropriate. Because even when he melted, Julian still remained in character, fighting against it until the end (again, when it was almost too late), while Tessa simply melted (and who wouldn’t with a guy like Julian Darcangelo).
So, although the heroine and her to-me-incomprehensible reasoning slightly ruined the first half of the story, everything else more than compensated for it. Well-developed characters (even if I didn’t get her, Tessa stayed in character), a tight plot with a complex, dark and real topic, gripping and intense suspense, loads of drama, beyond-hot scenes, and a perfect pace throughout make this a well-written page turner.