Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military romance, romantic comedy
Series: Night Stalkers 5E #4
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
-a Night Stalkers 5E romance-
MISSION: Special Operations Forces barely miss capturing Pakistan’s #1 arms dealer. They know only one thing: he’s a champion driver in the most challenging car race in the world, The Dakar Rally. The Night Stalkers and SEAL Team 6 must join up again to face the race of their lives.
Drone pilot Zoe DeMille
— Her career never prepared her for going into the field rather than sending her drone. Driving dune buggies at Pismo Beach throughout her teen years, oddly did.
SEAL Team 6 Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman
— Trusts no one but his team. Ever!
Zoe convinces Luke that they must go undercover to target their prey in the wildest 5E mission yet. They enter the two-week, 10,000 kilometer race across the dunes, deserts, and mountains of South America to track him down.
But when Zoe’s viral fashion blog—The Soldier of Style—sparks a media frenzy, it threatens the very nature of this Black Op. She can’t outrace the madness. And she hasn’t a clue how to navigate Luke.
I’m tempted to review this book merely by paraphrasing the scrawls that one sees on bathroom walls by saying, “for a good time, read M.L. Buchman” and call it a wrap. But that’s a bit short on details. Still correct, though.
Also appropriate to the story, as once upon a time in Pismo Beach, it would have been Zoe DeMille’s name and number on that bathroom wall. But she’s reinvented herself since those dark days.
Her public persona is that of “The Soldier of Style: Living in the Cutey-Edgy Budget Battlespace.” It’s Zoe’s public vlog (and associated twitter feed) as a budget-minded fashionista blogger with a definite cute airhead vibe.
And it’s a cover for her real job as a drone pilot – they prefer the term RPA for remote piloted aircraft – for the Night Stalkers 5E. A job that is anything but cute, and at which she is anything but airheaded. The Night Stalkers only take, and only employ, the best of the best of the best. And she is.
But Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman of SEAL Team 6 only sees the cute little airhead persona and doesn’t really register the warrior behind the mask. Only the way she needles him at every turn through the headset that links his team in the field to Zoe’s “coffin” back on base where she controls the eyes in the sky that provide him with mission-critical intel.
At least, not until he’s on the ground in Pakistan, staring at the empty former headquarters of an arms dealing kingpin who clearly got word that ST6 was coming to get him.
Luke looks at the empty garage and sees a dry hole and blown operation. Zoe, looking through his headset, sees a golden opportunity to take down a major player among arms dealers working the shady side.
So she runs with that golden opportunity, and with Luke, straight to Senegal and one of her biggest fans. A man who races in international road rally races. Including the annual Dakar Rally. Luke thinks she’s gone off the deep end – especially as it feels like she’s the one running the op and he’s just her “personal assistant”.
But Zoe has connected the dots and spun one glance at a top flight auto mechanics shop in a remote base with the date of the Dakar Rally circled on a calendar to a strong working hypothesis that their mystery arms dealer is a regular participant in that grueling rally – and that her fan in Senegal is their ticket to the inside track of a lifetime.
It takes Luke a little while to catch up to Zoe’s flash of brilliance – and to figure out that the dots he really wants to connect are the ones that lead to her heart.
Escape Rating A-: I had a great time with this book. I had such a great time that it made me reflect on why this author’s romances always work for me – even while I’ve become aware that I’m reading less romance in general.
The answer seems to be in the characters. Not just the way that the author draws them, because lots of romance authors do a good job of creating interesting characters. But it’s the way that his characters find each other and make a relationship.
One of the things that all too often occurs in romance – in real life too – is that two people come together and meet kind of in their middle. There are always compromises on both sides. But in romance fiction, all too often the compromise results in the woman giving up more of who she is and what she wants to make the relationship work for the man.
It feels like, all too often, she becomes less and he becomes more. In historical romances it can be worse. There are too many time periods where, even if she does maintain her separate identity and career after marriage, it only happens because he allows it to happen. Because society, public opinion, and even the law say that his voice is the only one that counts.
None of that ever happens in one of M.L. Buchman’s romances. The characters begin and end as equals – even as they find a way to both work together and make a romantic partnership. Sometimes they are both equal in the same sphere, as was true in his first Night Stalkers romance, The Night is Mine. Both the hero and the heroine are military officers. Both are warriors. And both remain so even when they marry. Eventually Emily Beale gets pregnant and the situation necessarily changes somewhat, but she remains every bit the kickass heroine she was at the beginning, just in a different venue.
Zoe and Luke are also both warriors, just not in the same way. But they are both at the top of their respective fields – and they remain so at the end. One of the things that makes Luke such a great hero is that he not only eventually accepts Zoe exactly as she is, but that he is able to recognize when it is better that she lead and that he cheers her on as she does. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, either in romance fiction or in real life.
The story here is also a whole lot of fun. It’s one of those experiences that most people won’t have, but is tremendously fascinating to experience vicariously. The Dakar Rally is a real event, and the story and characters here follow the real course – or at least as much of a course as there ever is. After all, the Dakar is an off-road endurance event. A big part of this story is the way that Zoe and Luke bond, endure and find their target in the midst of this once in a lifetime event.
(If you want to read a romance set while the protagonists are running a completely different but equally dangerous and fascinating race, take a look at Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail.)
Part of the tension in this particular romance is that both Zoe and Luke are damaged and neither of them thinks they are worthy – not of love in general, not of the other in particular. It’s a possible interpretation that Zoe heals Luke’s inability to love, but Luke is not the healer of Zoe, because Zoe has already, for the most part, healed herself. He’s there to hold her as the last of the hard pain finally fades, but she’s already done most of the work.
He’s her reward for doing that work. And for once, we have a hero that’s worth it.
“I received a free copy of this title from the publisher for an honest review.”