Review: Conqueror by Anna Hackett

Review: Conqueror by Anna HackettConqueror (Galactic Kings #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Kings #4
Pages: 276
Published by Anna Hackett on November 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

After two years of alien captivity, Evie is free, but her captors have changed her. Now struggling to control a terrifying new power, her only hope is one formidable, dangerous alien king.

Logistics manager Evie Mason is no longer a prisoner on an alien space station, but she’s far from Earth, suffering nightmares, and fighting to ignore the growing power inside her. She just wants to be normal, but when she comes face to face with the intoxicating ruler of the planet Taln, normal isn’t an option. He speaks to the power inside her, and ignites a fierce desire she’s never felt before.

Conqueror Graylan Taln Sarkany is the king of Taln and its people, who can control the geological forces of their planet. He’s dedicated to protecting Talnians from his evil father and uses his immense power to command the rocks, soil, and earthquakes. But Gray must always keep a part of his power leashed. The part that’s too volatile, too enormous, too dangerous. Then one small, tough woman from Earth threatens all his control.

As a final, violent showdown with Graylan’s father draws closer, Gray and Evie are swept into a whirlwind of power and passion, their powers connecting them in ways neither of them understand. With Gray’s brothers, their mates, and allies by their side, they will fight, and Gray will unleash everything he has to protect his planet, his people, and Evie.

My Review:

There is clearly something very wrong with King Zavir Sarkany, but his four sons are all very, very fine indeed. And they’ve banded together to do something about ‘not-so-dear and not-so-old dad’. They’re going to pay him back for all the damage he’s done to their solar system, their individual planets, their people, their families and themselves.

Unlike their tyrannical father, the Sarkany brothers all put themselves last behind the needs of their respective peoples. Their joint problem is that the one thing all of their planets’ peoples need most is to eliminate the man who fathered their respective rulers. Preferably before he manages to destroy all of their worlds so he can ‘get his sons back’. Zavir is delusional. And narcissistic. But unfortunately, quite charismatic when he want to be and extremely powerful all of the damn time.

Nevertheless, his sons have managed to beat back Zavir’s seriously overclocked, over-enhanced and over-genetically-engineered constructs on Zhalto (Overlord), Damar (Emperor) and even on Zavir’s space station based experimental monstrosity lab (Captain of the Guard). Now it’s time for the Sarkany brothers to get together and kick him off Taln and out of their lives for good.

No matter what it takes.

But in his quest to rule his planetary system and his sons, Zavir managed to sow the seeds of his own destruction. There’s something about the women from Earth that both enhances his horrific experiments AND makes them easy to genetically engineer. He intended to create weapons, and they are. But the moment they get free of his scientists’ clutches, each one of them has bonded with one of his sons, giving them yet one more reason to fight him with everything they have.

In this final story in the Galactic Kings series, Conqueror Graylan Taln Sarkany is juggling the protection of his world, the plot to destroy his father, the healing of Earth-refugee Evie Mason (her rescue is part of Captain of the Guard) and fighting his attraction to this woman who is still in mourning for the ‘normal’ person she used to be.

It’s a lot for any person to handle, but Graylan eventually gets the message that he’s capable of conquering anything and anyone – as long as he has Evie by his side.

Escape Rating A-: As Conqueror is the final book in the Galactic Kings series – and a marvelously cathartic one at that – this is not the place to start the series. Start with Overlord because the whole thing is just a terrific science fiction romance read from beginning to end.

Or, if you’re in the mood for a big reading binge, you can always start with Gladiator, the first book in the Galactic Gladiators series. Why? Because the wormhole that brought so many Terrans from the Jupiter outpost to their system all the way across the galaxy is just a gift that has kept on giving, with Conqueror just the latest in a long and wonderful line of interstellar romances.

A line which seems to be continuing in the Oronis Knights series early next year. But we’re not there yet.

The story in Conqueror has all the captivating elements of the previous books in the series. Evie Mason was rescued from the clutches of Zavir’s evil scientists – who honestly make the Nazis look like fluffy bunnies by comparison.

Her blood was used to make Zavir’s experimental creatures even more powerful, and she was genetically engineered to have the same capabilities as the people of one of the planets in the Sarkan system – in this case Gray’s planet Taln. She’s not ‘normal’ anymore by Earth standards and she can’t go home – even if she could.

She wants payback. She also, surprising even herself, wants Gray, although she knows that it can’t possibly lead anywhere. He’s a king and she’s basically a refugee. Also, he’s being an idiot and pursuing an arranged marriage because he thinks it will be easier if he doesn’t love his spouse. For…reasons. As I said, idiot.

So their reluctant romance is a big part of this story, but what makes this one so much fun is that it’s all about finding a final solution for Zavir – and the conflict that Gray and his brothers all have about plotting to kill their father. Who really, really needs it but is still their father. Who can be very, very charming and very, very twisted, sometimes even at the same time.

Their solution is not the one that I was expecting. At all. Which is terrific. That it’s a take on events in Star Trek: Next Gen brought a smile to my face even as I breathed a huge sigh of relief that all was well that ended well. (Although the solution in STNG is about to be undone in the final season of Picard, so who knows? Zavir could be back, too…)

If you are looking for kickass, action-adventure romance in a science fiction setting, where all the protagonists take charge, take names and definitely get the hardest and most heartbreaking jobs done with style and sass, the Galactic Kings – and their queens! – are all winners in love and war and every single one of their stories is a fantastic read!

Review: Mission: Uncovered by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Uncovered by Anna HackettMission: Uncovered by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Treasure Hunter Security, Team 52, Norcross Security
Pages: 150
Published by Anna Hackett on 11-1-2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

Amber Butler is out to prove herself: to her sister, herself, and especially to her bosses at Treasure Hunter Security. If her mission involves trekking into the desert with someone from the covert black ops Team 52, she’ll do it.

But what she doesn’t expect is for that someone to be her smoking hot Vegas one-night stand.

My Review:

Amber Butler is good at what she does – she just believes she has a difficult time making good choices. She’s having a difficult time letting go of the fact that one of her choices went so very wrong that her sister Peri had to hire Treasure Hunter Security (that story is in Unmapped) to rescue her from the deadly black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road.

Amber believed the job they hired her for, to trek to Antarctica to locate a buried treasure that was a lot more than it seemed – even as her current employers turned out to be a lot worse than they seemed.

Amber took a few hits to her confidence, but in the end Treasure Hunter Security saved the day, Peri met the love of her life, and Amber got herself a new job with people she can trust – that very same Treasure Hunter Security.

After all, she’s an accomplished wilderness guide and occasional treasure hunter. She’s a perfect fit for their organization. Not to mention her about-to-be brother-in-law wants to keep an eye on his future sister-in-law, and her sister wants her working with people who can be trusted.

It should be a win-win-win, but Amber’s still not quite trusting herself. She wants to be seen as a responsible adult and earn her place at THS. But as Amber isn’t currently trusting her judgment or her choices, her plan is to put her nose to the proverbial grindstone, keep her eyes on that prize, and swear off relationships until she feels like she has her act together.

A set of resolutions that flies out the window at escape velocity when THS sends her on THE perfect job for her with the man she never expected to see again. Her last wild one-night stand before she started her new job and made all those oh-so-responsible resolutions.

Treasure Hunter Security has teamed up with their friendly rivals at Team 52 to hunt down a deadly ancient relic in the desert surrounding Lake Mead. Team 52 has brought their newest recruit to team up with Amber and reach Montezuma’s real – and really toxic – revenge before the villains can reverse engineer the old formula and create a weapon of bioterrorism like the world has never seen.

All Amber has to do is guide the hottest man she’s ever slept with to find a relic that’s been lost for centuries in a cave that’s been underwater for decades while resisting every impulse in her body to jump him again. And again.

But Team 52 agent Garrett Webb has plans of his own. His resolution is to tempt Amber to break every single one of hers. Before, during and after they get the villains put down.

Escape Rating A-: If you’ve followed Anna Hackett’s interconnected series, or at least her contemporary action adventure romances, Mission: Uncovered is a terrific coda for all of them. It’s not just that the mission is a joint operation between Team 52 and Treasure Hunter Security, but the Norcross Security folks get to mix in a bit as well. So for fans, this novella is a real treat.

For readers new to the author, Mission: Uncovered is a terrific introduction. While the references to the previous series are fun, the main story is completely new. Amber and Garrett are both new to their respective organizations, still trying to find their places.

Including, they each secretly hope, with each other.

The relic they have to retrieve is itself both old and new. On the one hand, yes, it’s THAT Montezuma. On the other, the cave in which the relic has been hiding all these centuries was at least partially submerged by the construction of Hoover Dam. Falling lake levels may have revealed the formerly hidden entrance.

What makes the story so much fun – in addition to the historical references which I always love – is the romance between Amber and Garrett. They’re both emotionally wounded and neither completely trusts their own judgment when they first meet. It takes them both time and trust to realize that they’re better together than either would be separately, and then they have to be able to trust themselves to decide to give it a go.

So a lovely romance where two people rescue each other into an HEA that is very much earned.

If the author’s work intrigues you, and I hope it does, there are plenty to choose from and all of them are terrific. If you’re specifically interested in Mission: Uncovered, there’s a lovely little bit of a dilemma to get it. This story was written specifically to be a free offering from the Protector Romance Book Club, and if you want it RIGHT NOW you’ll need to join the Book Club to get it – along with the December introductory novellas from another author contributing to the club. Which does sound like a whole lot of win. If you are willing to wait and/or work your binge reading way through Treasure Hunter Security and Team 52 and Norcross Security first, Mission: Uncovered will probably be available at some point in the future. But why wait?

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra HatchPets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #7
Pages: 1369
on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space® is back for a new year of adventures!

Pets in Space is back and better than ever! Featuring 13 original, never-before-released stories from some of today's bestselling science fiction romance authors, starring your favorite sci-fi pets. These furry, feathered, and slightly alien friends are always ready for a new adventure with their two-legged human and alien companions. From dogs to cats to sea creatures and unicorns, these romantic tales show that pets are more than just animals – they’re family.

This limited-edition anthology includes stories by some of the biggest names in science fiction romance. New York Times Bestseller S.E. Smith and USA Today Bestsellers R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch, plus Leslie Chase, Winnie Winkle, and Candace Colt.

The Pets in Space 7 authors continue their vital support of HeroDogs, the non-profit charity that improves quality of life for veterans of the U.S. military and first-responders with disabilities.

★ Don't miss out — grab this limited-edition anthology before it's too late! ★

Exclusively in Pets in Space 7:
◆“Wynter and the Stone Dragon” by S.E. Smith: Love blossoms between a human king and an alien princess when a portal between their worlds opens.
◆“Life-Debt” by R.J. Blain: Hybrid human Viva and her pet fox have two rules: no names and no attachments. Why does the handsome man she rescued makes her want to break both?
◆“Marked Mate” by Grace Goodwin: An elite hunter pursues a dangerous criminal on an unsuspecting Earth, only to be distracted by a mysterious woman and her furry pet.
◆“Alien Abduction for Unicorns” by Skye MacKinnon: Unicorns are real, and alien Bruin is sexy as the stars. Can Scottish tour guide Tara forgive them for kidnapping her in the name of science?
◆“An Entanglement of Griffins” by Carol Van Natta: A space pirate and a pet sanctuary owner suspected of grand larceny get help from genetically-engineered griffins to recover the goods and find love.
◆“Cyborg Rider” by Honey Phillips: Can a bioengineered mole named Eglantine find a way to rescue the scientist and the cyborg who are depending on her?
◆“Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke: A telekinetic healer on a mission and a telepathic killer who is afraid to feel must trust an intelligent cat to help them save a group of children from death.
◆“Myra’s Big Mistake” by S. J. Pajonas: She’s burdened by a lifetime of disappointment. He’s been her secret admirer for years. Will a roll of the dice lead to a cosmic courtship?
◆“Desert Flame” by JC Hay: Dr. Cerridwen Lewis is prickly, foul mouthed, and quick to anger; in other words, she’s everything Captain Kal and his pet scythewing ever wanted.
◆“Death Angel” by Kyndra Hatch: How do you choose between your people and your mate? Especially when you're a Korthan cyborg captain and your human mate unknowingly holds the key to lasting peace or unending war?
◆“Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase: Megan isn’t looking for love, especially not from an alien mercenary just passing through. But love, and her winged cat Nebula, have other plans.
◆“Liquid Courage” by Winnie Winkle: Powerful sea witch Morgan is determined to save her beloved ocean creatures from thieving aliens. Tony offers to help, but he's got secrets.
◆“Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by by Candace Colt: Eccentric witch Rhea only dreamed of the stars. So how did she and her snarky cat end up in a junk-picker spaceship with sexy alien captain C'tloc?

My Review:

Pets in Space is always an utterly marvelous treat. Every year an absolutely stellar group of science fiction romance writers get together to create this annual collection of space ships and adventure, featuring romance between humans and/or aliens, ably assisted by companion creatures, whether animals or AI, whether furry or feathered or something out of this world.

The proceeds from the sale of each Pets in Space collection go to charity, specifically to Hero Dogs, an organization which provides trained service dogs to heroes, specifically to wounded military veterans and first responders.

So the book supports a terrific cause, and the stories within are always out of this world. This is the seventh collection, and it contains a lucky THIRTEEN science fiction romance novellas in a whopping 1369 page book.

That’s a lot of book, and a lot of treats to savor until the next one arrives!

For me, the annual collection is a reading delight that will last through lots of reading time, especially over the winter with a cat in my lap and a cup of tea or hot cocoa at my side. It’s much too big for one sitting or even one weekend. I always want to take my time and enjoy every page.

This is a book that requires a plan of attack!

I confess that I always read the cat stories first. Partly because it’s always fun to imagine what cats would have to say if they could talk. And because my own feline overlords wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m supposed to reassure them that they’re the best cats in the universe and they aren’t shy about telling me so!

But seriously, I generally do read the cat stories first – as I did this time around. I save the stories about other animals, and in worlds I’m not familiar with, for times when I can dive into the towering TBR pile – or add to it – to get stories in the same worlds featured in the collection that are new to me.

So I’ll be treating myself to more of Pets in Space 7 over the months ahead.

Howsomever, I can’t leave you without making a few review-type comments about those three cat stories, “Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke, “Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase and “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt.

“Healer Heart” was interesting because it contained some elements of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, particularly her genetically engineered and ruthlessly trained assassins, the Arrows. In the universe of the Telepathic Space Pirates there is also a group of genetically engineered assassins. And like the Arrows, some of those born and bred killers want more from life than just death. Which is where telepathic healer Nayla and the hunter cat Rasalas come in. While she personally wants to help one particular assassin, her assignment is to help assassin-trained children before the training is too deeply ingrained to be countered. She helps the kids with dogs, but it’s the cat pushing her to make things right with the man who broke her heart trying to protect her from himself.

There’s just so much to love in this one. Nayla is beating her head against the wall using her own gifts and training to help people who are determined to blame her for every break from tradition; the man she loves is terrified he’ll kill her if his training overcomes his reason; and the kids she is able to help are heartbreaking but hopeful. This universe is an absolute mess but this healer seems to have a cure for at least a bit of what’s ailing it.

“Written in the Stars” revolves around a woman stranded on a failing space station with her vast collection of books, her flying cat, and her determination to save up enough money to get back to something a little bit more like civilization. Megan is plucky beyond belief, and lucky beyond reason, as she finds both someone to love and a purpose for living in helping to rescue the space station from itself. Her winged cat Nebula is both very cat and very reminiscent of some famous literary felines, as Nebula is an intergalactic traveling version of the winged cats in Nebula-Award winning Ursula LeGuin’s lovely Catwings series.

Last but not least, “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt. This one was my favorite because Rhea is a witch of a certain age who learns that love has not passed her by, and that she is not yet ready (if, admittedly, she ever will be) to settle down and help raise her grandchildren. Her conundrum is a devastating one, as the necklace that powered her journey to C’tloc’s spaceship can either take her back to her home or power his spaceship so that he can get back home, but not both. If she leaves, he’ll die. If she stays, by the time she manages to get back to Earth her family will probably be long dead. She can only live one life, and she has to make a bittersweet choice between loves – with the help of her very snarky cat. This one was a heartbreaker.

Escape Rating A: This collection is always a Grade A read, no matter when I pick it up or where I choose to dip into it at any given time. The stories are always a delightful range of styles and worlds and pets, and this year is no exception.

That it supports a wonderful cause while giving hours if not days of reading delight is just icing on a very lovely reading cake – with a puppuccino on the side.

But Pets in Space 7 is, as always, a limited edition. So if any – or hopefully ALL – of the stories appeal to you, be sure to get your copy before they fly off to the stars for another year. Because every collection, every year, is a feathery, whiskery, winged delight!

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!

Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna Hackett

Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna HackettHades (Sentinel Security #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #2
Pages: 245
Published by Anna Hackett on September 20th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He’s a gorgeous former Interpol agent.
Tall, dark, and Italian.
He’s way out of her league, but when danger explodes around them, she finds herself on the run with the sexiest man she’s ever met.
CIA analyst Gabbi Hansley has a plan—escape her dysfunctional family, excel at her job, and build a safe, stable life for herself. Boring? Maybe, but she likes boring. When tasked to meet a security contractor and give him an encrypted drive, a quick, simple job goes terribly wrong.
Gabbi didn’t expect her contact to be the hottest man she’s ever seen. Nor was she expecting the bad guys who turn up and spray the restaurant with bullets.
After years of wading through the muck, dismantling mafia crime syndicates in Italy, former Anti-Mafia officer and Interpol agent Matteo “Hades” Mancini likes his job at Sentinel Security. He also knows he has nothing permanent to offer any woman, so he keeps things fun and temporary.
But when his dangerous past rears its head, he finds himself trapped with the tough, no-nonsense Gabbi, and on a second glance, he sees past her sensible exterior to the tempting woman beneath.
Now Gabbi and Matteo are in a race for survival. While they work to track down who’s after them, attraction burns hot and bright. Gabbi knows a man like Matteo won’t be interested in her for long, and she asks him to show her all the things she’s been missing in the bedroom. But the possessive need to keep her safe is growing in Matteo, and soon he has two mission objectives: take down the bad guys, and convince Gabbi Hansley that she’s his.
*** An action-packed standalone romantic suspense.

My Review:

CIA analyst Gabbi Hansley is a “feel the fear and do it anyway” kind of person and I love her for it. As does Hades himself. Not that either is remotely what the other expected when they first meet. It’s not just that they didn’t expect the sparks between them – they didn’t expect the bullets flying around either.

And not that Sentinel Security agency Matteo Mancini hasn’t experienced plenty of bullets flying in his general vicinity – some of them even aimed directly at him – in his work with Sentinel Security or in his previous life as an undercover anti-Mafia agent in Italy. It’s that Gabbi’s job consists of boring desk-and-computer work. Gabbi may work for the CIA but what she’s looking for out of her job is safety and financial security and as much of a buffer as she can manage to maintain between herself and her sometimes criminally dysfunctional family.

But when what was supposed to be a routine handoff from the CIA to Sentinel turns into an escape from a hail of bullets in what was – and probably will be again – one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in DC, Gabbi’s safe and boring life is blown to smithereens.

Especially after her mind gets blown by the sexiest man she’s ever met making her come on the floor of a stranded elevator in the aftermath. As the best method of dealing with the adrenaline crash from their escape, Matteo’s method is an absolute winner. As the final blow – pun intended – to her formerly safe and moderately sane and frequently boring life it’s just the beginning of negotiations between a man who thinks he’s not worthy of love and a woman who doesn’t believe love even exists.

He needs to keep her safe from the enemies who have reached out across the years and miles to come after him. She’s desperate to keep her heart safe from a man she is certain is utterly out of her league.

While in the background his family is worried that his work will get them killed, and hers does its level worst to keep her from escaping their determination that she continue to be their meal ticket – even if they have to sell her out to the bad guys to make it happen.

Escape Rating B+: Even though I’m still on tenterhooks waiting for Killian Hawke’s romance with the CIA agent we now know to be Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden (Gabbi’s best friend at the Agency), Gabbi and Matteo’s romance still worked for me.

And that’s all down to Gabbi’s attitude. She’s afraid. She’s very, very afraid. There are bullets flying! Her job was not ever supposed to include bullets flying – and especially not flying at her. But instead of hiding in a corner or getting behind Matteo and letting the sexy security agent protect her, she stands up and helps get other people to safety and out of the way of those flying bullets.

It’s easy to identify with Gabbi because of that attitude. Most of us probably would cower. Few people are equipped or trained to fight back in the situation in which she finds herself. But putting on her big girl panties and dealing with it, feeling that fear and doing what she can anyway? That’s a response we can all identify with and hope to emulate.

Which makes Gabbi feel within reach and her relationship with Matteo feel equally possible – even if she doesn’t see it that way.

So while Matteo is the latest in a very long lineup of the author’s sexy badasses who don’t feel worthy of being loved, Gabbi feels like something fresh, a woman who is afraid but still rises up to meet the challenge and I loved that about her character.

Her dysfunctional family, on the other hand, seriously qualified as a piece of work. Dirty, nasty work at that. The reader can see how their dysfunction played into Gabbi’s self-doubt, so it made for icing on top of an already delicious cake when they get their comeuppance at the end. As Gabbi makes tracks for a job that she will love with a man that she does love and a found family who are ready, willing and able to welcome her with open arms and a boost when she needs it.

And into that lovely bargain, Matteo manages to put his demons to rest – whether that’s in the form of putting them six feet under, into long prison sentences, or simply putting the psychological damage behind him, it makes for a lovely ending to a fun action adventure romance.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the next book will be Killian’s, but based on the hints at the end of this entry in the series, it does look like it will be a lot of sexy, romantic, adventurous fun. But in the meantime I have the next book in the Galactic Kings series, Conqueror, to look forward to!

Review: Wolf (Sentinel Security #1) by Anna Hackett

Review: Wolf (Sentinel Security #1) by Anna HackettWolf (Sentinel Security #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #1
Pages: 306
Published by Anna Hackett on August 9, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He’s her best friend’s older brother.

The hot, tough former Navy SEAL.

The man she’s had a crush on her entire life and now the man pretending to be her lover to keep her safe.

CEO Lainie Madden has her hands full. In charge of a growing tech company, her work and her employees are her life. She’s sworn off love, because the sad reality is that she stinks at choosing men who aren’t self-absorbed cheaters. But when she starts receiving disturbing death threats and her company’s website gets hit with relentless cyber-attacks, she’s in over her head.

What she never expected was her best friend’s bossy, rugged brother to steamroll in to play her fake boyfriend and very real protector.

Former SEAL and CIA agent Nick “Wolf” Garrick is second in command at Sentinel Security. He’s spent most of his life fighting and protecting others, proving he’s nothing like the ex-con who fathered him. He’s also spent years ignoring his scorching attraction to his little sister’s best friend. Lainie is sweet, fresh, smart…and off limits.

But when he finds out she’s in danger, it flips a switch inside him. Whatever the risk, whatever it takes, even pretending that they’re lovers, he’ll protect Lainie and take down the person hunting her.

The more time Lainie and Nick spend together, the more the lines blur. As danger swirls around them, their pretend relationship starts to feel very real. But Nick doesn’t do relationships and Lainie doesn’t want to get hurt again…

My Review:

Sentinel Security picks up where Norcross Security leaves off. At least in time. As this first book in the Sentinel Security series opens, the action moves from the Norcross’ West Coast to Killian Hawke’s East Coast. But the story does not pick up with whatever Killian Hawke does or doesn’t have going on with the frenemy/nemesis Federal Agent who has him gritting his teeth and cursing her name whenever she inserts herself into one of his cases.

I believe that the author is torturing all of her fans, including this one, by teasing the leader’s romance – the one I always like best – while drawing out the anticipation. Because this first book in the Sentinel Security series is all about Killian’s second-in-command and the woman who has had him wrapped around the axle for a whole lot longer than he’s ever been willing to admit.

Lainie Madden is the CEO of a growing tech company. A company which is suffering from an escalating series of cyber attacks just as Lainie is receiving an equally escalating series of threatening messages. Thinking those two escalations are connected does not take the services of an elite security company like Sentinel Security.

But Lainie Madden is, and has been since childhood, Nola Garrick’s best friend. And Nola Garrick is Nick Garrick’s little sister. Lainie has had a crush on Nick since she was 12 – when Nick was 18 and before he started his career with the SEALs and the CIA doing things that he’d have to kill someone if they learned about them.

That 6-year age gap loomed large when Lainie was growing up, but she’s all grown up now and has been for quite some time. She’s never forgotten her feelings for Nick, and has never found a man even remotely his equal. Nick’s never gotten Lainie out of his head or his heart.

The problem there, of course, is that if they start anything and it doesn’t work out – something that honestly neither Lainie or Nick expects because neither of them have all that great a track record with relationships – the person who will be hurt the most is Nola.

And neither of them wants that – even more than they want each other.

But those threats scare Nola a whole lot more than they do Lainie. So Nola calls her big brother and assigns him the task of protecting her bestie, whether that bestie believes she needs protection or not, whether she can bear to be that close to Nick or not, whether she and Nick can resist jumping each other’s bones long enough to get the villain caught or not.

Because they can’t. And they don’t really want to resist, either. The question is whether they can calm their own demons long enough to see if what has been simmering between them for so long has even half a chance of lasting longer than it takes to bring Lainie’s stalker to justice.

Escape Rating B+: As much as I referenced the author’s earlier series at the top, it’s not required to read the earlier series to get into this one. But it is fun! Especially when, as occurs in the climactic takedown in this book, characters from previous series show up to help save the day. It’s always lovely to see how everyone is doing after becoming so involved in all their lives.

But the first book in any of her series is always a great place to start – and to get hooked so that you can’t resist picking up the rest. Any one of Anna Hackett’s books should be considered as a gateway drug for ALL the others! This particular dark side has both cookies and yummy books!

I digress just a bit.

This is an action adventure romance series, so it’s not a surprise that someone – usually, admittedly, the heroine but not always – ends up in danger and the hero – or a team of heroes – has to rescue her. And that in the end, there is a happy ever after where that heroine falls for one member of that team and very much vice versa – after a bit of resistance, of course.

What makes this entry in the author’s lineup so much fun, at least for this reader, are two things. One is the delicious taboo-yet-not-really nature of the romance. Now that they are unattached adults, there’s absolutely no reason why Lainie and Nick can’t get together and scratch their mutual itch. But once upon a time there very much was. And the slightly forbidden yet not nature of their relationship adds just that little bit of delicious extra tension to the mix.

The second thing is the character of Lainie herself. I loved that she was a workaholic to the max who was dedicated to her company and her career. I loved her ambition and her drive and her putting her work first in her life. Not because it’s healthy, as Lainie has definitely taken her workaholism way too far for that. But because it’s so very real and it made Lainie real as well.

And it also ran a bit counter to stereotype, as we see PLENTY of workaholic heroes, and see them being celebrated for it, in fiction and in real life. But women – not so much. So I really loved that part.

Speaking of Lainie, I also liked that she was never damselfied. She’s in danger, and she hadn’t planned to ask Nick for help. Not because she had her head in the sand, as so many damsels do, but because she was working on it with very good people, and trusted her own people to have her back. That her stalker was seriously next-level put the situation out of her control – but not because she was being stupid about it.

Lainie also doesn’t do anything to sabotage her protection once it’s established. Again, things happen out of her control, because that’s the point of the whole story, but she doesn’t go wandering around on her own after ditching her bodyguard – or anything else equally stupid.

In other words, I enjoyed this because I really liked Lainie as a character and absolutely wanted her to get her HEA – which she earns, deserves and very much does. Nick seems like very yummy icing for a cake she’s already baked herself, and that’s my favorite flavor of romance.

But speaking of yummy, I was just a teensy bit disappointed that I didn’t get Killian’s romance to kick off the series. And I’m probably not going to get it in the next book either, as Killian sends one of Sentinel Security’s other agents, Matteo, off to DC to pick up something from the CIA at the end of Wolf. But it could be a case of Killian avoiding contact with his Federal nemesis. We’ll see next month!

Review: The Protector by Anna Hackett

Review: The Protector by Anna HackettThe Protector (Norcross Security #9) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #9
Pages: 245
Published by Anna Hackett on June 28th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

For a ballerina in the line of fire, the only man who can keep her safe is a scarred, battle-hardened soldier.

One minute Saskia Hawke is dancing on stage, and the next she’s been abducted by a very wealthy, very powerful man with connections. Whisked away to a country estate, she’ll do anything to escape, and prays the former soldier she can’t stop thinking about will come to rescue her.

What she doesn’t know is that her disappearance will light a protective fury inside Camden Morgan, and he’ll tear down the country to find her.

After a final mission leaves former Ghost Ops soldier Camden Morgan injured, scarred, and riddled with guilt, he comes home to San Francisco. Surrounded by his family and working at Norcross Security, he still can’t settle. He definitely knows he’s too broken to offer anything to the beautiful, raven-haired Saskia.

When she goes missing, Cam knows something is very wrong. He’s the man with the right skill set to bring her home, even as he knows he must protect her from himself and push her away.

But saving Saskia is just the beginning, as her abductor isn’t letting go of his obsession. Cam must go all in, be the protector Saskia needs, and risk his scarred heart. With the help of his brothers and Norcross Security, not to mention Saskia’s dangerous brother and his team, they’ll put everything on the line. And for Saskia, she’ll fight with everything she has to survive…and to prove to Cam that he’s capable and worthy of love.

My Review:

As is usual for Anna Hackett’s series, we saw the opening of The Protector in the close of the previous book in the series, The Medic. That’s when Camden Morgan first met ballerina Saskia Hawke and decided that he had too much damage to be the kind of man that Saskia deserved.

And as is also usual for the combat veterans of Norcross Security, he neglected to ask Saskia what she thought about his holding himself away from her for her own good.

As Saskia lived in NYC, and Norcross was based in San Francisco, Cam let himself believe that friendship was all he could give and the occasional late night phone call wasn’t more than either of them could handle.

Which was fine until Saskia was kidnapped by a Russian mobster with a taste for special, exotic women and an organization fine tuned in the ugly business of sex trafficking. A man who refuses to take no for an answer – even after he’s brought down again, and again, and again.

The first time Saskia escapes his clutches, the evil dude manages to slip through theirs. And Cam, being a fool, turns Saskia away even though he’s the only person making her feel safe.

But when he rescues her the second time, he starts thinking with his heart and stops trying to push her away. Only for her to get taken yet a third time by an obsessive villain who can’t afford to let anyone get away from him without punishment.

It’s an edge-of-the-seat adventure every step of the way as Cam and Norcross Security chase down Saskia’s latest prison – not just before her smart mouth and defiance gets her killed, but before she and Cam finally have the chance to admit what they’ve always felt for each other.

And before Saskia’s even more badass big brother sweeps in and eliminates ALL the threats to his sister’s life and happiness – no matter what she or anyone else has to say about any of it.

Escape Rating B: While The Protector was not my favorite book in this series – that honor is reserved for The Medic followed by The Specialist – it was a fitting wrap up for the Norcross Security series as a whole. We at least had the chance to touch base with all the members of the team and the Norcross family, and even had a glimpse of The Hacker’s new baby. Everybody’s fine and everyone, no matter how reluctant in the beginning, found their HEA.

The reason I like The Medic best of the whole series, is that in that story the heroine is an even bigger badass than the hero, and that he celebrates her badassery at every turn. Saskia is cast from a somewhat more traditional mold in the sense that she does need someone to rescue her from the repeated kidnap attempts. She does her best to stay strong and defiant, but she needs a hero in a way that Siv did not.

Also, I have to say that the “kidnapped by a mobster to be a sex slave” plotline is one that leaves me totally cold. Sex trafficking is real and terrible, but in fiction this particular villain type goes over the top into bwahaha territory, at least for this reader. It was too personal and this dude was just too much of a caricature. Your reading mileage of course may vary. This trope is popular with a lot of readers, I’m just not one of them.

The Protector is the final book in the Norcross Security series. The handoff from this series to the next, which will be Sentinel Security, looks like it starts with Saskia’s badass big brother Killian Hawke. The first book in the series is coming in August. I’m curious to see how Killian’s nemesis and frenemy, a federal agent who isn’t exactly FBI and isn’t exactly CIA but who certainly is going to finally bring him down. Or tie him up. Possibly both!

Review: The Medic by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: The Medic by Anna Hackett + GiveawayThe Medic (Norcross Security #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #8
Pages: 282
Published by Anna Hackett on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s a tough former soldier trying to resist the charming medic who’s going all in to claim her.
Former Norwegian special forces soldier Siv Pederson is making a new start in San Francisco. New country, new job at Norcross Security, and her new rule: no men. She’s left her annoying ex behind and her only goal is to prove herself in her new job, especially when she’s assigned to her own investigation.
What she didn’t count on was having to work with one handsome, charming, and far-too-tempting former combat medic.
After a career as an Air Force combat medic, Ryder Morgan is happy with his life. He likes working part time as a paramedic and donating the rest of his time at a free clinic in the toughest part of the city. He always thought finding “the one” wasn’t for him…until he sees gorgeous, tough Siv in a killer red dress.
Now he’ll do anything to break through her prickly shell and convince her that he’s the man for her.
As homeless people start dying, and Ryder loses a good friend, Siv and Ryder must work together to find a killer. Going undercover as husband and wife, they have to discover who’s preying on the city’s most vulnerable before more people die. As they uncover a vast web of lies, Ryder has his work cut out for him. Not only to find justice, but to prove to Siv that he’ll protect both her body and her heart.

My Review:

This OMG 8th book in the Norcross Security series reminded me just how much I love a story when the heroine kicks ass and takes names every bit as well as the hero – or even just a bit better as it proves in The Medic.

After all, that’s what Ryder Morgan is, a medic. He was a combat medic when he served, and now that he’s back in civilian life he’s a paramedic who is serving, protecting and patching up on not just one but three different fronts.

He’s a part-time paramedic with the city of San Francisco who could be full-time if he wanted to. But he’s doing his bit of paying it both back and forward by working part-time at a clinic in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, providing free medical care to people whose circumstances have either led them or left them to life on the occasionally mean streets of this generally temperate (climatologically) city. It gives him an opportunity to treat some of the men and women who served just like he did, in places and circumstances that leave scars on the soul.

And he also works part-time and on call for Norcross Security whenever one of their agents needs more patching up than a first aid kit can handle. Which happens a lot more than he’d like, particularly since one of those agents is his brother Cam, newly returned from a war he hasn’t quite managed to leave behind just yet.

But those agents also include Norcross Security’s newest agent, Siv Pederson from Norway, a former member of Norway’s Special Forces. She’s come to San Francisco to make a fresh start in a place with no memories of a relationship that went bad. It’s not that she’s grieving or mourning her ex – more that she’s kicking herself for ever getting involved with an arsehole just like her dear old (absentee) dad. In other words, a lying, cheating, empty charmer who has nothing underneath and is threatened by her strength and abilities.

At the end of the previous book in this series, The Detective, readers had a ringside seat to Ryder’s first meeting with Siv. He tried to charm her – like he has so many women before – only to find himself measuring his own length on the floor after she showed him exactly where he could stick that charm and what he could do with it when he got it there. She decked him.

He never recovered – and neither did she. This is the story of how she got past her initial impression of Ryder, while he just kept leaning into his first impression of her. All the while, in the usual Norcross Security mix of action, adventure and car chases, they manage to bring down some bad people who thought they had the right to mess with Ryder Morgan’s friends – and Vander Norcross’ city.

Escape Rating A: One of the things that love in any romance is a relationship of equals – and that’s just what we get in The Medic. It’s not just that Siv can hold her own under any circumstances with the best of Norcross Security’s agents. The icing on this particular cake is that Ryder loves her for it just as she is. That he thinks it’s hot when she takes down the bad guys. It’s not a reaction that she’s used to from either her insecure ex or her love-em-and-leave-em sperm donor who is still harping on her to be more “feminine” and less capable of taking men down and seeing through their bullshit. Quite possibly because he’s afraid that she’s seen all the way through his.

But the strength those previous men in her life have tried to control, tame and even eliminate is the thing that draws Ryder to her like iron filings to a magnet. It’s something that is refreshing to see – to say the least – because so many women are stuck dealing with entirely too many people in their lives who see a woman’s strength of any kind as something to be denigrated at every turn.

I also loved in this particular entry in the series that Siv is always proactive and not reactive. It helps that the plot of this story does not start out with Siv being in jeopardy and requiring rescue. She is never a damsel in distress – not that she can’t be in distress but that she’s never damselfied.

One of the hallmarks of this series as a whole is that the Norcross Security operators are all former military in various stages of coming all the way back home – and both Ryder and Siv are part of that. This particular story in the series extends that outward, from the successful bunch at Norcross, to the work in progress that is Ryder and Hunt’s brother Cam, to the homeless veterans on the streets of San Francisco who Ryder is doing his best to help.

As he fully acknowledges that there but for the grace of God and the help of his family, he and his brothers would be also. So he stands for them when he learns the truth of how so many are being abused by the system yet one more time.

The crime that Siv and Ryder are investigating has a ripped from the headlines feel. The unexpected (at least to both of them) romance that has them ripping each other’s clothes off is hot enough to raise the temperature in their slightly chilly city. And the pulse-pounding conclusion to their part of this series will have readers on the edge of their seats.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s a bit of a teaser at the end – as their usually is with this author’s series – for the next Norcross Security case. It looks like Cam Morgan will be taking the series back to New York City, the stomping grounds of the Billionaire Heists series in The Protector. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Anna has graciously allowed me to give a copy of the winner’s choice of either The Medic or The Detective as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. The trick to this particular giveaway is whether or not the winner wants instant gratification or is willing to wait an extra week or two. Anna has copies of The Detective available now for giveaway, but if you can stand to wait just a bit longer, she’s more than willing to send a copy of The Medic to someone with just a bit of patience.

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Review: The Detective by Anna Hackett

Review: The Detective by Anna HackettThe Detective (Norcross Security #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #7
Pages: 274
Published by Anna Hackett on March 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s a woman on the run and desperate to avoid her hot, nosy detective neighbor.

Artist Savannah Cole has secrets. She can never stay anywhere too long or let anyone get too close. An obsessed stalker has her in his sights, and to protect her family, she can never go home, never share her art, and never fall in love.

But when she plays her music a little too loud, she collides with her good-looking, inquisitive, and far-too-hot neighbor, Detective Hunter Morgan. A man who makes her want things she can never have.

After an injury ended his military career with Delta Force, Hunt Morgan found his place at the San Francisco Police Department. He may not have been there for the men of his team, but now he does his bit to keep his city safe. But his mysterious, new neighbor is disturbing his peace. One look at the beautiful blonde and Hunt knows she has secrets…

When a spate of mysterious attacks threaten Savannah’s life, Hunt steps in. He’ll keep her safe and he’s not going to let her run again.

As Savannah’s stalker closes in, she finds herself with her own private protector. Even with his brothers and friends at Norcross Security at his back, she’s terrified he’ll become the next target. But Hunt isn’t afraid of her deadly stalker, because he knows the hardest challenge will be convincing Savannah to take the biggest risk and stay.

My Review:

I’ve been wondering when the Norcross Security series was going to get around to the Morgan brothers, and it looks like that time is finally here! I say I’ve been wondering because the Morgan brothers, or at least Hunt and Ryder have been part of the series from the very beginning – even if not exactly at the center of the fray until now.

The series initially followed the Norcross family – hence the series title – but the Morgans have been on the periphery of the action from the very beginning. Two of them at least.

Hunt Morgan is a detective in the LVPD. Specifically he’s THE detective in the Las Vegas Police Department who has been assigned to – or perhaps that’s cursed with – the task of cleaning up after some of Norcross Security’s messier operations. Not that Hunt ever does anything illegal – he really is a good cop. And the Norcross organization is on the side of the angels, no matter how much some of them occasionally act like devils both on and off the job.

But it’s Hunt’s frequently thankless task to take care of any paperwork, civilians and/or bureaucratic handholding that needs to be taken care of after the dust settles. Because the bad guys that Norcross is chasing after have an unfortunate tendency to inflict some, or occasionally lots, of collateral damage in the process of their criminal actions.

And Hunt has ‘white knight’ syndrome in a really bad way. He doesn’t just want, he actually needs to serve and protect – and that’s what gets him involved in the case of his new neighbor, Savannah Cole.

Or it is once he bangs on her door and barges into her next door townhouse. Because she plays her music really, really loud, really late at night – and the walls between his bedroom and hers aren’t nearly thick enough to block the sound. Or any sounds at all, as Hunt discovers later.

What he discovers at first is that Savannah is an artist, she likes to play VERY loud music while she works, and she’s much too aware of and wary of her surroundings to be exactly what she claims to be.

The art is real, the woman is beautiful, but something tells Hunt that she’s deathly afraid of something that she wants to conceal at all costs. But Hunt has seen the signs before, and is certain that Savannah is in big trouble with someone, somewhere.

And that he will defend and protect her from whoever or whatever that is – whether she wants his protection or not.

Escape Rating B: I loved the romance between Hunt and Savannah, but the whole stalker plotline is one of the tropes I hate the most – right up there with secret babies and mean girl bullying. It makes the heroine reactive rather than active, and it always ends up with her doing something really stupid that puts her in the hands of her stalker. I know this shit – and worse shit – happens in real life, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about it.

Which means I had extremely mixed feelings about this book. I could see the stalker plot coming a mile away – and I didn’t want to go there. At the same time, I loved the fuller portrait of Hunt that we get in this one. As I said, he’s been around for the entire series, so I’ve been hoping he’d get a story of his own.

I liked Hunt. He’s always been an interesting side character in the series, as a sometimes grumbling participant in the Norcross shenanigans and a surprising and surprised friend of Vander Norcross. And now family, as Hunt’s cousin Brynn and Vander Norcross ended up together after their adventure in the previous book in the series, The Powerbroker.

I also liked Savannah. She’s done a surprisingly successful job of running from her stalker for quite some time, and the cost to her has been high – and so has the cost to a whole lot of other people that Savannah didn’t know about because she didn’t stick around long enough – nor should she have.

I think the part of stalker plots that always sends me round the bend is the way that the heroines in these type of stories always reject any possibility of help and generally get in their own way when capable, qualified help appears. Also stalker plots tend to put the heroine in a reactive mode and I’d rather see them take agency.

My two cents, your reading mileage may vary, etc., etc., etc.

At the same time, I loved the romance in this one. It’s not rushed in spite of the circumstances, and I was absolutely all in on these two getting together and making it work, sometimes in spite of themselves.

As I said at the beginning, mixed feelings all around.

I have no mixed feelings about the teasers we got for the next book at the end of this one. The next story in this series, The Medic, is clearly going to feature Hunt’s brother Ryder. Ryder is the paramedic that Norcross calls on – all too frequently – when one of them needs patching up and they’re unwilling or unable to go to a hospital. Which means that Ryder has been “on call” in this series as much as his brother Hunt. I’m absolutely looking forward to this one, as I’ll be getting it for a birthday present. Literally. The release day, April 5, is my birthday. So if I say I can’t wait for this one, the double meaning is fully in effect!

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne Castle

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne CastleGuild Boss (Harmony, #14) by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #14, Ghost Hunters #14
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Illusion Town on the colony world of Harmony—like Las Vegas on Earth, but way more weird.
Living in this new, alien world doesn’t stop the settlers from trying to re-create what they’ve left behind. Case in point—weddings are still the highlight of any social calendar. But it’s the after-party that turns disastrous for Lucy Bell. Kidnapped and drugged as she leaves the party, she manages to escape—only to find herself lost in the mysterious, alien underground maze of glowing green tunnels beneath Illusion Town. She’s been surviving on determination and cold pizza, scavenged for her by a special dust bunny, when help finally shows up.
Gabriel Jones is the Guild Hunter sent to rescue her, but escaping the underground ruins isn’t the end of her troubles—it’s only the beginning. With no rational reason for her abduction, and her sole witness gone on another assignment for the Guild, whispers start circulating that Lucy made it all up. Soon her life unravels until she has nothing left but her pride. The last thing she expects is for Gabriel Jones to come back to town for her.
The Lucy that Gabriel finds is not the same woman he rescued, the one who looked at him as if he were her hero. This Lucy is sharp, angry, and more than a little cynical—instead of awe, she treats him with extreme caution. But a killer is still hunting her, and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to heroes. Despite her wariness, Gabriel is also the one person who believes Lucy—after all, he was there. He’s determined to help clear her reputation, no matter what it takes. And as the new Guild Boss, his word is law, even in the lawlessness of Illusion Town.

My Review:

This entry in the Harmony series has one of the best opening lines in pretty much ever, “The Lord of the Underworld showed up with the dust bunny and a pizza.” Not that Gabriel Jones is actually Hades – even if he does go along with the somewhat macabre joke.

The pizza is a small cheese and olive from Ollie’s House of Pizza. The dust bunny’s name is Otis, and a small is all he can manage to carry. He gets a slice and Persephone, otherwise known as Lucy Bell, gets dinner in the underground chamber she’s been trapped in for the past several, hazily counted days.

Gabriel Jones is there to rescue her – with the help of the dust bunny. After all, Otis has been helping Lucy all along, and Gabriel is just carrying out yet another mission for the sometimes famous, sometimes infamous Ghost Hunters’ Guild.

Welcome to Harmony, a planet in the human diaspora that lost contact with the homeworld a couple of centuries back, and has been not just surviving but thriving ever since. With the help of the dust bunnies and the boost in psychic power that comes from living on this planet with a murky alien past and a wealth of finely tuned resonating amber.

No one knows why the aliens left, only that they left their ruins behind both above and below ground. And that the colonists from Earth discovered that their psychic powers were enhanced by the amber – and that they needed to hone those enhancements to survive on this planet where so much of the weather and everything else could be deadly to those without protection from the psychic phenomena that permeate the place.

But the colonists were part of Earth’s Arcane Society, so they had what it took to make a go of Harmony when their Earth tech began failing after they were cut off.

Two centuries later, everyone on Harmony has at least a bit of talent. Guild members have a lot as they handle security in the most ghost-ridden and psychic phenomena rich areas – and are both celebrated and envied as a result. And occasionally good guild members, like good cops, go bad or get seduced to the dark side by the power and adulation.

But Lucy Bell isn’t a guild member – she’s a weather channeler. She’s able to direct and redirect the deadly power-storms that Harmony regularly throws up. When this story begins, she’s trapped underground among the storms and the phenomena without her amber while recovering from Harmony’s equivalent of a “Mickey Finn”. Even when he locates her, Gabriel doesn’t believe she was drugged by ‘person or persons unknown’. He’s sure, just as everyone else seems to be, that she got herself drunk, took the drugs voluntarily and got herself lost in a blackout. That she’s unstable and damaged.

Even her parents believe it.

That her rescue results in another forced round of hallucinogenic injections only makes her situation worse – but by that time Gabriel Jones is off on his next mission leaving Lucy to suffer the fallout.

He expects her to fall straight into his arms when he returns to Illusion Town as the new Guild Boss. She just wants to give him a piece of her mind over the downturn her life has taken since he carried her out of the Underground and left her in the hands of the men she saw as demons.

It’s only when they combine forces, he looking for a lost Old Earth artifact with still deadly powers and she attempting to revive her reputation and her business by assisting him, that they discover that her kidnapping and his hunt are all part of the same deadly game.

Just because you’re paranoid does not preclude someone being out to get you – and there’s definitely someone, or perhaps more than one – out to get them both.

Escape Rating B: All of the Arcane Society’s chickens have come to roost on Harmony to lay some VERY bad eggs. Some, but not all, are Easter Eggs in this book for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s interconnected series, her historical Arcane Society (written as Amanda Quick), her contemporary Arcane Society (written as Jayne Ann Krentz) and her futuristic Harmony (sometimes referred to as Ghost Hunters) books, of which Guild Boss is the 14th, written as Jayne Castle. (The author referred to it as the “Jayneverse” although I personally prefer “Arcaneverse” as a collective title).

I actually read this back in May when I first picked up the eARC. I have to admit that it didn’t grab me at the time the way that this author’s books usually do, no matter what pen name they are written under. And because I didn’t get into it the way I usually do, I didn’t write it up.

Having reread it over the holiday weekend, I’m not sure what happened the first time that it didn’t work for me, because it certainly did this time. Whether it was the right book at the right time now when it wasn’t then, or I’m just in the mood for an action/adventure type romance, I don’t know. But I did like Guild Boss the second time around quite a lot so I’m glad I went back to it.

One of my favorite things about the Harmony series are the dust bunnies. Every single one of them has a personality that is just so huge compared to their size. And they are, every last one of them, inveterate scene stealers. Otis is no exception. In fact, he loves to be in front of the camera. Any camera. All the cameras. For a dust bunny he’s kind of a ham.

The mystery in this one is big and convoluted and it’s a bit easy to get lost in it. There are a lot of moving pieces and it doesn’t quite all tie up neatly. Likewise, the romance is hot and electric, but a bit on the instalove side of that equation.

I think I felt like a couple of issues were a bit unresolved or got swept under the carpet. When Gabriel comes back to Illusion Town, Lucy, well, I want to say she didn’t make him grovel enough but her situation wasn’t his fault. At the same time, it’s understandable that she blamed him for it. That internal conflict, and it is mostly internal, got wrapped up a bit too easily, especially considering how often she chided him throughout the book about her being just another mission to him and how focused he was on climbing the Guild ladder.

It also seemed like her conflict with her parents was left hanging. Not that life’s conflicts generally get wrapped up with a tidy bow, but their disappointment and disapproval was a bit Chekhov’s Gun, even if the only possible resolution would be inside her head.

All of that being said, my re-read of Ghost Boss was much more fun than my original read, so I’m very glad I took the trip back to Harmony. While it looks like it’s going to be awhile before the author returns to Harmony, I still have two books with her signature blend of romance, adventure and psychic phenomena to look forward to this year, Lightning In a Mirror next month and When She Dreams in May. I expect them both to be marvelous reading treats, just as Guild Boss turned out to be!