Dear Ms. Harris:
I was intrigued by this book when I first heard about it. It is a novel length versus the category romances you’ve been writing in the past and includes an element of suspense that absent from your Harlequin Presents. When it showed up on NetGalley, I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Matt Girard is returning home briefly after a HOT team mission that went pear shaped and ended with his team captured and two of its members dead before the dust had settled. He’s not sure if he has been permanently benched from the HOT teams or not.
Evie Baker is home, she hopes briefly, until some restaurant will take a chance on her. Her ten year career as a chef and owner of a restaurant was destroyed when she trusted her partner, a dirty accountant with ties to the mob. Evie and Matt have a past together that includes him deflowering her and then bragging about it later that night to all of his buddies.
Matt regrets this and so he decides the best course of action to make it up to Evie is to bag her again while he’s cooling his jets in their home town. I did not get this but it’s not the first time I’ve encountered it. Matt is genuinely apologetic about his past behavior but I don’t get how a one night (or two night stand) is matching words with actions. Maybe I am supposed to view them as so caught up in passion that they can’t help themselves, but I would have appreciated a slower pace to the evolution of their sexual relationship, particularly when Evie is still so hurt by the past. Matt’s bragging made Evie a target for boys who thought she was easy and girls who were jealous. Evie showed some indecision but not enough that it keeps her out of Matt’s bed. The only impediment to their consummation is an unwelcome interruption.
Evie’s home life is complicated by her sister’s involvement with a bad seed in town that leads to even worse results when the sister stupidly throws in with someone else. I got the sense that the thematic arc of the story was about mistakes. Matt made a mistake by not trusting his gut and it cost him two friends and possibly his job. Evie made a mistake by trusting the wrong guy and it cost her a business and her livelihood. Both return home to lick the wounds and figure out the way forward.
While the suspense plot provides Matt a way to redeem himself, I wasn’t sure about Evie. I think what I lacked from Evie’s perspective was more internal fortitude. For instance, when Matt tells Evie that he only wants sex and casual at that, she was tearful even after she proclaimed that she wanted sex only as well. When they have to look for something important, Evie is distracted and has to be brought back on task by Matt. I wanted Evie to tell Matt off, to not have to rely on him so much, to have a little more agency.
The ex shows up at Evie’s and it’s not hard to guess that he’s left something important with her which is, in essence, the milkshake that brings the bad guys to the yard. And there are a number of bad guys from Jimmie, the drunken lout who blames Matt for being the soldier that Jimmie could have been to the various people surrounding Evie’s ex partner.
The twists in the suspense and the action in the latter half of the story engaged me. Evie was given more opportunity to display wits and bravery but she remained emotionally vulnerable throughout. It was just her personality, I guess, and I shouldn’t have wanted something more from her but I did. I’m on board for another romantic suspense book even though this one wasn’t wholly successful for me, particularly at the beginning. By the end of the story, I was more satisfied by Evie’s actions but still mystified by Matt’s motivations. Their love connection needed more time to bake in the hot Louisiana sun for me to buy into an HEA. C