REVIEW: Absolute Trust by Piper J. Drake
Dear Piper J. Drake,
I’ve been enjoying your True Heroes series, loosely based around the veterans who run Hope’s Crossing Kennels, a facility which trains service dogs for the military and others. Brandon Forte is the owner and his buddies, Rojas and Cruz assist him at the kennels. The other men have had their books (Extreme Honor and Ultimate Courage) and now it is finally Brandon’s turn. While each book follows a particular couple to their HEA, there is also an overarching storyline in the trilogy and Absolute Trust ties up some of the loose ends from previous books.
Brandon has had a longstanding, if undefined, relationship with Sophie Kim. They went to high school together and Sophie was devastated when Brandon left to join the military immediately after graduation without telling her he was doing so. Brandon eventually returned home, scarred by war and the things he did and the things he witnessed, to find Sophie was still there and willing to be his friend. In the previous books in the series, it was clear that Sophie and Brandon have very strong feelings for each other, but for reasons which are less clear, neither has acted on them.
In part, the delay in starting a more-than-friends relationship was about Brandon healing after his war experience but the bulk of it was fear – for both of them, the risk of things going wrong and being without the other altogether was too great and so they muddled along as extremely close friends with bucket loads of unresolved sexual tension between them.
Over the course of the series, Brandon, Rojas and Cruz have pissed off some very powerful people who are not averse to very shady dealings. Sophie, who works as an accountant but who also does the books for Hope’s Crossing Kennels (and is a regular visitor regardless and a favourite baker of all the human residents), has been invited to take a day off by her boss. When she runs into Brandon exercising a service dog, Hadyn, they accompany her to her car. Hadyn is an expert in detecting IEDs and was injured in Afghanistan when one exploded, killing his handler. Hadyn lost his left front leg. While he gets around fine on three legs, Brandon is helping him adjust to a prosthetic leg which gives him greater mobility. The plan is that, after a period of training, Hadyn will be adopted by another handler and go back to work. (Of course, for those of us who have read the earlier books, we know that the featured dog ends up with the featured hero – Hadyn isn’t going anywhere.)
As it happens, Hadyn’s special talents are put to use when Brandon and he accompany Sophie to her car – which explodes in a fiery fury, injuring Sophie and making it clear that she is a target. But by whom and for what reason?
The explosion and the possibility of Sophie dying ultimately cause both Brandon and Sophie to revisit their previous fears and both of them take steps to resolve that sexual tension and take things to the next level. In the meantime, Brandon, Rojas and Cruz, along with their significant others and other important characters from the series, look into who is targeting Sophie and why, ultimately wrapping things up with a HEA and the bad guys getting what’s coming to them.
I liked this book best of the three. The writing felt a little smoother and I enjoyed the connection between Sophie and Brandon quite a bit. As they had been friends (and very briefly, more) for a very long time, I had no difficulty in buying the romance.
Some of the suspense, frustratingly, happened off page. This had the effect of distancing me from the action. For instance, I found out that Brandon had spoken to Sophie about what files she had been working on the day before the car bombing, as an aside. I think the story would have been more gripping if that conversation had occurred, at least partially, on page. In the end, it seemed that Sophie didn’t have much of a hand in her own salvation – which wasn’t actually the case.
There were also a few things left hanging – most particularly Sophie’s family (who were absent on long Korean holiday for the entirety of the book) who had some objections to Brandon. I’d have liked to see that worked out on the page too.
Parts of the suspense plot seemed a little too far-fetched or perhaps, just unclear as to motivation, but the risk to Sophie was palpable and as a method of bringing the romantic tension to a head, it worked.
I didn’t dislike the suspense, but I think it could have been a little tighter. That said, I’m mostly in it for the romance and that really worked for me. Brandon and Sophie so clearly love each other but they have to take quite a few emotional risks to get to their HEA.
After a moment, he murmured against her ear. “Wherever you go, I’ll go with you.”
She buried her face into his neck and tried not to doubt. He’d left right after their graduation, after their first time together, after he’d said almost the same thing. Things were changing between them but were frighteningly the same.
She wrapped her arms around him and shoved her doubts as far back in her mind as she could. She wouldn’t be afraid of change. This time, she’d give them a chance; she’d try, and if it got rough, they’d take it at a different angle. But she wasn’t going to give up on this dream.
Yes, it could get worse, but what if it turned out better?
Here, with him, was better. She was sure of it.
I also loved Hadyn. I’ve enjoyed all three dogs featured in the series so far and it would be a lie to say they weren’t actually the main draw. I’ve said I’m a hero-centric reader many times but it turns out I’m kind of dog-centric too. It is clear you know your dogs and the stuff with Hadyn had the ring of authenticity about it. Hadyn plays a critical role in this book – he quite literally saves Sophie’s life on more than one occasion. I know that Hadyn is a dog but I still felt the representation of disability in the book was positive. Basically, I thought Hadyn was pretty awesome.
The friendship between Lyn, Elisa and Sophie was also fun and a nice addition to the story.
It took me a lot longer than usual to finish this book but that wasn’t the fault of the story at all. But with Christmas and getting a new puppy of our own, reading has had to take somewhat of a backseat this week. Even with a somewhat disjointed reading experience, I still enjoyed Absolute Trust very much. I’m hoping the series will continue with other heroes coming into Hope’s Crossing Kennels; there was some indication that Brandon was thinking of expanding so I have reason for that hope.
While there were a few things which I’d have liked to understand better, the central romance was very strong and I definitely count Absolute Trust in the win column.