I picked this one up for a variety of reasons- wanted to try the author, loved the cover, in the mood for this type of story and the blurb got my attention. I knew going in that this was the second book in a series, but hey, the stars were in alignment and all that for me to read this one so I did. This was a ‘fasten your safety belts, keep your hands inside the vehicle and know the safety instructions’ sort of book and not just because of the action sequences. I had some issues with it, but not enough to dampen my enjoyment of the book.
So it would definitely fall into the strong sequel category I’m assuming. Not having read the first book, I’m going out on a limb on that one, but its a strong limb. I’m guessing I would have gotten a lot more out of the experience if I had read Surrender first, but I wasn’t lost and I had no trouble getting into it and going with the story at least for that reason. From what I understand, the whole series is a spin-off of yet another series. Yeah, I am way off my usual game here by not only starting with the spin-off, but grabbing the second book on top of that.
The story opened with one of those teaser-style Prologues where you’re going what in the world? Gunner is being tortured by Jem for information and Avery’s in on it. Okay…
But then it flashes back to earlier when Avery, Gunner, Dare, Grace, Jem and Key- the surviving contacts and family members of the old Section 8 Covert Ops group have come to a crossroads. Avery wants them to all pull together and form a new Section 8 and continue the legacy started by the others, but she knows everyone is still wound tight after what they had all just gone through so she asks them to go away on vacation and take the time to decide what they really want. She assumes when the others go that she’ll have some private time for just her and Gunner and not just for the passion. She hasn’t missed that he’s gone cold and withdrawn from the whole group even her. But then it happens, he rejects her kiss and the next morning he’s gone with a note that she has to get out because he sold the tattoo shop.
Gunner has a dark past that he got a reprieve from for over ten years, but one heroic act brings him back into the sights of a cold operator who wants Gunner- the best merc he ever had- back and working for him. The man has no compunction about killing every barrier there is to owning Gunner entirely and that includes everyone Gunner cares about. To protect everyone and because he thinks he doesn’t deserve to be with Avery and the others anyway, he walks away cutting all ties. Hardest choice he made it seems, but after enough kills and missions he won’t remember or feel a thing.
After Gunner left, Avery kept hoping that he would walk back through that door, but he doesn’t so she determines to go find him. She starts with looking up one of his ex-wives. This starts a chain reaction of events including a bomb included with a note and flowers from Gunner. With the help of a crazy as a fox, Jem, she steps up her game while keeping the other members of the team in the dark to protect them. They track through Gunner’s life and find even more than they could have ever imagined. It was starting to look like getting Gunner back would be the easy part. Getting Gunner back as the Gunner they loved and knew while keeping a boatload of people off him would be nigh impossible.
The plot on this one wasn’t a clean line straight to the finish. Not that its a bad thing. It just means that its one of the those books where you had to really pay attention not only to who is narrating, but when its all going on. Now, I’m going to say at this point that I read an ARC copy so maybe some of what caused trouble for me got cleaned up in the finished copy like the switches in narrators and the flashback and forward stuff. The flashbacks were woven throughout the book.
The pacing was a bit uneven. In the beginning, it moved right along then just beyond the middle it started grinding out slowly before picking up again for the end. I think some of the middle could have been clipped because it seemed to just cover the same ground with their worries and fears on spin cycle.
It’s told third person POV from mostly Avery and Gunner for much of the book, but then bad guy and other members of the gang have page time. I don’t mind a book told with multiple narrators, but I do mind a book that is cruising along with its storyline and its main characters only to get slowed down, cut down or sidetracked by a new storyline that could have waited for its own book and is obviously part of the set up for the next book. A little intro to new characters that will stay on and a little set up for the next book, fine. But a chunk like this one just bogged down the pace and stole time from the main couple who needed that time to develop their characters and romance better.
Which brings me to the characters.
Avery wasn’t convincing for me in many ways though I still liked her as a person. I don’t mind it when an author puts women into the toughest of man worlds like trained spec ops operatives, but the author does need to convince me that the woman really can be it and do it. In this instance, Avery has the lead role in this group of ex-special forces, ex-CIA types with years of experience and the mental/physical scars to show for it even though she’s a latecomer to the fraternity. I felt like the author was telling me that she was one lethal bad mama with nerves of steel capable of running an operation like Section 8, surviving torture and coldly taking her own revenge, but as I read, that wasn’t the Avery I saw. She’s in her own head a lot for one. (Not that I minded when she has a thing for tattoos because the tattoos and the tattoo parlor were symbolic of bigger things in this one, it was all the other stuff.) The only action scenes she is in is when she’s the damsel in distress. Now to be fair, I admired her greatly for the emotional toughness she did display when she didn’t let Gunner get away with his sacrificial martyr act. She wanted him, she believed in him and she went after him. This is part of what I meant about a little more page time giving Avery some scenes where she bests a bad guy with her skills or plans out a successful mission that would have convinced me more.
This type of thing overlapped into the relationship with Gunner. They just don’t get enough page time together. There are literally like three or four scenes and only two of them even slightly romantic- passionate yes, relationship building, no. Now maybe that’s the tone of this series where the romance takes a back seat to the suspense, but that’s not the impression I got. This isn’t a case of instalove because I know they began their connection to each other in the previous book. It’s a case of lack of development time and then boom! Togetherness. Based on what I got to know in their characters I can totally see them together, but again (yes, harping on this) it only needed more page time to make it happen.
Gunner is probably the best part of the book for me. His character, his past, his thoughts and his actions all jived. He’s this lethal, tortured, worthy of love guy who just can’t catch a break. He’s the son of not one, but two black ops people with one parent staying just on the correct side of right and the other completely off the charts wrong. He is honed in the fires of hell it seemed and it was amazing that it left him capable of the good stuff. He struggles hard to hold onto the small amount of light left in his soul and its his sliver of hope for a future free of the demons and a chance at a life with the woman he loves that holds him together. But if he can’t have that, he will sell the rest of his soul to keep her safe and the rest of those he loves. Gah! He was just the perfect flawed hero.
Okay, I know I tore into this book and it frustrated me, but the big picture is that I also got into it too. I like these sorts of plots and characters and the author gave that to me. I would recommend this one for those who enjoy more of a thriller feel to their romantic suspense with the romance on the spicy side.
My thanks to Penguin group and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review this book.