Love is the most dangerous territory of all . . .
Every day, bodyguard Owen Jackson puts his life on the line — and keeps his feelings for Penny Sandoval locked away. Assigned to protect Penny’s father, a presidential candidate, Owen can’t get emotionally involved. That is, until Penny and her young son, Cruz, are abducted and taken deep into the California badlands.
Owen knows the bleak territory from his childhood. Worse, he knows the gang leader making ransom demands — his own brother, Shane. When a terrified Penny escapes into the desert with Cruz, Owen has to save her: from the elements and from the gang in close pursuit. Owen has hidden the darkness in his past from Penny. Now his only chance of keeping her alive is to let her see the man he really is — even if it means losing the only woman he’ll ever want.
FTC: I requested this book from NetGalley after reading the first two from there. I have no relationship with the author.
This book should not be read alone as it is a continuation of a series arc. I do think that you need to see how Penny and Owen meet to appreciate how far each of them have come. At the time of their meeting, Penny was pregnant and Owen was part of a neo-Nazi criminal group all trapped together after an Earthquake. Over the course of that book, Owen did grow but I knew when I started reading this one that most of his character growth had happened off-page.
At the start of this book, Penny is the mother to the lovely Cruz (so cute!) and Owen is their personal bodyguard. Her Father a prominent politician, she has started to become part of the campaign and therefore is in need of a bodyguard that she can trust. Owen has proved his worth by saving her life before so her Father hired him. Little did she know the stipulations that he had put in place when hiring Owen. Penny’s Father is a bit of a douche. I really didn’t like him the more I found out about him. Yes, he was protecting her from the former Neo-Nazi but he was really trying to impose his own ideals onto her life by putting Owen in an untenable position. It was very controlling.
Owen is batshit crazy in love with Penny. Thing is, he knows that his background means that he is unlikely to have a shot with her. He is focusing all his energy on protecting her and Cruz whilst they need him and then, if he manages to keep to all the stipulations in his contract, he will walk away knowing they are safe with a letter of recommendation to get a firefighter job. I didn’t judge him for not doing more to get her attention and say “fuck you” to Daddy dearest’s stipulations, I applauded him. He was happy in his unrequited love, sure that the best thing he could do for her was what he was doing and trying to live his life anyway. I liked him…….and then I found out about his tattoo modifications and I swooned a little. Then I found out about why he got the tattoos in the first place and my heart broke. I knew there would be a story; I just didn’t think it would be quite that story. Needless to say, I was dubious about a hero (reformed or not) who had criminal convictions and white supremist affiliations, but then I read his backstory and I knew I could stop judging him as a racist thug (I know, I am judgey with romance heroes….). At the start of the book, I knew that the actions didn’t quite fit with the appearance anyway but now my opinion is completely changed. Don’t get me wrong, he was never going to be a perfect hero to me, after all his actions were his own, but you have to give him some credit for being dealt a very bad hand. I liked him. Imperfections and all.
Penny impressed me in this book. It is clear before the kidnap that she is attracted to Owen but it isn’t until after the kidnapping that she really gets to dissect and tell him her feelings. She doesn’t care what he used to be as he has impressed her enough with the man that he has become and I respected this outlook. She let her judgement of him be based on his actions and not his outwards appearance (he has numerous Nazi tattoos as far as she is aware) and I liked this about her. It would be so easy to dismiss him but she can’t do that. I think the addition of Cruz to this particular plot was a genius way to let her shine too; her actions to save him were selfless and determined. She was strong, she was selfless and she was kind-hearted; she was a heroine who I wanted to know more about.
The suspense plot was well developed and kept the romance plot moving forward nicely. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to happen with Owen’s brother (main baddie) as I was torn between believing he could be redeemable (unlikely) and wanting to die a painful death (my reader self is blood thirsty). It was a bit of a pickle really but that edge of uncertainty kept me ploughing through the pages, another thing for me to get my teeth into.
Overall, this was a brilliant book, one I hoped Owen would get. I loved the pairing of the two of them, happy that the relationship would bring out the best of both of them. Excellent romantic suspense.