Zoe Archer's latest for Carina Press, Collision Course, delivers a lot of the elements I've come to enjoy in science fiction romance. Interesting characters, smoldering tension, and a rip-roaring space opera plot.
Mara Skiren is a black-market smuggler operating in some of the more unsavory corners of the galaxy. Which is why the elite 8th Wing is practically blackmailing her into going on a mission for them. One of their super-secret ships has gone missing, the pilot presumably a hostage. If the ship were to fall into the wrong hands, it could spell disaster for the whole galaxy. However, while they need Mara's help navigating the world of smugglers and black-market hoodlums, they're not going to send her on the mission alone. They want her to take Commander Kell Frayne with her. Naturally, as a lone wolf scavenger, Mara is less than thrilled with this arrangement - especially since one look at Kell sends her hormones into overdrive. To make things even more complicated? The lustful feelings are mutual.
Archer packs a lot of action into this category length (around 200 pages) story. There's derring-do, action sequences, and a daring rescue to keep the plot churning along. You also have two headstrong Alpha characters who butt heads immediately but aren't so stubborn to bend and give a bit when backed into a corner. It's been a while since I've read about a couple that are so alike, and yet have the romance still "work." Partly because their back-stories are so interesting, and heartbreaking, that the reader really begins to "understand" where they are coming from. Even though they're both strong-willed, and a bit Alpha, I could see these two making their romance work in the long run.
That said, there is a wee bit of Insta-Lurve going on here. The lust that's vibrating between Mara and Kell is apparent very early on, with a frankness one typically sees in erotic-romance corners. The sexy-times are certainly sizzling, but it takes more than that to have me buying into a happy-ever-after Luckily the author helps add to it later on, especially when the back-stories come spilling out. Also, I liked the way these two worked together as a team, which is on full display during the final climactic chapters.
There's definitely more than enough wiggle room in Collision Course for the author to return to this world in future books. The missing pilot seems particularly ripe for her own romance, and Archer has given readers enough world-building featuring Good Guys and Bad Guys to build an entire fleet of stories. If you're a beleaguered science fiction romance fan, or you're just looking for a bit of a palate cleanser, this is a quick, sexy way to get some kicks.
Final Grade = B-
You can buy this book at Carina Press and other fine e-retailers.