The Guardian by Cindi Myers
The Particulars: Romantic suspense, Harlequin Intrigue #1572, 2015, Out of print, Available digitally, First book in mini-series
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I had an autographed copy which means I more than likely picked this up at a RWA conference. I tend to pick up category romance at conferences rather indiscriminately, especially for authors I've never read before - and as amazing as this sounds, I don't think I've read Myers before. Despite her large backlist and the fact that she's written across several Harlequin lines.
Review: Meh. Oh, you expect more than that? OK. Well, once again my lagging mojo meant I waited too long to settle on a TBR Challenge read for this month, so I went diving in the ocean that is my Harlequin print TBR and unearthed this Intrigue. I like Intrigues because they're fast-paced and short - which means the author has to hit all the emotional beats and build a fast moving suspense thread to hook the reader. Myers does that here. I think Intrigues are notoriously tricky to pull off for a writer, so when I find someone who handles the line and format well, I take notice. Myers inserted a few elements in this story that annoyed me, but I can't fault her on her skills.
Abby Stewart is a former beauty queen, turned soldier, who was injured while deployed in Afghanistan. In fact, she almost died. She was rescued by Michael Dance, a PJ (para jumper) with the United States Air Force Pararescue. It's been five years but he's never forgotten Abby - mainly because she was the first person he managed to save who didn't end up dying on him. He now works for Customs and Border Protection and is part of a inter-agency task force patrolling public land in Colorado. Imagine his surprise when Abby bursts into the staff meeting he's trying to stay awake in.
Abby is back in school, working on her PhD-or-something-or-other in environmental science of some sort (I kind of tuned this out). She's studying the native plants in the region, collecting samples, hoping her research will lead her to a cure for cancer, Parkinson's, pick your poison. Anyway, she's out gathering her plants when she meets a Hispanic woman collecting edible plants and carrying a baby. The woman speaks no English and Abby only remembers the rudimentary basics of her high school Spanish. But then the woman is frightened by an approaching group of men, Abby hides, and when the men disappear she emerges only to be confronted by a dead body. Hence her going to the ranger station and interrupting the meeting that Michael is in.
This isn't a terrible read by any stretch of the imagination, but there were authorial choices made here that I wasn't entirely captivated with. While I liked that Abby was ex-military, and therefore extremely level-headed and capable, she does make a couple of bone-headed moves and gets butt-hurt when Michael goes all Macho Man wanting to protect her from danger. Yeah, that's annoying, but she is, after all, technically a civilian in this situation. On the bright side, there was one really nice moment in the story where she apologizes afterward knowing full well she flew off the handle a bit.
In Abby's defense, Michael wanting to cocoon her from harm is pretty annoying since he's fully aware that she's ex-military and has experience working in a war zone. Seriously dude, I know you're getting all these gooey feelings for her, but let's not start treating her like some hothouse flower that's going to wilt. But I liked that Michael and Abby have the shared experience of both being former military, that they talk about the trials of acclimating back into civilian life post-military, and all the challenges that that entails.
I walked into this story knowing full well it was book one in a series. What I didn't realize was that it's book one in a mini-series. For Harlequin fans, think of this like it's the start of a continuity series written by one author. The suspense thread here is just the start of an overarching plot that carries over into the next three books. Illegal immigrants are on the public land working at something...illegal. What? Who knows. The characters suspect it's a drug operation and there's naturally One Very Bad Man who is keeping these illegals prisoner and working them as slave labor. I liked that Myers addresses other aspects of human trafficking to the plot - that yes, many victims are forced into sex work, but some are forced into illegal drug labor pools, domestic work etc. I also liked that the author focused on illegal activities on public lands and in National Parks - where people have set up large marijuana grow operations and meth labs. While Hispanic characters are victims in this story, the author has made the inter-agency task force diverse and some of those characters become protagonists in the later books.
So while this has potential, and I'll certainly read Myers again, it's not something that lit a fire in me to continue on with the next books in the mini-series. There's a lot left unanswered in this book one that I know will be addressed later (a gazillionaire who has a compound near the public land, a missing TV news anchorwoman, what exactly are the bad guys up to etc.) but I just can't be bothered. I was annoyed with myself for not realizing this was a mini-series and not just a plain ol' series. The characters were nice enough, Myers is certainly a capable writer in the tricky Intrigue format, but I just wasn't feeling this. It's OK but...meh.
Your mileage may vary.
Final Grade = C