By Linda Howard and Linda Jones
Book #1 in the Men of Battle Ridge series
Romantic Suspense, Western Romance
Carlin Reed lives in fear, off the grid, moving from place to place. So Battle Ridge, Wyoming, a small town in the middle of nowhere, seems like a good place to lie low for a while. But after becoming cook and housekeeper to cattle rancher Zeke Decker, Carlin suspects that she’s made her first mistake.
Rugged, sexy, and too distracting for his own good, Zeke is pure temptation mixed with something deep and primal that makes Carlin feel almost safe. Soon things are getting way too hot in the kitchen. Zeke doesn’t challenge Carlin’s terms: cash, dead bolts, and no questions. It is easy to see that she’s a woman in trouble. Problem is, he’s so blindsided by his attraction to her he can’t think straight. Zeke tries to stay all business, no complications —but that game plan is sabotaged the second Carlin gets under his skin. And when her terrifying past follows her to the ranch, Carlin faces a heartbreaking choice: run away from the man she loves, or put him in the crosshairs of a madman.
Carlin Reed is on the run from a stalker ex-boyfriend who is obsessed and out to kill her. She lands in Battle Ridge, Wyoming, far from her home in Texas and completely off the grid. Zeke Decker is so desperate for a cook and housekeeper, he agrees to Carlin's strange terms and ultra privacy about her background. They're all business...well, for a little while.
I started this book completely unaware that it is a romantic suspense, a really very pleasant surprise. Combined with a western setting, it has just about everything I love in a romance and it delivered.
Carlin was just an ordinary young woman trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life when she went out with the wrong man and had her life turned upside down. She slowly transforms from the naive, frightened woman on the run to a more confident, self-assured one who begins to take control of her life. Zeke is ruggedly sexy and a man of few words who recognized from the start that Carlin was going to be a challenge. He's got a ranch to run and men to manage and Carlin is definitely a distraction.
I loved how their romance developed. Both wanted to ignore their attraction to each other, Carlin because at any moment she might need to move on and Zeke because he needed her to first run his household. There was no "all of a sudden" moment, just the gradual growth of affection and lust. I admired both of them, especially Carlin for figuring out how to take control of her life and stay alive. Zeke had a role in this but it was driven by Carlin. They were really well designed characters with a meaty story to accompany the romance.
The tension builds throughout the story because the threat of Carlin being found is always there, not in an overt way but the ex-boyfriend is clever, calculating and obsessed. We get his point of view from time to time, just enough to give you chills. The climax was all that I imagined and more. It was scary, exciting and unpredictable in the end.
Lastly, I'm always concerned with co-authored novels as there's a tendency for the "voice" to become convoluted. Not the case with this story as the characters and tone were consistent to the end.
This is a great start to the series and I'm already looking for the next book. There was also a fair amount of humor as Carlin didn't really know how to cook at first and there were some failed experiments. The Wyoming setting is perfect and the secondary characters introduced here will be interesting leads going forward. It struck the right balance between the action, romance, suspense and humor. Well done.