Review: When the Smoke Clears – C. Chilove

Review: When the Smoke Clears – C. ChiloveWhen the Smoke Clears
by C. Chilove
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Publication Date: April 19, 2021
Genres: Romance
Pages: 425
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne Star

Lieutenant Colonel Brenden Jasper lives a life of secrets, danger, and clandestine missions. As commander of the most elite Black Ops unit in the world, nothing is more important to him than protecting the country he loves. But there’s a reason only the toughest, battle-tested, alpha men can call themselves members of the Black 2131 brotherhood. None but those in the highest realms of government even know of its existence, and it's Brenden's job to avoid emotional entanglements so he can keep it that way.

Dr. Paige Nichols has spent her life ruled by logic and reason, teaching and analyzing art history, so nothing could have prepared her for the completely overwhelming attraction-at-first-sight when she sets eyes on Brenden. Their chance encounter at a party opens her up to a tantalizing dark side she never knew she had—and leaves her wanting so much more. But a man with a dark side often comes with way too many secrets…ones that could put her life in danger.

Though their chemistry burns hotter than ever, when danger comes knocking on Paige’s door, Brenden will have to walk a fine line between duty, honor, and love.

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3 stars icon contemporary icon m/f romance icon

Content warnings: View Spoiler »

While I don’t usually read military romantic suspense, I was intrigued enough by the blurb to pick this up. And while this didn’t work out well for me, it may read better for some more frequent readers of that genre.

Brenden’s special ops team is reaching the culmination of their mission to identify the source of weapons shipments to terrorists in the Middle East, and he doesn’t have time for any distractions. He’s well aware exactly how deadly they can be. So no matter how scorching his night with the beautiful woman in the green dress is, it’s for the best that he doesn’t know anything about her – that is, until he walks into a meeting with his niece’s college and sees her again. But can any relationship survive him being unwilling to give her the bare details about his work?

“Nichols, when the bombs drop I’ll still be here, baby. The smoke will clear and you’ll be in my arms because we stand on the front lines together.”

I liked Paige a lot, and I especially liked all the bits about art therapy. I sympathized a lot with her frustrations with Brenden’s obsession with secrecy, but I liked how the relationship built up. I certainly didn’t doubt that they had a lot of chemistry! I had a lot harder time with Brenden. The nature of his job means he could be called away at any moment, and he feels like he can’t tell Paige anything about what he does, not how long he expects he’ll be gone or how he got the various scars all over his body. While Paige is familiar with the military need for secrecy – much of her family is also military – she feels like he’s keeping this huge part of himself walled off from her to protect her from his darkness. He’s afraid that she’ll walk away if she finds out exactly what he does for a living. He tries to make it up with presents (he comes from money of course), but even those struck me as annoying. He buys her a puppy without even asking, for goodness’ sake.

“She wasn’t asking for mission details. Hell, she knew there were things he couldn’t tell her, but he had somehow lumped everything relating to his duty into a pile that was off-limits. So why was she so willing to bare her soul to a man who had all these damn secrets featuring the alternate life he lived?”

I’d hesitate to call this romantic suspense. While there are some military elements to it, besides a few key scenes, most of the military portions happen either in conference rooms before the missions or on transportation back from them. Most of it revolves around Brenden’s PTSD and how his secrecy affects his relationship with Paige. That’s not to say that it’s all on Brenden. Paige is Black, and her family (that is to say, her father and brothers) gave her two rules: don’t date anyone in the military, and date within her own race. There’s reasons for both of them. Her father and brothers are all in the military and have seen how it can wreck relationships, and they’re trying to keep her from making the same mistakes. In terms of race, they know the cultural differences can be too much. While the first worry is certainly true (even if still ridiculously patronizing), the second felt a bit like it was hand-waved. There’s some bits about Brenden being a clueless white guy (not understanding why she gets mad when he gets her hair wet) but that’s about it. (Please note that I am coming at this from the perspective of a white woman, so take it all with a grain of salt.)

My main problem with the book is that there is just too much going on. Almost the whole first half of the book feels like a setup for the latter half, when the pacing picks up and things start happening quickly. At points it felt like the characters were too busy reacting to everything around them to actually concentrate on their relationship – and that’s not even counting the curve ball thrown at them in the latter half of the book. I felt like I had whiplash from all the drama the characters had to go through. I also found the “super special black ops!!” team thing a bit overdone, but military romances are not usually my thing. I mean, I suppose I did find it pretty funny that at least one member of a supposedly highly classified super soldier team has a large recognizable tattoo.

Overall, while this book didn’t quite work for me, I liked the author’s writing and will probably check out her next book.

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