by Juno Rushdan
Series: Fugitive Heroes: Topaz Unit #3
Also in this series: Rogue Christmas Operation, Alaskan Christmas Escape, An Operative's Last Stand
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Publication Date: December 28, 2021
Source: the author
I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
He'll put his own life on any line
If it means keeping her away from the danger stalking him
Fleeing from a CIA kill squad, former operative Dean Delgado is hiding out back in Wyoming, where the terrain—and the people—are all too familiar. Working undercover, he befriends veterinarian Kate Sawyer—the woman he was once forced to leave behind. But when an emergency call brings Kate under fire, Dean must blow his cover to save her. Now, despite the risks to his own life, protecting Kate is the only mission that matters.
Not only is this the third book in the highly enjoyable and thrilling Fugitive Heroes: Topaz Unit series, it’s also a second chance romance! There’s very little overlap with previous books so this could easily be read as a standalone.
Dean left his small hometown of Laramie as a teenager suddenly without any word, leaving behind his younger brother, Lucas, and his girlfriend, Kate. Fifteen years later, he’s got a lot more experience, but he’s not sure he’s in a much better place. After a mission went wrong, his CIA team was disavowed, and now he’s back in his small hometown, but in hiding. Kate’s a veterinarian with a mobile clinic, though it’s barely staying afloat. When a woman arrives on her doorstep one night begging for help, she can’t say no, but the results lead to involving the elderly bartender downstairs – who turns out he’s not exactly what he seems. Dean’s cover is blown and he knows it’s only a matter of time before a kill team hunts him down, but can he convince himself to leave Kate again?
“Kate thought what he did best was leaving, but the reality was, what he did best was protect her. Despite any pain it caused him.
Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid of a kill team, but a marine’s core tenet was to defend those who could not defend themselves. No matter the personal cost.”
There’s several key differences between this book and the past two books. For one thing, while the past books involved the couples being on the run, in this case, Dean and Kate stay in one place. Kate doesn’t quite believe Dean about the whole kill team. To her, it sounds like a convenient excuse for him to run off again without her, and she can’t resist getting to the bottom of the mystery that’s landed in her lap, even if it’s already resulted in the death of more than one person. And even though Dean knows that trouble is on the way, he can’t bear to leave Kate again, especially when he’s convinced she’s going to be in harm’s way. Most of the previous books’ characters were either ex-military/CIA, but, as Dean hilariously puts it, Kate is “candy-coated.” And sure, she has a big heart – she was always rescuing animals as a kid – but she’s also got the backbone and determination to keep going, even when the going’s tough, like when the dog you’re trying to treat bites you. Dean respects that about her, and it’s one of the reasons why he never contacted her after he left. He knew that if he popped back up in her life, she wouldn’t let him get away with disappearing again and he was convinced that he’d only drag her down. Hiding out in Laramie again has given him a lot of time to reflect on his actions and he knows he may never be able to salvage the relationships he broke fifteen years ago. It’s obvious from the beginning that their chemistry is hotter than ever, but whether the love is still there? That’s something that will depend a lot on whether Dean’s learned from his mistakes.
“You think I’ve never looked back. Are you kidding me?” He gave a sharp laugh that ended in a pitiful sigh. “All I do is look back, to the point where I can’t move forward. Because when I left you behind, it was like ripping out my heart.”
Unlike Zee, the previous book’s heroine, Dean’s not as focused on figuring out what went wrong, so there’s not much to do with the overarching plot line of who set their team up. There are some new hints courtesy of the villain, however. Like previous books, the villain again is almost as interesting as the main characters, though why is something I can’t go into without getting into spoilers. Suffice it to say that it’s heartwrenching, and I like the way the author chose to play out the confrontations between Dean and the villain.
“Team Topaz is done running.” Hunter caught her gaze as he spoke. “We’re done hiding. We need to figure out who put us in this predicament and fight back.”
Overall, this book is setting up a showstopper of a finale, and I can’t wait for the next book!
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (including death), kidnapping, childbirth, death of a person from childbirth complications, forced prostitution, forced drugging, child abuse (in the past), homelessness (in the past), alcohol « Hide Spoiler