by Juno Rushdan
Series: Cowboy State Lawmen #4
Also in this series: Wyoming Winter Rescue, Wyoming Christmas Stalker, Wyoming Mountain Hostage
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Publication Date: May 23, 2023
Source: the author
I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
His only link to a killer
Is a stranger with secrets…
When self-defense trainer Charlie Sharp is nearly killed by an explosion, Wyoming detective Brian Bradshaw finds himself with a murder investigation on his hands. And worse, it involves one of his own. Now bodies are turning up, and Brian suspects Charlie knows more than she’s telling. Trusting each other is hard enough. But knowing her secrets might be more danger than he bargained for…
After the first three books in the Cowboy State Lawmen series I definitely had my curiosity piqued about what was going on between the icy Charlie and Brian, who’s had a few POV chapters in past books. So I was very excited to find out that this is their book! While this entry from the author leans more heavily into the romance, it still had enough suspense and action to keep me on the edge of my seat. Though it’s the fourth in a series, it can easily be read as a standalone.
Ever since Charlie’s dad murdered her mom in front of her, Charlie hasn’t truly trusted anyone, especially not the police. After all, it was her father’s fellow cops that turned a blind eye to his abuse. It’s not surprising that, years later, she chose to run a self-defense school that specializes in helping women learn to protect themselves. When Haley, one of her clients – in more ways than one – disappears after a frightening phone call, it feels like history is repeating itself – that her cop husband has murdered her and the Laramie cops are covering it up. The only person she can ask for help is her cousin but since he’s out of town he sends the last person she wants to see – Brian, a Laramie cop who’s been on loan to the joint task force her cousin works with. And also the only man who seems to be willing to put in the time to break down her walls – and the only man she seems to want to. With allegations of a police force that’s rotten to the core and a possible murder on their hands, can Charlie trust Brian enough to find out what happened to Haley before the same thing happens to her?
Charlie’s an interesting character. She’s prickly and stand-offish, for good reason. She keeps her distance from people – even her cousin – because she’s afraid they’ll disappoint her. She prefers to rely on herself rather than others, only calling in her cousin when it’s obvious she’s in way over her head. And even in her daily life she works ridiculous hours at her gym. Besides her childhood, she has other reasons – illicit reasons – for keeping her distance from law enforcement.
Charlie already distrusted Brian because he was a cop, but it’s his continuous niceness – his aw-shucksness even in the face of her outright rudeness – that cements it. When Brian offered to teach classes at her gym, she rudely rebuffed him, but his kind attitude to her never changed. And even worse? A magical evening at a charity ball nearly a year ago nearly singed them both with their chemistry. While it’s made Brian more determined than ever to win Charlie’s trust, it’s just another reason for her why she needs to avoid him.
Charlie compares Brian to Captain America and basically says he’s too good to be true and like honestly? I kinda agree with her. As a cop who hasn’t been embroiled in the day to day workings of the department, he’s the perfect person to help Charlie. He knows the cops involved, has even hung out with them, but he doesn’t have the sort of relationship that has him knee-jerk defending them – not that it would be in his nature to do that anyway. Brian’s careful in a methodical, tactical sort of way. What I really liked about him was that he recognized that Charlie had some serious baggage, accepted it, and then rolled with it. He knows he wants something long term with her and he understands that he needs to have the patience to win her trust before getting involved romantically. Brian’s protective but not pushy – well, until Charlie’s life is on the line.
I did find Charlie’s fierce insistence on doing things by herself understandable but deeply annoying. Sure, you think this guy murdered his wife, so of course you should perform a one-woman stakeout. While lying about what you’re doing to the one person who has your back. In a car easily traceable back to your business. Totally safe! She looks for the slightest excuse to distrust him and push him away. Look, I liked Charlie, but there were several points in the book where I was downright convinced it was going to take several years of therapy before she’d be able to have a normal family dinner with her cousin let alone a healthy relationship with a cop. I think the relationship went slowly enough that I was able to mostly buy into it by the end of the book, and I appreciated their style of HEA.
While I felt like the last book was more suspense plot than romance, this one swings in the complete opposite direction. Part of it is because Charlie is so complicated and any less page time between her and Brian would’ve made the HEA completely unbelievable. But it does mean that the suspense plot is not as complex and a little more predictable. Regardless of focus, the pacing is still brisk and there’s still plenty of action (mostly because Charlie’s made another bad choice…).
Overall, another great entry in the series (as always) and now I’m left waiting for Rocco’s book!