Tempted by His Target* is a new Harlequin Romantic Suspense by Jill Sorenson, her seventh if I counted correctly. I do not usually read romantic suspense, but after a few heavy emotional reads, with a lot of internal conflict, I wanted something actiony, with a dreamy, sunny locale, and this fit the bill.
Isabel Sanborn was a rich and out of control party girl who fled L.A. after she woke up one morning next to the dead body of a Mexican drug lord’s son. Assuming she would be blamed for his death, she fled to Oaxaca, and she’s been on the run for two years when undercover U.S. Marshal Brandon Knox tracks her down. He poses as a clueless tourist, but soon he has to save her from Carranza’s thugs in a back alley, and they flee for their lives.
Their journey takes them by car, motorcycle, and on foot through Mexico, to Guatemala, and then back to the U.S. Instantly attracted to one another, they are both keeping secrets: Isabel what really happened that night before she fled the U.S., and Brandon his real occupation and reason for being with her. Theirs is is the kind of love that would have happened fast and easy had they met at a cocktail party in the states. It’s the circumstances that keep them from developing their attraction.
Spending nights in hotel rooms and days traveling together ratchets up the sexual tension. It occurred to me as I was reading Tempted by His Target that one of the problems with romantic suspense — the need to build a sexual relationship while in mortal crisis — can actually be a strength. Brandon and Isabel are constantly interrupted, either by their own self-control (Brandon is ethically bound not to have a fling with his target, and for Isabel, now is not exactly the best time to get involved) or by the events related to their flight, so the sexual tension just builds and builds.
It must be said, Sorenson knows how to bring the steamy. The love scenes were extremely intense. I was happy with how the author handled one encounter in which certain chances are taken. Failure to use protection is extremely common, because human beings tend not to think about what seem like distant risks when immediate gratification is at hand. But how it happens in this book, and the way the characters handle it, is very believable and very well done.
The opening scene of Tempted by his Target takes place on a beach (both Isabel and Brandon are surfers) and I wasn’t thrilled, because I don’t find descriptions of water very exciting. But when they head into town and on their journey — which includes a sweet interlude on a vacant farm and a violent episode among some abandoned ruins — the setting really works with the story to heighten both the romance and the suspense. My favorite suspense scene involves Isabel’s attempt to flee by blending in the crowds during Day of the Dead celebrations. Isabel is half Venezuelan and fluent in Spanish. Although not Mexican (and it’s clear that the locals would know this) the difference between Isabel’s easy way of relating to her surroundings and Brandon’s more complex one is significant to their characters.
Some other reviewers have complained that Brandon holds on to his secret for much longer than he should have, and doesn’t give good grovel, and I can see that, although it did not bother me. I really liked his character: a good man with a weakness for Isabel which is at times self-serving. The one sour note for me was the discovery that he had in his backpack a magazine with a sexy picture of Isabel (she did some modeling prior to becoming a fugitive) dressed a la Britney Spears in the “Baby One More Time” video. It wasn’t so much that she was dressed as a school girl (Although that doesn’t help. Brandon himself notes it’s kind of sleazy for him to be turned on by it.), but that it gave me the impression as a reader that he took an inappropriately lascivious interest in her prior to the assignment, which is more problematic than sort of accidentally falling in love at first sight. Still, I really liked Brandon, not least for his sensitive side. He’s very in touch with his emotions, not just during the love scenes, but even after fights: he seems to really be affected when he has to take on an attacker.
Isabel is a very likable character, too, despite the fact that she makes some questionable decisions. Heading into Mexico to escape a Mexican drug lord is probably the most bizarre, but the author finesses that in terms of her general instability and substance dependency, admixed with post traumatic panic. But there are a few choices in the book that had me scratching my head a bit (like why she wasn’t more suspicious of Brandon’s desire to stick with her, for one. Why would a happy go lucky American tourist want to hang with a girl who is followed by bullets everywhere she goes?). The Isabel in Tempted by His Target is so different from the wild child she was in L.A. that I almost wished for a prologue just to force me to believe she could really have been that girl once. But overall, as a character, she’s smart and funny and strong and vulnerable, and her complicated back story has as much power as possible given that it most of it occurs off the page.
I’m not normally a romantic suspense reader, but I really liked this book. I absolutely believed in the love between Isabel and Brandon, and for a romance reader, that’s what it’s all about.
*I received Tempted by His Target free from the publisher in exchange for writing a review. I came to know of its availability on Net Galley because I follow the author on Twitter, and she has written a guest post here at Read React Review. In the interest of complete disclosure, I should add that I would also kill for her hair.