There is much to abhor in the former-military, “band of special ops” brothers romance, but I also cannot take away how compellingly satisfying Crane’s fourth Alaska Force romantic suspense novel, Delta Force Defender, was, the long-awaited story of the Force’s leader, Isaac Gentry, and the curmudgeonly owner of Grizzly Harbor’s restaurant, the shadows-in-her-eyes-and-scowl-on-her-face Caradine Scott. My reading experience alternated between eye-rolling annoyance and page-tapping eagerness, I’m embarrassed to say, but there you have it. There is absolutely nothing terribly original about the premise and, if it were not for Crane’s writing chops, this nears the Kristen-Ashley-badness territory.
Caradine Scott’s past catches up with her one night in her Alaskan-anonymity town, peopled by your run-of-the-mill small town “characters” and the ice-men that make up Alaska Force, a security service solving the world’s ills from their isolated state-of-the-art compound. Her restaurant is bombed and ne-er may be found of her except footprints leading to the water. What can I say, there are monitors. (Given the zip-tie horror of the America Capitol attack, no zip-tie carrying hero can ever be that heroic again. The former-military hero romance, with a protective, San-Andreas-fault-sized man-handling protective streak of said hero incites shivers of anxiety rather than frissons of excitement.) Leader of the he-man pack, Isaac Gentry, who does carry zip-ties, former marine, occasional-Caradine lover, is, atypically, emotionally affected by Caradine’s disappearance, terrified, though he’d never show it to his ribbing mates. Has she been kidnapped, or left for dead, or will soon be? Isaac follows her trail as Caradine takes a round-about driving route from Seattle to Maine, throwing off her pursuers but never losing Isaac, though she doesn’t know it … because he’s that good, better than anybody in the world.
When Isaac appears at the foot of Caradine’s hotel bed, he already knows her story and what she’s running from. Because, of course, being both noble and a he-man protector, he could’ve had his uber-security-hack-buddy unearth her story, but nobility, folks, he didn’t, hoping she would tell him herself. She didn’t. And now, as Isaac thinks, there’ll be a reckoning. Problem is: Caradine, aka Julia (it’s a long complicated story) is as badass in her attitude as he is about all things. She scowls, mouths off, defies. But she can’t resist Isaac’s muscle-bound physique, steely grey eyes, or determination to “keep her safe.” Though she’s learned a thing or two since leaving her abusive, criminal family and running where they can’t find her, they’ve found her, and now, only Isaac can dispel this waking nightmare.
I admit, despite the heightened emotions, caricatured villains, I enjoyed these two. Their relationship is antagonistic and it made for entertaining banter. Isaac was the more forthcoming of the two, easier to get along with, more willing to admit to his feelings. Caradine lived her life half in her safe place of Grizzly Harbor, but with an eye out for the time her family would come after her and she would have to run, ensuring she keep everyone in Grizzly Harbor, including Isaac, safe from their evil. Sound familiar? It totally is. Despite Caradine’s determination to remain solitary, independent, strong, living on borrowed time, she succumbs, within minutes, to Isaac’s taking-over of her “case,” because this is what they do, says Isaac, save the world from baddies, especially women-threatening baddies. There is a slight contretemps to her agreement to his protection when he ties her up, muzzles her, and throws her in his SUV … but Caradine is tired of running and Isaac is so big and capable:
Her eyes narrowed, she crossed her arms, and she glared back at him like she had some control here. But just because he’s always given her control didn’t mean she had it or could keep it. A critical distinction. One he intended to make crystal clear.
“I don’t want to go back to Alaska.” “I didn’t ask you what you want,” he belted out at her, and took it as a minor victory when she jolted at the sound. “I told you what’s going to happen.”
Because all she wanted to do was bury her face in his chest, let down her guard, and let him handle whatever happened next.
A romance built on the heroine’s abdication, no matter how good a man the hero is, isn’t much of a romance, sadly. In the last quarter, to make this last longer and create further conflict, Isaac gets cold feet and runs away, in a strange reversal of Caradine’s MO, and Caradine turns soft and loving. But in the epilogue-ish HEA, they’re together and have reverted to type, easy-going Isaac to Caradine’s misanthropy. O-KAY, I thought. In the end, I can’t say I didn’t whip through to the end, but I also didn’t respect myself in the morning. With Miss Austen, we would have to say that Delta Force Defender is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Megan Crane’s Delta Force Defender is a Jove Book, published by Berkley. It was released in July 2020. I received an e-galley from Jove-Berkley, via Edelweiss+.