Love is the most dangerous territory of all . . .
Every day, bodyguard Owen Jackson puts his life on the line — and keeps his feelings for Penny Sandoval locked away. Assigned to protect Penny’s father, a presidential candidate, Owen can’t get emotionally involved. That is, until Penny and her young son, Cruz, are abducted and taken deep into the California badlands.
Owen knows the bleak territory from his childhood. Worse, he knows the gang leader making ransom demands — his own brother, Shane. When a terrified Penny escapes into the desert with Cruz, Owen has to save her: from the elements and from the gang in close pursuit. Owen has hidden the darkness in his past from Penny. Now his only chance of keeping her alive is to let her see the man he really is — even if it means losing the only woman he’ll ever want.
When most of us hear the term “badlands” I think we envision those remote and colorful hills in South Dakota. That’s not the territory which forms the context of this romantic suspense tale. Rather, this novel is set in the deserts of the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea, the area where even most Californians seldom venture and certainly a part of Southern California most know little if anything about. Certainly most Americans don’t realize that the Salton Sea is the largest body of water in California and its saline content rivals even the Dead Sea. It is here that the bulk of this story is told and where readers are given a full and descriptive look at the desolation and remote quality of places only familiar to poverty stricken families and those attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico. Owen Jackson is one of those “trailer trash” kids that has grown up with poverty and abuse, whose life has been peppered with difficulties, a short prison term, and now a possible new start in life as a bodyguard to a potential presidential candidate. Most of all, Penny Sandoval has brought a sense of life, of loving presence, of kindness and enduring friendship into his life, all because he saved her life and the life of her infant son as he delivered Cruz amid the debris and confinement of a massive earthquake five years earlier. He has loved her for a very long time. And now he will be putting his life on the line for her as well as any potential future between them when she finds out about his roots, his past involvement in the Aryran Brotherhood while in prison, and his relationship to the man who has kidnapped her and her son for ransom and political pressure against her father, the first Hispanic presidential candidate.
This is not a simplistic and fluffy love story kind of novel. It is filled with stress and angst, anger and hurt, evil perpetrated in the name of racism and political pressure that would keep the “white” race predominant in American politics. It is about a man whose desire for redemption has driven him away from all that defined him as a kid and a younger man, whose experiences have taught him the worth of being a man of integrity and kindness, a man who must still bear the stigma of “ex-con” and who is still vulnerable to the manipulation by powerful men like Penny’s father. There were times when it wasn’t all that easy to follow the action in the story. Yet as the novel progressed it all began to make sense with the various strands of the story coming together in the end. There will be a number of occasions when readers will wonder if Owen and Penny will ever get their HEA. But isn’t that the tension in any good romance novel? The author has taken the time, using a note-worthy economy of words, to flesh out the various characters, some of whom figure prominently and others who are only present around the edges of the story. All, however, are necessary and keep the reader moving forward. This compelling tale has no dead spots, those irritating groups of pages when there’s lots of descriptive language or internal monologue but not much that moves the story along. That kind of content is missing and believe me, it isn’t missed at all.
Readers who like romance mixed in with mystery and suspense will find this to be an enjoyable and worthy read. It’s one of those novels that makes the reader glad to have spent the time experiencing the story and I, for one, am delighted to have been given that opportunity. It’s really worth the investment of time and energy to enjoy.
I give it a rating of 4 out of 5
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place