Lethal Pursuit is the third book in the Bagram Special Ops series after Deadly Descent and Tactical Strike. I have not yet read either of the first two books, but I’m adding them to my TBR pile now. This book works well as a standalone, though, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to read the series in order.
Our heroine is Maya Lopez, a tough as nails Security Forces Lieutenant. Maya grew up in a tough neighborhood, and she’s used to living in dangerous, difficult circumstances. For her, being stationed in Afghanistan, and being in the military in general, is an escape from the hard life she had growing up.
Maya’s work brings her in contact with Jackson Thatcher, a member of an elite Pararescue Jumper team. Jackson and Maya had a little tiff in an earlier book (it’s referenced early on) where Jackson disabused Maya of some preconceptions she had about him (i.e. he called her on her shitty attitude toward him and his work rescuing her friend). One evening, Maya sees Jackson doing a mic test for a USO show that’s been setting up; he’s crooning an old Dean Martin song. So in addition to being ridiculously handsome, part of an elite rescue squad, and studying to be a doctor, Jackson can also sing like Michael Buble. No big surprise when Maya realizes she wants a piece of that action.
After some flirting, she sneaks into his tent at night and the two have a steamy hook up. Maya is in control of their lovemaking—she surprises Jackson by showing up in the first place, and then further confounds him when she makes love to him, more or less making him a passive recipient, without any concern for her own orgasm. Jackson is a would-be-doctor-pararescue-sexy-crooner, he’s all kinds of romance hero perfect, and so he’s very concerned about her orgasms. He’s determined to break the shell of this fiery, fascinating woman, and make her fall madly in love with him when Very Bad Things Happen.
A group of insurgents, led by an evil warlord, have learned that the Secretary of Defense is going to be making a stop at Bagram. They attack the base, taking the Secretary, Maya, and Jackson hostage.
This is where things got ugly for me. I read a lot of romantic suspense and thrillers. Not a lot bothers me. I read about children in jeopardy, women in jeopardy, dogs in jeopardy (okay, that one bothers me for some reason). I have very girdy loins, and I still found it hard to read this book.
The insurgents want information, and a recorded statement undermining US efforts in the Middle East, from the Secretary of Defense. They torture the prisoners, and Maya gets the worst of it. She is not raped—so if that’s a hard line for you, don’t worry—but she is horrifically beaten. I didn’t feel that this section of the book was particularly graphic, it certainly wasn’t exploitative, but it was very hard to read.
Part of the reason I found it so overwhelming was that the Secretary and Jackson are forced to listen to Maya’s screams in an effort to break them. Jackson is driven to the edge by the knowledge that a woman he’s beginning to care deeply about is being tortured, and he can do nothing to help. Maya knows she’s being used in an effort to break the other prisoners, so she tries desperately to endure the torture without sound or evidence of her pain. The emotional and mental struggle for Jackson and Maya was what really got me. I wanted to rescue them, comfort them, and make it all okay. The idea of witnessing someone you love being tortured, or of being beaten while a loved one watches, just killed me a little.
When Maya is taken back to her cell, half dead and badly injured, Jackson does everything he can to comfort her.
“I’m here,” he whispered hoarsely. At that moment he’d have given anything to be able to make the bars disappear and have his arms free so he could hold her, soothe and warm her. “You’re not alone.”
She shifted those last few inches until she was laying full length against the bars. The only places they touched were her hand on his face and a few inches of their thighs, but he could feel the heat of her body and hoped the shared warmth would stem the worst of her shivering. Every time her muscles shook, it jarred her body, hurting her even more.
He turned his face into her palm and kissed the center of it, not trusting himself to speak. Then those trembling fingers traced over his face like she was trying to see him with her touch and traveled down to curl into his uniform, clutching the fabric as if it was a lifeline. He thought his heart would crack in two. “Just hang on, baby. Hang on to me.”
As I read these sections, I found myself curling up into a little ball, clutching the Kindle as hard as I could. I almost stopped reading, but I’m glad I didn’t.
SPOILER: Maya and Jackson escape with the Secretary of Defense. At this point the Secretary is so injured from being beaten that he’s unable to move under his own power. The three of them trek through Afghanistan, trying to elude their captors, and find the safety of the US forces that are looking for them.
It made for a great, suspenseful read. Maya, slowly recovering, isn’t broken by the torture she endured. Instead she emerges a hero, helping get them to safety.
Yes, ma’am [Jackson thought]. She took charge and kicked ass. Not only had she somehow gotten free of her jailors, she’d taken out three armed men to give them this chance for escape. He’d follow her fucking anywhere.
Their escape forces Maya to deal with the demons of her past and to trust Jackson completely. Maya grew up more or less on her own. As a child she would hide in the closet while her grandmother’s boyfriend sexually abused her sister (hence her issues with being in control during sex). She and her sister later ran away, but her sister turned to drugs and prostitution, eventually committing suicide. Maya is used to tragedy, and to surviving on her own. She needs Jackson to help them get back to base, though, and their dire circumstances force her overcome her fears and trust him.
My big issue with this book was that Jackson didn’t have demons of his own to battle. He was almost too perfect. He’s handsome, brave, smart, takes care of sick Afghani children, sings like Dean Martin. His penis is probably chocolate flavored. There’s nothing about this guy not to like, and so in a way he wasn’t entirely real to me. He also had no real internal conflict to overcome. His big challenge in this book (emotionally) was that he wanted Maya to love and trust him. He was just too well-adjusted for a romance hero, in my opinion.
Lethal Pursuit is absolutely stay-up-till-two-a.m. thrilling, but it is dark. I would recommend being cautious in reading it. If physical abuse, or references to child sexual abuse, trigger bad things for you, absolutely stay away. I’ll be picking up the others in the series and treading with cautiously.