This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Kat from Bookthingo. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Short Contemporary Series Romance category.
Unjust accusations shattered Blake Redmond's big-city police career—and destroyed everything around him. Now, all this sheriff lives for is keeping watch over his small Texas town…until Amanda Hawthorne and her five-year-old son come fl eeing out of a snowstorm with killers on their trail.
The terror Blake sees in the young boy's eyes makes Blake swear to protect him and his injured mother. But winning Amanda's trust is as difficult as resisting the passion drawing him to this beautiful, determined woman. With their every move thwarted and time running out, the only way Blake can clear his name and save this little family is to confront his own dangerous past—no matter what the cost.
And here is Kat's review:
Let’s get the whingeing out of the way first. For reasons known only to publishers and people who deny their kids chocolate after 6pm, as an Australian reader I was only able to purchase Cowboy In The Crossfire as an ebook bundle of four titles. Fortunately, I’m trained to buy books at three times what Americans pay for them, so whatever. I’ll eat Tim Tams at 1am if I want to, dammit. Let’s see you buy that from Amazon, northern hemisphereans!
Amanda Hawthorne comes home to find her brother dead and her five-year old son, Ethan, hiding and traumatised after witnessing his uncle’s murder. When a masked assailant accosts them shortly thereafter, Amanda has no option but to seek help from her brother’s former best friend, Blake.
Blake Redmond, a small-town sheriff (a bit of trivia: in Australia, sheriffs are only relevant when they summon you for jury duty or issue a parking fine, so I skip over these details and pretend they don’t exist because in what world are juries or fines ever sexy, and don’t say John Cusack because that was fiction), rescues a woman from a car wreck in the middle of an ice storm and is shocked to find Amanda—“the woman he’d known he could never have because she was his best friend’s sister”—half-dead with cold and a gunshot injury.
It turns out that the bad guys are crooked cops, which means they’re frighteningly efficient at ferretting out where Amanda is hiding. Having lost his wife and child in an accident years ago, Blake is determined to do right by Amanda and Ethan.
Romantic suspense isn’t my go-to subgenre, but Robin Perini starts this story off at a cracking pace; unfortunately, it’s not very well sustained. That said, if romantic suspense is your book crack, I think this one will do just fine. There’s a lot of running around, a relatively high body count, and quite a bit of lusting at inappropriate moments.
Seriously, if you’re running for your life, have several times barely missed being shot at, and knew your kid was a target for a group of dirty cops with a wealth of resources at their disposal…well, in the brief lulls where you can stress out in peace, wouldn’t you be suffering—how do I put this delicately?—a case of the runs? And I don’t mean fleeing from mortal danger.
Or you can wait until all minors are asleep—guarded by a loyal canine, of course (SPOILER ALERT: The dog does NOT die.)—before sneaking off for sexy times with the hot sheriff (who is not John Cusack). Well, I guess if I thought I might cark it any minute now I’d want my last orgasm to be fabulous. Or something.
Oh, fine. This is escapism, after all, and Perini occasionally finds some good reasons for highly inappropriate perving. But I’d have liked a bit more of this:
She stared at his lean hips and focused hard, trying to distract herself with inappropriately lascivious thoughts. Anything rather than cry…
and a little less of this:
Could Blake find a way to help them?
The idea thrilled and scared her at the same time. Even now, she wanted to lean into his strong embrace and rest against the crook of this shoulder. She scanned his passionate and firm lips. She wanted another taste, another chance to feel the strength of his mouth parting hers, demanding, subduing…
Etc. Me? I’d just like to stay alive. The orgasms can wait until we’re all safe and sound. Probably. Depends on your bucket list.
Look, it’s not that I disliked this book, but after such a great start, I was disappointed that the plot, the pace, and the chemistry between Amanda and Blake just kind of falls apart. Too many plot points and not enough pages might be to blame, but sometimes the prose also gets in the way:
She hated the idea of charity, but the weather had become too vicious to be anything but thankful.
On a more purple note, we get silk, nub, frisson (my favourite), and vulnerability pouring from characters. Sadly, this is not a euphemism for vomit. (Shame, because I love vomit in romance books. It’s my thing; I keep a list.)
And yet Perini is capable of displaying a lighter touch:
His finger-light caress followed her neck and rested against her pulse point. Her heart skipped a beat in response.
“I make your heart race,” he said quietly. He clasped her palm and slipped it beneath his sweater, holding it to his chest. “Feel what you do to me, Amanda.”
Worthy of good book sounds, right???
Blake is also slightly embarrassed when he pulls out the condom—“A man has to hope”—which I found, in the vernacular of young people and Austenites, totes adorbs!
Suspense-wise, the plot is much too convoluted given the author’s limited word count. I figured out the mastermind’s identity at the very first hint. I couldn’t keep track of all the secondary characters’ names. When Blake is assisted by Logan, a private investigator imbued with deus ex machina powers—a.k.a. untraceable mobile phones—it’s all just a little too convenient.
The author also makes some plot choices that just don’t make sense. When Blake and Amanda sneak back into her brother’s house to search for what his killers are looking for, they decide to go through the back door near an alley, because the killers would never think to keep that part of the house under surveillance. Oh, and the spare key is under a planter.
There’s some cyberwhizzbangery involving a self-destructing file:
“Unless we enter the correct password, the data will be so corrupted, I don’t think a supercomputer could decode it. He should’ve been working for the CIA. I’m sorry.”
Which is great, right? No magic hacker skillz can help them now! Take that, unrealistic hackers in fiction! (I’m looking at you, Hugh Jackman.) But OMG, the resolution to this dilemma is so completely nonsensical I don’t even know where to start. DM me for spoilers.
To cap it off, although the villain is savvy enough to trace Amanda’s whereabouts through electronics, he actually demands that she surrender all electronic copies of the thing that *mumble, spoiler, mumble*. It’s like he’s never heard of copy and paste! (I taught my mum how to use Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V and it changed her life. True story.)
With the bad guys always so close behind Blake and Amanda, I found it very difficult to believe that they had enough emotional reserves to truly fall in love within the time frame of the story. Yes, they had shared a kiss in the past, yes Blake protects Amanda and Ethan, but is that enough to convince me that they can build a life together? Not really. But it’s a nice fantasy, I suppose.
I was interested enough to read the story to the end, despite its flaws. To me, the weaknesses in plot and storytelling in this book are the same weaknesses I find across the subgenre—which is why I think Cowboy In The Crossfire will still appeal to romantic suspense readers, even if it didn’t quite work for me.
So, yes, tl;dr: I give this book a D if you’re not a fan of romantic suspense, and a C if you are. Convoluted plot meets inappropriate sexy times—romantic suspense readers who love over-the-top shenanigans will probably enjoy it.
Me? I’m eating a Tim Tam.
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