Kelsey Quinn set out to trace a murder victim. Now she may become one.
The dead don’t speak, but Kelsey knows their secrets. As a forensic anthropologist at the Delphi Center crime lab, Kelsey makes it her mission to identify bodies using no more than shards of bone, and her find at a remote Philippines dig hints at a sinister story.
When Kelsey’s search for answers puts her at the scene of her ex-fiancé's murder, only one man can help her. The same man who broke her heart just months before, and who is also a prime suspect.
Faced with an ultimatum – Kelsey or his job – Gage Brewer did the only thing a Navy SEAL could…but that doesn't mean he stopped wanting Kelsey. Now Kelsey is running for her life and Gage is her last line of defense. As the threats escalate, Kelsey realizes this conspiracy goes deeper and higher than they could have guessed.
With the clock ticking down on a madman’s plot, the slightest misstep will have unthinkable consequences….
And here is Megan's review:
Romantic suspense can be a tricky subgenre for me. I'm often skeptical of too-early HEAs for a relationship between two people who spend most of the book literally running for their lives. But Scorched, for the most part, struck a good balance between a fast-paced thriller and a story of reunited lovers recovering their relationship. The two aspects were well-integrated and relied on one another for their development, so I found this a pretty satisfying romantic suspense novel.
Eight months ago, forensic anthropologist Kelsey Quinn gave her Navy SEAL boyfriend Gage Brewer an ultimatum. She couldn't stomach the constant worrying about him, felt herself being drained by fear when she was left in the dark about where he was and the dangers he faced. Kelsey's no coward–she herself worked in war zones and other dangerous places–but she wanted a life of more stability, she wanted a life partner, and she wanted it be Gage. But they couldn't integrate themselves into one another's lives, and when Kelsey pressed for a choice–did Gage want her, or did he want the SEALs?–he chose his career. A woman who would force him to leave his team was not the woman for him. Or so he thought.
OF COURSE, neither of them stopped loving one another during their separation, even as they moved on and, in Kelsey's case, ended up foolheartedly engaged to another ex. And Kelsey found she didn't stop worrying about Gage or questioning their decision:
“Some nights she lay awake, thinking of all the ways she could have settled for less and how they might still be together if she'd been willing to put up with being an accessory in his life instead of an equal partner.”
Late in the book, as the two of them gradually and grudgingly opened up and communicated better, Gage realized that he had been overvaluing the sexual side of his relationship with Kelsey, not appreciating her as a full person. He came to this realization as he watched her work in her crime lab, as she analyzed the evidence the two of them had risked their lives to gather, and he could see how much of Kelsey he hadn't properly appreciated, or even understood, prior to this.
I enjoyed the comfortableness the two of them had with one another, and I felt their struggles to get back together and to get on the same page were believable and engaging. I still wanted more depiction of the emotional connections between their changes of mind, however. Okay, they couldn't live without each other, I could see that, but I didn't have a good picture of whether they could successfully live WITH each other, and how the two of them might deal with any regrets brought by the professional compromises they'd have to make to make their relationship would work. I liked the ending, and I thought it was at least theoretically a satisfying resolution to “Who should relocate? Who should give up their dream job?”, but even so, I wished we could have had additional scenes where, in the space of the few weeks between the end of the major plot and this resolution of their relationship, we could witness the characters individually coming to the decisions they commit to in the end. This was at the core of their conflict, so the brushing over of these issues at the end rang a bit hollow for me.
Beyond the romantic aspect, I found the plot pretty gripping; I really felt like I was experiencing the whiplash the characters were going through with each plot development, and Griffin played fair with her twists and surprise revelations.
I learned the term “competency porn” from fandom, where it's used to describe scenes where characters' skills and enthusiasm for the work they do is pushed to the forefront, and what could otherwise be dismissed as exposition instead comes alive with the depth to which the characters care and the expertise–in the form of both talent and hard work–taken to get them to that point. I really love this in romances, and this played a role in Scorched, where characters with callings to tough work (a forensic anthropologist and a Navy SEAL in this case) appreciated the professional work the other does, recognized its significance in the other person's life, and loved them for it. There was a good amount of page space devoted to demonstrating Kelsey's and Gage's professional expertise. I also enjoyed watching the professional work of a secondary character, Elizabeth, as she gained hard-won experience as an FBI agent.
The secondary romance (kinda, sorta) woven into the story was between rookie FBI agent Elizabeth LeBlanc–she was only supposed to chauffeur a DC agent from the airport to the San Antonio office, but circumstances caused her to fall deep into the investigation–and Derek Vaughn, Gage's friend and fellow SEAL assisting Gage in clearing his name. It didn't resolve in this book, but it ended pleasantly and realistically, and their interactions in Kelsey and Gage's story weren't superfluous but rather helped in developing the overall plot.
Unsurprisingly, there was a fair amount of violence depicted in this book. Specific content warnings would include one incident of an implied threat toward a child, and a scene where the main characters witnessed an act of violence inflicted on an animal.
This is absolutely accessible as a standalone novel. Prior to reading this book, I hadn't read any previous installments in the Tracers series, and after finishing <em>Scorched</em>, I still have no idea what “Tracers” even refers to, or if any characters in this book were featured in earlier ones. This is a feature, not a bug, for me; the characters and the plot all stood satisfyingly on their own. And, funnily enough, I ended up wanting to read more books in this series anyway!