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Friday, August 15, 2014

ARC Review: Dangerous Territory by Emmy Curtis

It’s no secret that I’m a huge military romance/romantic suspense/thriller fan… what’s not to love about heroes that are wicked fit, protective, honourable, and willing to risk their lives for home and country and the freedoms it embodies? The undoubted favourites of the romance special forces world are Navy SEALs, but I have a huge soft spot for the US Air Force’s Pararescuemen (PJs), to whom I was introduced via RS author Kaylea Cross’s excellent work. Whenever a PJ hero comes across my desk, I jump at the chance to read his story... who can resist a hero whose motto is “That others may live”? It’s also not a secret that I’m not a big fan of novellas, but I just might have to rethink my opinion after reading Emmy Curtis’s debut novella, DANGEROUS TERRITORY. Ms. Curtis is an author military romance fans will want to keep an eye on: in eleven chapters, she delivers a story that is simultaneously deeply emotional, action-packed, sexy, fulfilling, and sweet, and is well written, well researched, and realistic. It’s high praise indeed that I find myself wishing I could be stuck in a cave in Afghanistan with my very own knicker-melting PJ!

Pulitzer-winning journalist Grace Grainger lives to flirt with danger: for reasons unknown, she’s devoted her career to being embedded with various military units in Afghanistan to report on the reality of war without sensationalizing or sugarcoating it. She’s also learnt the hard way to not become attached to any of the people she spends time with: in an active warzone, anyone could be gone in the blink of an eye. We first meet Grace on Christmas Eve, sitting in the hotel bar at the Four Seasons—her home when she’s stateside—trying to drown the pain of her last embedding with whiskey before she returns to Afghanistan. PJ hero Master Sergeant Josh Travers is in the same bar unwinding before he ships out again. Both just want to forget the reality of their lives for a little while—no conversation, no attachments, just straight-up sex and some good memories for the long journey ahead. Fast-forward three years and Grace is on her fourth embedding when the unit she’s on patrol with is ambushed by insurgents and a firefight ensues. Pararescuers are called in to get everyone back to base, but Grace is initially overlooked and then finds herself hiding in a cave in the middle of a Taliban hot zone with a PJ escort… who happens to be none other than her one-night stand and star of all her fantasies since, Josh. Neither had any idea about the other’s job three years ago, and Josh has an extremely negative opinion of reporters, seeing them all as scandalmongers looking to make a name for themselves vilifying the fight for freedom. Grace has sworn to never get close to anyone in a warzone again… but despite their hang-ups and issues, the chemistry between them is explosive. And, well, let’s just say: helmet light, cave, Taliban insurgents outside… so not the time, but wow. And that hut in an Afghani village—more wow.

I really liked Josh; somewhat unreasonable aversion to journalists aside (the backstory of which we sadly don’t get to explore due to novella length restrictions), he has the perfect mix of military swagger, protective alpha, and sweetness. It’s refreshing to see such a man’s man clearly be the one who wants more and not be afraid to go after it, and the man can certainly grovel once he realises what a wanker he’s been. The ending scene is absolutely swoon-worthy. Grace is a great character as well: no shrinking violet or TSTL damsel in distress, she’s deployed four times, speaks Pashto, and has a Pulitzer to her name. Her motivations for repeatedly embedding in warzones when she knows the toll locking away her emotions and not getting close to anyone takes on her are never really explored, and she resolves those issues and changes the course of her life after her time with Josh too quickly to be realistic (one of the major pitfalls of novellas), but she still kicks ass and I want to be her friend. She and Josh are a great couple, and their HEA is a well-deserved one I found myself avidly rooting for.

If DANGEROUS TERRITORY is any indication, Ms. Curtis’s Alpha Ops series is sure to be a blockbuster. Great characters (both the protagonists and the cast of secondary characters), excellent writing, a tautly-paced action-packed plot, and a remarkable level of realism made this novella a fantastic read. My only gripe is that it’s not a full-length novel—I definitely would’ve enjoyed a deeper look at Josh and Grace’s backstories. The characters for the first full-length entry, OVER THE LINE, Beth & Walker, were introduced in the novella, and I’m looking forward to reading their story—and hopefully seeing more of Grace and Josh—this autumn!

**ARC provided by Publisher**

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