I was waiting in a state of excitement, and utmost impatience for the next Slow Burn novel by Maya Banks, and the book featuring Zack Covington was everything I’d hoped it would be. Following the events that led Beau and Ari together, it appears as though the fanatics who want to use those with psychic abilities (and have tested or enhanced), have given up. Months of quiet gave those at DSS a chance to settle down and take on a less strenuous case, or so the operatives think. However, when Zack Covington, former football pro, turned security specialist for DSS runs into his former high school sweetheart Gracie, all bets are off.
Our story begins with the men at DSS saving a teenaged-girls’ life. She has been brutalized, but thankfully Zack is able to take the enemy out and bring the girl to safety. Despite the mission’s success, Zack is brought back to the past, and torturing himself afterward. Why you ask? The answer is simple: the love of his life disappeared without a trace twelve years ago, and he to this day, despite his best efforts, has not found her, and knows nothing of her current state of being. There was mention of Zack’s past prior to this book, but the provided hints were merely breadcrumbs, so small and inconsistent that it left us wanting. Thankfully, I did not have to wait long to gobble up the much larger tidbits! The sadness and regret Zack feels is terrible. So terrible in fact, that I feel his sense of defeat through the pages.
The only negative aspect of the book is the redundancy of displayed emotion (the same expression of feelings is repetitive). However, this aspect is so small that it does not detract from this overall wonderfully written story. This is especially true when the story starts heating up (and no, I am not referring to anything sexual in nature, for once). I am actually referring to the action, and the filthy, destructive nature of secrets uncovered throughout this novel. To me, the meat of this story is in the demons, found within the two main characters, Gracie and Zack (thus the slight redundancy being practically insignificant). Gracie is absolutely and irrevocably damaged. Ironically, our hero is supposedly to blame. Quite quickly, in fact, are we thrown into the pit of despair, confusion, and chaos that is Gracie and Zack’s unsettling past.
Right after Zack’s aforementioned mission, the team is brought in to an art gallery by a man known as Wade Sterling (whom happens to be Gracie’s only friend in the world). He wants DSS to ensure the safety of the artwork during the showing, and in hindsight, now I realize this has to do with Gracie and her need to be anonymous. After all, she is in fact hiding from the traumatic events of her past that involve her one true love, Zack. Unfortunately for her, Zack recognizes the landscape and knows without a doubt that the painter is Gracie. She arrives, sees Zack, and has a breakdown of epic proportions. In that one solid moment, where after twelve years of seclusion, and depression behind closed doors, Zack is paralyzed with shock. He is utterly thrown off-balance by the irony of Gracie’s proximity after so many years, but also bewildered by her horrified reaction.
The second I read that scene, I knew this book was going to be a tear-jerking, cry-my-eyes-out-ugly, I-need-to-stab-something story. Don’t laugh, because I am not kidding! Truly, when any character has such a perfectly described anxiety-driven reaction, one knows that that particular individual has endured a horrible and possibly disturbing experience. Any normal reader, at that point, is going to raise their eyebrows in a, “what the hell?” moment. Honestly, any type of abuse digs at your soul when you imagine it, or read about it, because those types of incidents actually occur. Therefore, empathy is always waiting for you to open your heart to those that have lost pieces of themselves because of it.
So, to say that Gracie is a vulnerable, emotional wreck would be an understatement. Even worse, she blames Zack for whatever trauma she experienced. After their encounter, Zack tries to unravel the mystery with no luck, as does Eliza. You may remember Eliza, whom is the only female DSS operative (and honestly one of my favorite characters). She attempts to help Zack find the truth, but is also unable to find anything. Alas, Zack tracks Gracie down again, and demands said answers, but Wade steps in the way. I’ll be honest, I did not like Wade at first, because he seemed controlling and I was suspicious of him. Damn, was I wrong! I flipping love Wade now, and holy hell, I am dying to see if him and Eliza get their own happily ever-after in one of the novels (let’s hope). He is dangerous, sexy, intelligent, and he is adamant about the importance of treating women properly. Not to mention, he is protective, and a bit of a smart-ass (add in the ability to fight, use a gun, and a shady past….and I’m dying to know more). Moving on….
This is where the story really takes off. Gracie becomes the target of the former enemy of DSS from the prior book. She gets beaten within an inch of her life to send a message to DSS, proving that they are not giving up yet. Zack not only finds himself more on the outside because Gracie was already afraid of him, but now he is after revenge (which is pretty intense since the Deveraux brothers, Caleb and Beau, were already hoping for it). Once Gracie is in the hospital, it becomes clear we now have two monsters to deal with, those from the past, and those in the present. After some violence, threats, and man-pissing matches, we discover that Gracie believes Zack had her violated, thereby forcing her out of his life at a young age.
What we don’t know is who the culprits are, and though the one behind the disgusting, and downright psychotic plan is no surprise (at all), the plan itself, as well as how it was carried out against Gracie is quite shocking. Luckily, the author ties up that loose end quite well. I do enjoy it so very much when self-serving pricks end up losing everything they worked for. Yes, yes I do. Admittedly, I am totally an eye-for-an-eye kind of gal, especially when violence against an innocent is involved. So, be prepared for satisfaction on that front. As for the enemies of DSS, well, that story is not over, but we definitely had a great fight and showdown in this book.
I’ll admit that Ari and Beau’s story was more intense action-wise, but this book was more emotionally charged. After a time, Zack’s discovery of what actually happened to Gracie enables him to find the confession necessary to save their love. However, in the process of saving Gracie, Eliza becomes the next victim. I am just going to say that I shouted expletives once Eliza’s abduction became the ultimate subject of the book. I love Eliza, I mean, she is tough, and she has some of the best pun’s I have read in a long time. Plus, she is truly an honorable, good woman. A woman who is there for all the guys and so damned loyal, especially to Zack, and I’ve loved him since the beginning of this series.
With Gracie almost killed, then going through recovery, and under surveillance, Eliza was an easy target (though she prevails, of course). I’ll say that the absolute best part is when Gracie finally realizes that Zack is innocent on some level though she hasn’t figured out how. Why? It’s simple. Once she understands that there is a piece of the puzzle missing, and that she still loves him, she is able to let go of the past enough to be truly strong. This happens at the perfect time in the story because once she gives herself peace, she becomes capable, she shines, and she teams up with Ramie and Ari. The three of them band together, tell the men how it is, and lead the operatives on a mission to save Eliza. Not to mention they plan a hardcore take down of the psychopaths that have continuously haunted their loved ones.
During the rescue, people are injured, but everyone is safe. Most importantly for the reader, the men and the women who brought joy to their lives are back together. Towards the end, Zach and Gracie are able to mend their broken relationship, and right the wrongs done to them. Furthermore, they give us as the readers hope. This hope tells us to believe that love can conquer all, and if you have faith in the one you love, that hope can inspire. Seeing the operatives of DSS, the Deveraux brothers, and Zach avenge their loved ones was sweet and satisfying, but we know there is more to come. With that said, to me, I loved seeing a woman abused and torn to shreds (metaphorically, of course), come out on top. Even better, she had a man who gave her the chance to be reborn, to become the best version of herself possible.
**ARC provided by Publisher**