One of the problems a beloved author like Howard faces is extremely high expectations. Anyone who has read Cry No More, Open Season, All the Queen’s Men, Dream Man – heck, just about anything in her back list – knows she is capable of great things. When I read her books I often find myself comparing them to each other rather than the general market. And that makes it hard because some of them are just plain brilliant, leaving those that are merely good to appear to be rubbish. Then you compare them to another romantic suspense novel you just read and realize something: Even when she isn’t brilliant, this woman is pretty amazing.
Even the thought of Dare Callahan sets Angie Powell’s head on fire. The man moved back to their small rural Montana town and literally ruined her livelihood by setting up a rival hunting guide company. Now Angie is having to sell – and guide a bear hunt in the mean time just to keep things going. Angie hates bears. No, she fears them. They are the stuff of nightmares – just like good ol’ Dare.
Dare Callahan has never understood how he got on Angie Powell’s bad side. Heck, he’s asked her out twice and both times been shut down with nary an explanation. He should put her out of his mind. Permanently. But when a mutual friend asks him to keep an eye on Angie and her iffy seeming customers Dare can’t resist the opportunity to have an excuse to get close to her. But they both get much, much more than they bargained for once they are out in the wild. Facing hunters of both the two and four legged kind they must use all their skills to get out of a situation that seems likely to end with both of them dead.
This novel is most like Howard’s Up Close and Dangerous or Ice, in which the characters not only have to contend with some nasty villains but also nature at its meanest. If you, like me, are not a big fan of the great outdoors or survival stories be prepared for some boring – and occasionally gruesome – passages. Let’s just say I learned a lot more about bears than I would ever like to know.
On a positive note the hero, Dare, is the type of Alpha Howard excels at writing. Sure he lacks the basic social graces and is far from your average romantic guy but he is just what is needed in the tough situations in this novel. And his interior – especially when it comes to Angie – is all soft, mushy marshmallow. I loved how he had that just right mix of do anything for the heroine combined with not being a wimp or wet blanket. He had a plain spoken, out spoken, direct way of going after what he wanted, which I found endearing.
Angie was harder to swallow because she was both a bit dense and a bit emotionally stunted. When she was saving money on her business she eliminated two essential safety devices, which dropped my opinion of her intelligence by quite a lot. She didn’t seem to read people well, a trait I would have thought necessary for someone who spent days at a time in isolated situations with strangers. She didn’t have any clue how to market her business, something Dare solved in seconds in his head. The emotionally stunted part came in with what happened at her first wedding. I understood her upset over what occurred, but the way she handled it just made me think she was at about twelve years old in her emotional maturity. I liked her as a counterpart to Dare, and thought she made a good match with him. But it bugged me that it was only as part of a couple that I could see her making it in the world.
The story line is good, if a bit convoluted. Essentially, this is a survival story where four people head up a mountain, several of them with secret plans, and they all watch their plans explode as weather and nature join the party. One aspect I really appreciated was that it showed how man can not plan for nature. Sure, we can prepare for it to an extent but in the end it is still far more powerful than most seem to believe possible. I liked the no holds barred approach she took to the survival aspect. I appreciated that the crime aspect of the novel also made sense. While I really enjoyed Cover of Night and Ice, the over the top nature of the crimes really stretched suspension of disbelief. In this case the crime was well planned and believable.
The relationship was difficult because Angela and Dare really didn’t spend as much time together as a romance needs to really blossom. It helps that the epilogue is set far enough in the future that the reader knows the two had more time together, but I still felt that given Angela’s history and the history the two had from their initial meetings we could have used more couple time.
The book had some of Howard’s trademark humor mixed in with lots of action and adventure. I enjoyed the novel and finished it in a day. If you have sworn off Howard for the last several books, this one will not bring you back to the fold. But if you are still enjoying her – or you’re just looking for a good romantic suspense – I recommend this one.