Blind Justice is the fifth book in Gwen Hernandez’s Men of Steele series of romantic suspense novels centred around the men – and in this book, women – who work for the high-end private security firm owned by Kurt Steele. I’ve read some – but not all – of the previous books in the series (I reviewed book three, Blindsided) but Blind Justice works perfectly well as a standalone, so readers new to this series and author can jump in here without feeling lost.
Tara Fujimoto is Steele Security’s business manager. She’s smart, tough and determined; she’s worked hard to put her messed up past and poor choices – especially in men – behind her, and is finally in a place where she feels comfortable with herself and who she is. She’s happy in her work, thinking of the guys at Steele as brothers, men she can admire from a safe distance – and they all view her as a kind of ‘office mom’, someone who won’t let them get away with any crap and who tells it like it is. Her job doesn’t involve field work, but as the book opens she’s mounted an operation of her own to bring down the man she holds responsible for her sister’s recent suicide, a photographer named Mars, who promised modelling careers to young women and then forced them into having sex with him. Although it’s not a Steele Security operation, she’s asked one of the team – recent addition Jeff Patarava – to provide back-up, and while they’re waiting for the police to arrive, Tara examines the camera to see how many shots of her were taken. As she’s flicking through the files, she sees an image that makes her feel even sicker than she already did, a picture of a man having sex with a girl who can’t be more than fourteen. The man in the picture has a distinctive tattoo that seems oddly familiar, but before Tara can think more about it, the police arrive, and she and Jeff become involved in giving statements.
Jeff, a former Air Force combat weatherman (and yes, we do find out more about that job later in the book!) hasn’t been with Steele Security very long, but he’s slotted into the team really well and gets along with everyone – although he can never quite relax around Tara, the tension of an attraction he doesn’t want or need seeming to weigh in the air between them whenever they’re in proximity to one another. He enjoys his job, but his stint with Steele is only meant to be temporary, something to provide an income while he focuses on his one and only priority – finding his four-year-old son Evan, whom he hasn’t seen in months. Finding out he was a Dad was the reason Jeff left the military, but the boy’s mother moves them around a lot and hasn’t been in touch for ages; now she’s disappeared and Jeff is desperate to find his son.
His insistence on not getting too settled and avoiding entanglements is blown to bits, however, when Tara is attacked in the parking garage after work one day. He runs the guy off, coming to her rescue, as Tara dryly admits, for the second time that week, and then she realises something else. The attack was no mugging – the guy didn’t want money or her purse – so what could he have been after? Could it have something to do with Mars? Could he have hired someone to take revenge on her before he committed suicide? And did he really take his own life?
As if that wasn’t bad enough, things take a turn for the worse when, after seeing Tara home, the fire alarms go off in her apartment building and once outside, she and Jeff are separated in the confusion and threatened at knifepoint. Action and quick-thinking enables them to escape, and it’s even more clear now that Tara is in very real danger… but who wants her dead, and why?
Gwen Hernandez has put together an intriguing dual storyline here, placing Jeff’s search for his son within the larger framework of trying to keep Tara safe and finding out who is behind the threats against her. The reader is privy to a few scenes in the would-be killer’s PoV, but we don’t know exactly who he/she is until the reveal – although we do learn the truth of their motivations and that they’ll stop at nothing to get Tara out of the way. The author paces the story well, although I worried that things were in danger of fizzling out around three-quarters of the way through – but then realised I’d been lulled into a sense of false security – rather like Tara and Jeff – as the tension ramped up again with a twist I hadn’t quite seen coming.
As is often the case with single-title romantic suspense, the central relationship develops fairly quickly, but because the author has done some groundwork showing that Tara and Jeff have been ignoring their mutual attraction for a while, and because they end up spending time in close proximity while evading the killer, it doesn’t feel too rushed. The couple has strong chemistry and the sparks fly from the off, but both have good reasons for not wanting to get involved with anyone. Tara has a history of hooking-up with and getting attached to the wrong guys in search of personal validation, but she’s sorted herself out over the past few years and is, at last, happy with herself and the direction her life is taking. And Jeff wants to provide a good home and stability for Evan, which means a job where he’s home on time and not risking his neck on a daily basis. I liked the way Tara confounded Jeff’s expectations and how she was so ready to help him in his search for Evan in spite of having her own shit to deal with; and Jeff’s devotion to his son and his desire to be a good dad – and his fears he won’t be – make him into a human and relatable hero. The way he and Tara support each other through some pretty dark times shows clearly that there’s much more between them than simple physical attraction, and kudos to the author for making Evan seem like an actual four-year-old rather than a teen in a child’s body.
Blind Justice is an entertaining read that combines a well-constructed suspense plot with a steamy romance featuring an attractive central couple. I had a few minor issues – Tara refers to having been kidnapped before (in a previous book), which made me wonder about lightning striking twice, and I wasn’t wild about the assumptions Jeff made about her being a high-maintenance city-girl without really knowing anything about her. Ultimately however, neither of those things prevents me from recommending the book to anyone on the lookout for a solid, absorbing tale of romantic suspense.