Susan Stoker has a few romantic suspense novels under her belt but Claiming Bailey is the first of hers that I’ve read. It’s the third story in her Ace Security series, about a group of brothers who run a security company in Castle Rock, Colorado with the aim of aiding battered women and children. Like many books in a series, this particular story is written as a standalone romance but with salient details of the earlier books and plenty of scenes involving secondary characters. I’m not a stickler for reading series in order so I had no problem diving into this one and can be read without reference to the other books. It’s an entertaining and somewhat suspenseful read, with a sexy opposites attract romance.
Nathan Anderson is a quiet and intelligent man, more comfortable around his computer than people. Despite having the skills required to keep up the technical side of his family’s security business, cars are a mystery to him. When he finds himself stranded in a parking lot with a dead vehicle, his rescuer is a petite, tattooed, female mechanic who sets his car to rights and makes his heart race into the bargain. She also happens to have the same name as a woman he’s been looking for as part of an unresolved case.
Bailey Hampton escaped her life as part of the Inca Boyz gang along with her younger brother, but is always on the lookout for trouble. She expects her ex, Donovan, to be hot on her trail for abruptly leaving him, and taking care of her brother is now her top priority.
A combination of mechanics classes and self-teaching have given Bailey the skills she needs to get a job at Clayson’s Auto Body. When Nathan shows up at the shop, makes an immediate connection with her brother over his math homework, then asks her out, she is reluctant to accept until persuaded by her kindly boss. Nathan is the kind of guy she’d fantasize about being with if she thought she deserved a man who’d respect her. But when she finds out that Nathan and his brothers know of the Inca Boyz and in fact have been searching for her as a way to smoke out their leader, will she be forced to run again?
This story could be really depressing if you look solely at the upbringing of Nathan and Bailey. Nathan is part of a set of triplets. Their mother physically abused them all and murdered their father; and because of this, the boys learned to protect each other and they share a strong bond. There are several scenes with the brothers, some of which refer to previous books in the series that also involve their nemeses, the Inca Boyz. Yet, even with the harsh circumstances of their youth, the men can joke around with each other and are motivated to help others.
Similarly, Bailey started hanging around with the gang after her mother died when she was quite young. Once a teenager, she learned to substitute sex for affection and only on realizing that her sweet innocent brother would become a hardened criminal if they stayed with the gang did she get up the strength to leave. Her fierce resolve to improve her brother’s life extends to showing him what a ‘normal’ life should look like, with a job, food on the table, and household rules.
Nathan’s presence in Bailey’s life is definitely a positive one, and he treats her with the respect she’s never had. While he’s interested in pursuing a sexual relationship, it will happen only with her complete consent, and his paying attention to her concerns and desires; as a result the sex scenes are emotional and very steamy. It’s a heady feeling for Bailey to have a man like Nathan extend his physical and emotional support to her. As well, Nathan takes it upon himself to show her brother that a man should treat a woman with care and respect. He’s really quite a wonderful hero in all respects. While he may not have the brute strength to protect Bailey in a physical fight, he has the wits and brains to outmaneuver an opponent. Though Bailey is afraid when she finds out that the Andersons are involved in trying to take down the Inca Boyz, she takes Nathan at his word that she and her brother will be protected from any fallout.
It’s lovely to watch Bailey blossom under Nathan’s attention. Though she was able to exhibit the physical and emotional strength to leave an abusive situation, one in which rape was a common occurrence, she did not believe herself worthy of love until Nathan showed her otherwise. He doesn’t care about her sexual past or about the things she had to do to survive; he cares about her as a whole person. The story heats up in the second half as the inevitable confrontations occur, and the result is some action packed and tense scenes that lead to a satisfying conclusion (and some hints as to what the next story will be about). Readers who like their romantic suspense novels on the gritty and dark side with characters who deserve happy endings will enjoy this story.