The Dangerous Ground series is a set of six novellas (the first was published in 2008, the last was published this year) featuring agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt. They’re fast-moving stories – kind of like a TV episode in book form – and each instalment contains a complete mystery/investigation, but the relationship between the leads develops throughout. I knew this going in, so the abrupt ending of book one, Dangerous Ground wasn’t an issue as I knew there was more to come, and in fact, I enjoyed it so much I jumped straight into book two, Old Poison (and then bought the rest of the series.)
Taylor and Will have been partners and best friends for almost four years. They’re very different in some ways – Will is the more settled and considered of the two, where Taylor is more impulsive – but they work well together and share a similar jaded worldview and sarcastic sense of humor. But six weeks before Dangerous Ground opens, things between them went horribly wrong; Taylor was shot during an operation and Will is alternately furious – with Taylor for (as he thinks) carelessly looking for trouble – and beating himself up with guilt, believing it’s his fault Taylor was off his game. The night before the shooting, Will and Taylor had gone out for a few drinks, which had ended with Taylor getting smashed and then telling Will how he felt about him. But Will turned him down. It’s not that he’s blind to the fact that Taylor is gorgeous or that he isn’t attracted to him… but he doesn’t think the commitment-shy Taylor is a good bet for a relationship and doesn’t want to ruin what they already have.
The trouble is, that things are changing anyway and there’s nothing either of them can do about it. Six weeks after Taylor was shot, and shortly before he’s due to return to work, Will suggests they go on a camping trip into the High Sierras… and although he hates camping, Taylor agrees. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Will and he, too, thinks that perhaps they need some time to sort out where they stand with each other.
The book starts a few days into the trip when Will and Taylor stumble across the wreckage of a small plane they realise was used in the infamous Black Wolf Casino heist a few months earlier. The only body on board is that of the pilot – who was shot in the head – and there’s no sign of the other passengers. What they do find, however, is the loot – over two million dollars, which they decide to stash in a bear box while they make their way down the mountain to alert the authorities. But with that much money at stake, it’s not long before Will and Taylor find out they’re not the only ones on a trip into the mountains. Only the armed men and woman who find them are clearly not there on vacation.
The author packs a surprising amount of plot into a relatively short page count, and keeps both the plot and romantic elements of the story moving smoothly in tandem. I liked the way the backstory – the shooting, Taylor’s drunk declaration – was drip fed throughout the early chapters, the tension between them is palpable, and there’s no denying the pair have great chemistry. There’s a really strong sense of place in the story, too, wonderfully evocative descriptions of the scenery, the warmth of the sun, the chill in the air and the sounds of nature. On the downside, the characterisation is perhaps a little thin, as we don’t know a great deal about Will and Taylor, but as I said, this is the first of six, so there’s room for development on that front.
Dangerous Ground is fast-paced and entertaining, the leads are engaging and the author achieves a good balance between the suspense plot and the romance, with some high stakes action and steamy love scenes along the way. It’s a quick read, but has enough depth to have made me care about the characters and want to know more about them. I definitely intend to read the rest of the series.