Don't Breathe a Word
I’m a big fan of the current thriller market, with its dark often psychotic villains and flawed narrators, but every once in a while I miss the classic police procedural romantic suspense novels that were popular back in the nineties and nones. Fortunately, some writers are still producing good novels in that genre and Don’t Breathe a Word by Christie Craig is one such story. While it is book two of the Texas Justice series it works very nicely as a standalone.
When Anniston Police Detective Juan Acosta looks out his window and sees a man jump into his neighbor’s backyard he immediately gives pursuit. He’s almost caught the perpetrator when the miscreant manages to grab a small charcoal grill and fling it at Juan’s head, blinding him with ash. Then he’s attacked from behind by a second party, which enables the potential thief to escape as Juan gets his ass kicked by a determined individual wielding some kind of bludgeon. Fortunately, he is rescued by the local beat cops. Unfortunately, they find it hilarious that the person who got the drop on him and beat his ass was his beautiful neighbor.
Vicki Holloway calls the police when she sees someone in her backyard. Then, showing questionable judgment, she confronts the reprobate with a baseball bat as her only backup. As a personal trainer she’s fit and strong and the element of surprise gives her the chance to win the battle. When she finds out the man is her neighbor, and a detective with Anniston P.D. she realizes that she’s drawn way too much attention to herself for someone who needs to keep a low profile. Her sister Allison had been married to a dirty cop who wound up killing her, and now Vicki and her niece Bell are on the run and in hiding, pretending to be mother and daughter. She doesn’t have legal custody. The last thing they need is to come to the notice of local law enforcement.
Juan finds himself obsessed with his new neighbor. He was far too aware of her toned body and lush curves as they fought. After his wife and daughter were murdered by a drug kingpin he’d been working to take down, he found himself unable to even look at or think about women as anything but friends but Vicki draws him like a magnet. He likes Bell, too, who is funny and sweet and completely unafraid of the facial scar he received trying to rescue his family. They’re a lure for his dog Sweetie as well; the pup keeps escaping from his backyard to hang out in theirs. Which works perfectly for Juan, since it gives him an excuse to visit their house and get to know Vicki. The problem is, the better he knows her, the more he realizes she’s lying to him.
Vicky knows that hanging out with Juan is dangerous. He is far too astute not to see through the flimsy lies that are all that stand between her and the dangerous, deadly man hunting for her and her niece. The evenings they spend together eating pizza, drinking wine and watching Bell play with Sweetie have become a balm to her soul, though. She knows it’s a risk, spending time with a detective, but she also finds herself instinctively trusting Juan, who seems honest and hardworking as well as caring and kind. She’s considering confiding in him when the decision is taken out of her hands and all three of them find themselves facing a determined killer.
I liked how the author built the relationship between Juan and Vicki, both of whom have issues from their past making trust difficult. They also have a lot going on in the present. Juan works cold cases but one of those old files has just heated up and he’s spending a lot of time tracking down the witness who just might be the key to a double homicide that left a young girl orphaned. He’s also still working through the tricky emotions caused by his pregnant wife’s murder several years earlier and trying to accept the idea it might be time to move on. Vicki is trying to stay one step ahead of a man who knows how to use the system to his advantage and whom she knows will show no mercy once he finds them. She’s not sure why her sister’s ex is so determined to kill her and Bell, but she knows that’s exactly what will happen if he locates them. Trusting another cop could backfire but she is deeply drawn to Juan, who oozes integrity. The two of them do a lot of cautious steps forward, as well as a few steps back as they head toward their HEA but Ms. Craig does a nice job of showing what both characters think and feel as they do so. It’s not an issue of them blowing hot and cold but of Vicki and Juan wondering how they can possibly make things work when their lives are so complicated.
While the timing of their relationship is difficult, nothing else is. Juan and Vicki both work jobs they love but while they used to be completely career oriented, the hard lessons life has taught them in the past few years has them valuing family and the people in their lives more than their professions. The fact that they are on the same page on this issue and no one had to change to accommodate the other is nice. In fact, on almost every issue Juan and Vicki find themselves holding similar positions – the bulk of the conflict here comes from external factors.
The numerous threads surrounding the mysteries of Juan’s cold case and Vicki’s murderous relative are woven skillfully throughout the narrative, with the pace of the resolution being brisk but with the hero and heroine still having time to connect. I was able to figure out the puzzle of Juan’s mystery witness, as well as what was driving Vicki’s stalker pretty easily but that was okay since the book is more about the characters than it is about the riddles.
Don’t Breathe a Word is a well-executed romantic suspense novel that does a nice job of showing two similar souls finding each other in unlikely circumstances. If you’re a fan of the genre, I think you will like it.
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