Heart Strike is the second book in M.L. Buchman’s Delta Force series, but the first of his that I’ve read. When I’m not reading romances, I’m a big fan of espionage thrillers (the Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum variety) and so I was intrigued to see how a male writer would take those kinds of scenarios and add in a definitely romantic subplot to the story. Also, I wondered if I would be able to tell the difference between a female and male writer of romantic suspense. (spoiler alert– I couldn’t). While Mr. Buchman’s novel spent more time dealing with team dynamics than I’ve seen in other stories, it definitely delivers on the romance and the action parts and is a well-researched and interesting look at an undercover operation working to hamper the cocaine trade.
Melissa Moore is only the second woman to graduate from a unique special forces training program. Five years earlier, she’d been a museum curator with a penchant for adventurous hobbies. On a mountain climb with her brother, bad weather and a slip into a crevasse had ended her brother’s life and resulted in her being rescued by a Delta Force operative. From then on she’d been focused on becoming like her rescuer, joining the US military and working her way up to the elite task force. Post-graduation, her first assignment is to join a Delta Force team working in South America to debilitate the thriving drug trade.
Richie Goldman is the resident geek of his Delta force team. He’s got the nickname of ‘Q’ (like the gadget wizard in James Bond) for his enthusiasm over technical details. But he’s also a highly trained, physically effective warrior. When Melissa joins their team, he’s awestruck by not only her beauty but her skills as well. As the other pilot on the team, they quickly become partners in training for their mission and it soon leads to a bedroom partnership, too. Deep undercover in the Columbian jungle, their team must find a way to take down a notorious drug dealer and his cocaine laboratory. With the clock ticking, they’ll have to use all their wits to survive if they want to consider a future together.
Melissa is an interesting female heroine. She ends up on this career path due to a tragedy, but she clearly belongs here. She’s smart, savvy, and strong both physically and mentally. Dropped into an already established team means she’s going to have to work harder to fit in. One of her teammates, Carla, is the first woman to have graduated from the program. She’s clearly a kickass, no nonsense woman as well, and so while they initially clash due to both being such strong women, they strike up an understanding and a friendship fairly quickly. Melissa is clearly different though; more even tempered and able to assess a situation and see what is missing or what is wrong. But her acceptance by the male members is a bit more challenging. Her attraction to Richie (which is mutual) is obvious to the rest of the guys, and they are suspicious, none more so than Chad who makes no bones about his displeasure at her joining their team. He worries about her either taking over the team captain position (currently held by Kyle), or about her hurting the somewhat naïve Richie. The friction between the two of them, and subsequently between Richie and Chad adds to the tension in the story.
Richie has a bit of split personality. On the one hand, he’s definitely fully capable of his job as a covert operative. He’s skilled in all manner of combat, and with his knowledge of several languages, can easily blend in with the natives on any undercover assignment. But when he’s not in fighting mode, he’s a tech geek, a very enthusiastic man who seems somewhat immature. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with women, and it shows in his awe around Melissa. Where the other guys on the team are quick to find willing women to sleep with while on assignment, that isn’t the way Richie operates. But he finds the courage to approach Melissa and when she reciprocates his attentions, they end up having some pretty steamy scenes together. Since two members of their team, Carla and Kyle, are already a couple (from the first book in the series, Target Engaged), there isn’t a lot of discussion about whether or not it’s a good idea for them to hook up. It does happen fairly quickly, and the insta-lust leads to insta-love. In high stress situations like Richie and Melissa are in, it’s not surprising that an emotional connection is established so fast. However, in this scenario a happy for now ending without a declaration of love would have been perfectly acceptable and more believable.
The strength of this story comes in two places. The first is the training that Melissa and Richie undergo before they take part in the big undercover operation they’ve been assigned. It’s clear that the author knows about different kinds of small planes and there are some fun scenes with Richie and Melissa learning how to fly all sorts of them in preparation for what they might encounter on their mission. The second is the exciting and action packed latter half of the story where the mission is underway. There is lots of attention to detail in terms of the location, setting, characters and the cocaine trade that make up for the slower first half of the story. The focus on team dynamics for the first half had me wondering whether the story would pick up or not, and it definitely does. In the end, Heart Strike is a solid romantic suspense story with some interesting and genuinely likable characters and I look forward to reading more of this series.