I’ve read four of Rushdan’s books, and I enjoy them because they tend to have intense, fast-paced action and very intriguing plots. Sometimes in romantic suspense, the romance gets lost in the action, but Rushdan balances things beautifully by often featuring couples who already know each other. Since the leads have a prior acquaintance, readers skip over the initial getting-to-know you niceties and we are believably dropped into the middle of the action and the budding relationship. It’s a formula that has worked well for her in the past, but in this book, Rushdan changes things up a bit.
In High-Priority Asset, Dutch Haas gets sent from Louisiana to California on a special assignment. so not only has he never met the heroine, he’s also new in town. Readers of earlier books in this series will remember that it is built around the branch of Witness Protection being run out of San Diego. An internal breach led to personal information about the marshals and their witnesses being leaked, and in this installment, the rush is on to stop an auction of this information believed to be planned by the leader of a drug cartel.
In order to stop the auction, Marshals are trying to get access to the auction and its ringleader. Since Dutch has no ties to the area and would not be a familiar name or face, he has been brought in to start a relationship with Isabel Vargas, the niece of the cartel leader. Isabel is known to be close with her uncle, and the Marshals hope she will lead Dutch to his inner sanctum. They meet plausibly enough when Dutch, who has been watching Vargas, intervenes to stop a purse snatching outside the gallery she owns. The two hit it off, but Dutch quickly figures out that (1)Vargas is not the sort of person federal profilers believe her to be and (2) his interest in her isn’t going to be strictly professional.
Rushdan mostly makes this slower-paced romance work. We see Dutch getting to know Isabel, winning her trust and gradually courting her. For a variety of reasons, neither is ready to jump into bed right away, and this slower progression fits the story well. On the one hand, since the reader knows Dutch’s secret, I had issues with him getting to know Isabel under false pretenses. However, the author does believably convince the reader of Dutch’s real feelings so I was willing to hold on and see how the Big Reveal would be handled.
Because the romance moves more slowly in this book, Rushdan also changes up her usual pacing of the plot action as well. In many of her books, the leads are constantly on the move and almost always trying to evade danger. However, things move a little bit differently here. Instead of constant pursuit, we have Dutch and Isabel staying put for much of the story. They face various dangers, but the menacing events are a little more subtle and come initially in the form of unsettling encounters and warning notes rather than armed attackers jumping out at every turn. While there aren’t constant close calls, chases and big escapes, the author does do a good job of maintaining the tension so that readers stay engaged.
Despite the issue of Dutch’s not being fully honest with Isabel, the first part of this book worked better for me than the last few chapters. Towards the end, Isabel makes some missteps that felt out of character and while they do advance the plot, they veer awfully close to TSTL territory. In addition, while there’s an HEA, the resolution of the suspense plot feels rather rushed and disjointed in places.
While not perfect, I did enjoy seeing Ms. Rushdan try something that was a bit outside her usual plotting. Even with its issues, I enjoyed High-Priority Asset and after its tease of an ending, I can’t wait to read the next in the series. It’s a marriage-in-trouble story, which is a plot trope I love, so that means it’s even higher on my TBR than it already was. If you like high-action romantic thrillers, you will definitely want to check this series out.