Desert Isle Keeper
Into the Blue
Into the Blue is the second book in Chanel Cleeton’s Wild Aces series. Think Top Gun but with a bit of a modern twist. Eric, call sign Thor, is finding things tough after the death of a colleague, which is making him question his decisions, in and out of the air. When he runs into his ex-fiancée Becca at a teammate’s bachelor party, he’s struck with remorse over the way things ended between them. Taking a short leave of absence from his job as an F-16 pilot, he comes back to his home town to sort through the options for his future. But he’s also determined to rekindle his friendship, and maybe more, with Becca.
Becca nursed herself through a broken heart when Eric left her ten years earlier, picking up the pieces and moving on with her life. She put Eric into the past and carried on with her career plans of becoming a lawyer. Still single, seeing him again is a reminder of the hurt he caused her but also the good memories they shared. With Eric’s apology heartfelt, and his time at home limited, Becca must decide whether to throw caution to the winds and let him back in, or guard her heart against the man who could fly away again.
Second chance romance is one of my favourite tropes, especially when it involves high school sweethearts who have a chance to reunite. And what’s rather engaging about this story is its use of modern technology in making that storyline come alive. There is a whole section of the story at the beginning – once Becca and Eric have been re-introduced to each other – that deals with the Facebook friend dilemma. Eric worries about sending a Facebook friend request to Becca but does it anyway; Becca wonders whether accepting the request is going to send the wrong kind of signal. For anyone who has graduated from high school and now has old classmates looking them up (or has done their own picture stalking of an ex), this will resonate and it’s that sense of familiarity that definitely pulls the reader more into the story and gives them a vested interest in the outcome.
Eric comes across as a smart, confident, level headed man – who happens to be dealing with a case of PTSD, even though he doesn’t want to admit it to himself. Still, he can’t deny that things don’t feel right and that he’s not comfortable being in the cockpit and doesn’t want to risk making a mistake that could have drastic consequences. He hopes that a few weeks spending time with his grandmother and reconnecting with old friends will help him sort through his issues. On meeting Becca again, he wishes that he’d handled things differently between them. At the time that he broke things off with her, he just didn’t see their futures aligning. She wanted to go to law school and settle in one place. He wanted to join the military, become a pilot, and go wherever the Air Force needed him, but they never sat down together and talked about their options as a couple. Eric worried that she’d choose him over her own career and didn’t want that responsibility, so he took the quick way out and went on to live his dream. But ten years later, his dream is no longer the same. He has pilot friends who are married, have children, and make it work. And while he may not be able to see that far ahead for himself, once he has Becca in his life again he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep her there.
Becca is a lovely woman who has dealt with issues of abandonment in her life. Her parents died tragically when she was young, and then Eric left her when they were in college. She realizes in hindsight that she had a hand in pushing Eric away; he wasn’t ready for the commitment level that she wanted, and even though they were engaged, her idea of a perfect home and family life in their small town was her dream, not his. Her reluctance to get involved with Eric again is understandable, but it’s so easy to forget the heartbreak when they are sitting and talking and laughing like they used to. Eric’s apology is sincere, both in deed and in action. He clearly still cares about Becca (and never stopped) and Becca, though she’s aware of the danger, can’t quite bury the part of her heart that Eric owns. The slow and sweet approach Eric makes to get Becca to give him another chance leads to some sensual and very sexy love scenes between them. He really is a genuinely nice guy and it’s impossible for her not to fall for him again. But the fact remains that once his leave of absence is up, they are in the same boat as they were ten years earlier – his job is going to take him away and a long distance relationship is not something that Becca wants. Clearly, there is going to have to be compromise on both sides to make things work.
Putting the romance aside, the obvious other attraction to this story is the flyboys – yes, Thor’s buddies are adept at stealing the show. There are some excellent scenes both in the air and on the ground that detail the camaraderie of the guys, but also the depth of their friendship and concern for each other. They’ve been on military missions together in Afghanistan, they’ve spent months in training and they are the best of the best, with the coveted F-16 pilot distinction. They are allowed to be a little bit cocky and self-confident. I like that it’s not all show though, and that we get to see under the surface and the stress of their long days and weeks of deployments. Their job isn’t easy, and the author has done a great job of contrasting their reputations with the reality of their work.
This story is a fine example of what works in a contemporary romance. A setting and plot that is believable, characters that are likable and engaging, modern conveniences that speak to today’s reader and a sexy and exciting romance. Into the Blue is a winner for me.