As a longtime fan of Jackie Ashenden’s writing, you’ll find that most of my reviews for her books feature words like ‘Intense!’ and ‘Steamy!’. This applies whether she’s writing erotic romances like her Living In … and Lies We Tell series or riveting romantic suspense like her Nine Circles series. I’ve come to expect a certain style from her, where dominant heroes straddle the line between good and bad and heroines range from self-sufficient to younger, damsel-in-distress types. In Raw Power, the first of her new romantic suspense series 11th Hour, a wounded ex-military man finds purpose in working for a shadowy security agency though he inconveniently starts to care more about his client than the job at hand. Long-time fans will be happy with the result, and new ones will have a large backlist to add to their to-read shelf.
Ex-Marine Jack King is at a loose end. Wounded in action when he was unable to resist the siren call of women and children in danger in a trap set up exactly for men like him, he’s been honourably discharged and is looking for somewhere he can apply his skills. When he’s recruited by an under the radar security company, he’s given the opportunity to ‘audition’ for a permanent position with them by taking on a bodyguard position for a senator’s daughter. She’s a party girl, a spoiled selfish young woman who needs protection from death threats. Jack’s a professional, and he can handle anyone. But things aren’t quite what they seem, and the more Jack learns, the more he wonders exactly where the threat lies.
Callie Hawthorne is used to being under the emotionally abusive thumb of her father, the man who controls everything in her life from her relationship with her cold and distant mother to her day to day activities. He’s got plans for higher political appointments and expects her to appear as the perfect supportive daughter. Sneaking out from a charity event to escape her reality at a nightclub for a few hours, her first meeting with Jack, her new bodyguard, makes her keenly aware of how different he is from the other men in her life. Scarred face notwithstanding, he’s a man who exudes power and confidence. He’s also the enemy if he works for her father.
Forced to put up with Jack in her house twenty-four hours a day, the attraction between them simmers into a full boil. With it comes the real danger. Jack’s job is to protect Callie from external threats, including those close to home. When she becomes more than just a client, will he risk blowing his first assignment to keep her safe and in his life for good?
Raw Power is a good start to what looks to be an intriguing new series. I like the concept of a group of military veterans looking to find new meaning in their lives after leaving the service. Jack is described as having some serious facial scars (though the book’s cover shows otherwise) and also limps due to a severe leg injury that he has covered with tattoos. He may not have the same level of physical adeptness as he used to, but he’s quick witted, strong and motivated to prove himself still capable of assessing and removing threats. A bodyguard assignment seems pretty benign and boring but he’ll do it if it means he gets an ‘in’ into the agency, where he’ll presumably get better assignments once he’s proven that he can handle a small job. It just doesn’t turn out to be so small after all.
Callie is a young woman in her early twenties with very little power and control due to her abusive father. She lives on her own (though we soon find out that she doesn’t have as much privacy there as she’d thought) and in her experience, showing any sort of caring or desire for something means it will be used against her. She comes across as snobby, unfeeling and concerned only looking out for herself but it’s her way of protecting herself. She finds solace in one thing – her music. She has a guitar and composes melodies to express her emotions. Jack isn’t like anyone she’s ever met before, especially when he appears to actually listen to her and see past her spoiled brat act. The sexual chemistry between them startles her too. She pushes Jack into admitting his own desire for her and there are some hot and sexy scenes, consensual but bordering on rough sex as Jack tries to scare Callie off. It doesn’t work. The more they spend time together, especially when Callie realizes that she can make Jack lose control around her, the more she can contemplate regaining control in other aspects of her life too.
While Callie has her problems, Jack has childhood trauma to deal with. An abusive, alcoholic father, the death of his sister, and his own personal need for revenge color his world with dark thoughts. Callie becomes someone he can confide in, though he doesn’t believe he is worthy of her love; fortunately, she is able to convince him otherwise as the danger they face heightens the emotions between them. There are action packed and intense scenes in the second half of the story that lead them to their happy ending.
If I have a complaint about the book overall, it’s that there is not much time spent building the team dynamics for the 11th hour operatives, who are introduced at the start but don’t seem a particularly cohesive unit. This may be because Jack spends very little time with them while on his assignment. Unlike other series where one thinks the ‘I can’t wait to read his/her story!’ after finishing one particular book, I’m left with a feeling of ambiguity about who I’d want to read about next. But no worries, I intend to pick up the next one because with a Jackie Ashenden romance, I can always be assured of an intense and steamy read.