I’m always on the look-out for reliably good new authors of romantic suspense, and in Elizabeth Dyer, I think I’ve found one. Relentless, the second book in her Somerton Security series (and her second published novel), is a strongly-written, fast-paced story featuring a team of ex-military types who work for a specialist security firm that also runs off-the-books black-ops for the government. While that isn’t an especially original concept, Relentless is nonetheless a very readable tale; the author has created a suspenseful and intriguing plotline that packs an emotional punch in just the right places, the central characters have great sexual chemistry, and the knife-edge walked daily by the heroine is well-depicted. While characters from book one (Defenseless) reappear here, Relentless works perfectly well as a standalone and I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything by not reading it first.
Natalia Vega’s father was head of the Vega cartel – until, that was, her uncle murdered him in front of her and her sister when Natalia was just seventeen. When she attacked Hernan Vega in an attempt to protect her mother from his cruelty, Natalia wasn’t strong enough to do much damage, and an enraged Vega retaliated by giving her to an associate of his as payment of a gambling debt. That night forced Natalie to make a choice, and since then, she has learned to keep her mouth shut and her eyes open, honing her skills with knife and hands to become one of Vega’s most ruthless killers, while at the same time striving to fulfil the promise she made to her dying father to protect her younger sister, Ana Maria. But Natalia is no fool. She knows she’s expendable and that every day could be her last; Hernan Vega is cruel and unpredictable and she suspects it won’t be long before he decides she’s outlived her use – but until then she will continue to do everything she can to ensure her sister’s safety and that Ana Maria has the chance of a decent life.
Former Navy SEAL and head of Somerton Security Ethan Somerton has recently learned that a close friend and colleague – whom he’d believed had died when an operation to take down the Vega cartel went wrong – is alive and being held hostage. Ethan is determined to get Will out, but finding him is going to be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack – until his technical expert, Parker (hero of the previous book) tells him he’s found a way into the heart of the cartel. The man Vega employs to cook his books and launder his money is on the take; and once Vega disposes of him, he’ll need a new accountant. An ex-SEAL with an MBA and a specialism in forensic accounting, Ethan is uniquely qualified to join Vega’s operation and to try to discover Will’s whereabouts from the inside, but it won’t be easy to gain entrée to Vega’s inner circle, and once there, it’ll be incredibly dangerous. But it’s his only chance to find Will and it also gives Ethan an opportunity to contact whoever it is within that inner circle who has been sending the authorities occasional tips about cartel operations. According to Parker, the informant is Ana Maria, but once Ethan meets her and her sister, he isn’t so sure. What he is sure of, however, is that he wants Natalia Vega. Desperately. It’s stupid and it’s dangerous, but she’s like no woman he’s ever met; exuding sensuality and an almost frightening confidence behind which he senses a deeply buried vulnerability.
Ethan and Natalia are tough, determined and prepared to do whatever has to be done in order to accomplish their objectives and their mutual attraction is intense and undeniable. They strike sparks off one another right from their very first encounter as they metaphorically size each other up while trading pointedly accurate barbs and thinly veiled insults, all of it underpinned by an intense sexual tension. Ethan has a bit of a saviour complex, but Natalia doesn’t want to be saved. Or rather, she believes, given the things she’s done over the years, that she doesn’t deserve a better life, but Ethan won’t accept that and is intent on finding a way to rescue Will and get Natalia beyond her uncle’s reach. But when his investigations into the cartel finances throw up some serious irregularities, Ethan finds himself confronted with a shocking choice while Natalia faces a devastating betrayal.
Ms. Dyer gets the balance between the romantic and suspenseful elements of the story just about right, and does a good job when it comes to conveying the harsh reality of Natalia’s situation, and of showing that she has no illusions about the way her life is likely to pan out. There are a couple of false notes struck however; one is how quickly Ethan and Natalia decide to throw in their lots together, and it’s also a little difficult to believe that Natalia was able – with relative ease – to uncover the truth of Ethan’s identity (which we’re asked to believe was so carefully fabricated) when nobody else did or thought to check the same places she did.
Other than that, though, the story is well-conceived and executed, and the second-half plot twist is well done and propels the story towards a gripping, gut-wrenching climax. Relentless is an intriguing page-turner with a high-stakes plot, a well-matched central couple and some nicely steamy interludes, and I’ll be on the look-out for more books in the series.