Seduced by the Badge
I’ve enjoyed some of Deborah Fletcher Mello’s novels for Kimani, so when I saw her starting a new series with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, I picked up Seduced by the Badge on a whim. While it has a few uneven spots, the book is still very readable, and I enjoyed this author’s jump from contemporary romance to romantic suspense.
Set in Chicago, the novel features Armstrong Black, a detective who is part of a joint task force investigating murders that appear to be tied to organized crime and human trafficking. Black is part of a respected Chicago family whose members work throughout law and law enforcement in the city. One gets the feeling that other members of the family may feature in future books, so I found myself reading with an eye toward who I’d like to know more about in later installments.
As the book opens, Armstrong learns of a new killing that may be related to his investigation and also learns that he has a new detective from Atlanta joining his task force. Danni Winstead has called in every favor she can think of to catch this assignment, not only because she has been working on crimes that may be related, but also because she believes that this investigation holds the key to figuring out who was behind a vicious attack on her sister.
Sparks fly between Armstrong and Danni right away. As the story developed, I found myself enjoying the interplay between them and looking forward to the rest of the book – which is always a good sign. It takes a little longer to get to know Danni, but right off the bat one can tell that Armstrong is confident and comfortable in his own skin, qualities that make him a likeable hero. Much is made throughout of the fact that Danni looks much younger than her actual age, but to the author’s credit, this does not go in the creepy direction that one sometimes finds in older romance novels where we are hit over the head with heroes fetishizing the heroine’s childlike appearance. In this book, Danni’s apparent youth comes into play more as a friendly joke or as a way for her to infiltrate a trafficking ring that preys upon young girls.
At first we as readers are being briefed on the investigation and the workings of the task force just as Danni, the newbie from Atlanta, is. However, things take a turn when right away Danni decides that she is going to go undercover and start trying to work her way into the inner circle of the Balducci crime family. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see a younger female detective taking on the role of the ‘detective as lone wolf’ that has usually been the preserve of jaded, experienced male protagonists. On the other hand, her undercover plan had my lawyer mind throwing up one issue and objection after another. Unfortunately, Armstrong wasn’t privy to my internal monologue, so he approves Danni’s idea – with some caveats.
At this point, both the working relationship and the personal relationship start to gel. While Danni makes some ill-advised decisions throughout the book, she doesn’t continuously flounce off and do what she wants to do with no consideration for the team. She and Armstrong have been paired as partners and they do discuss her plans, make compromises, and generally behave like adults. Because of the various ethical considerations, workplace romances come with plenty of unsexy potential pitfalls. However, Armstrong and Danni are (mostly) believably discreet and while they obviously share passionate feelings, they are not a high-drama sort of couple. There’s plenty of tension and chemistry, just not of the loudly melodramatic variety . Much of the drama here comes from the external suspense instead.
There are some interesting twists and turns to the suspense plot in the book, and since the crimes at issue center on human trafficking, the author takes the reader into some dark places. However, the novel isn’t terribly graphic; horrors are implied rather than laid out in excruciating detail. Even though I seriously questioned some of the investigator’s decisions, I did find myself drawn into the mystery. The ending felt a little slapped together and there were a few plot holes that didn’t quite resolve themselves, but otherwise, Seduced by the Badge is a very engaging read.