Take Me Deeper
Take Me Deeper is the first story in Jackie Ashenden’s new Texas Bounty series, featuring a trio of brothers who run a ‘fugitive recovery’ service. Ms. Ashenden has been particularly prolific this year, releasing books in three different series including the Nine Circles (a group of wealthy businessmen investigating a shady casino business); Motor City Royals (a blue collar hero series with some down and dirty mechanics, including the first book Dirty For Me, reviewed this summer); and this one. I’ve read all the books released in these series to date and while the settings are quite different, they all feature trademark alpha male heroes who have their flaws (but never in the bedroom). Take Me Deeper follows that trend and is a solid start to this unique romance series.
Zane Redmond is on leave from his position as an army sniper. He’s returned home, to his brothers Rush and Quinn and their Lone Star bounty hunter business. It’s not a place he’s particularly keen on being. But since their father’s death, Quinn and Rush have been determined to keep the business going and they want Zane to help for at least a short time while he’s home. It’s a bittersweet reunion, as all three of the brothers have changed over the last several years. Still family loyalty is what makes Zane agree to take the latest case in Quinn’s hands, the return of one Iris Callahan, bail jumper, to the police. She’s been tracked to a bar near them, and Zane’s top priority is to complete the mission and get back to the army as fast as he can.
Iris‘s poor decision making has landed her in a bucket of hot water. Her boyfriend at the trailer park where she was living convinced her to do some deliveries of unnamed products to earn extra money. Believing he’d got her back, Iris soon found herself arrested for being a drug mule. She jumped bail and is now being sought after by the drug cartel – who wants to know what secrets she spilled – and the police, and is, as a result, on a bounty hunter watch list. When Zane and one of the drug cartel’s heavies find her at the same time, Zane ends up as her rescuer. He knows that returning her to jail is a death sentence as the cartel will easily find her, and his instinct to protect her outweighs everything else. But neither can deny the searing sexual attraction that exists between them. Though Iris is willing to give Zane her body in return for his protection (after all, she’s lived through worse), Zane’s sense of honour won’t let him accept her offer without her full trust. And once given, there is no going back. With the drug cartel on Iris’s tail, and family loyalty put to the test, will Zane find a way to protect them all and give himself and Iris a shot at a happier ending?
It’s pretty clear from the start that Zane is a conflicted character. When his mother died his father turned to the bottle and made increasingly erratic decisions, including showing up drunk while hunting bail jumpers. One of these times turned into a real disaster, with Zane’s teenage girlfriend Charlie getting shot in the melée. The consequences of that night were far reaching. Quinn and Zane went into different branches of the military, and Rush took the blame for the girl’s death, spending 8 years in prison. Since then, their father has passed away. Quinn took over the business and runs it with Rush, but they want Zane to consider retiring from the army and joining them. Zane likes the discipline, the control, the sense of honour and duty that comes with being a soldier – all the things he never got at home. But his brothers have sacrificed a lot, especially Rush, for the family and he can’t completely turn his back on them. The latest assignment with Iris has him all tied up in knots. Guilt over Charlie’s death has never left him, and he isn’t going to be responsible for the death of another woman on his watch. While Quinn and Rush want to just get the job over with and return Iris to the police, Zane can’t do it. It’s clear that Iris needs someone to help her – she needs him. And he’s not willing to let that go without a fight.
If ever there was a down on her luck heroine, it’s Iris. It’s bad enough that her mother abandoned her and her one year old sister when Iris turned eighteen, but now the man she thought she loved has ditched her at the first sign of trouble in his drug delivery dealings. Iris comes across as a strong but wary woman and she’s been let down by all the people in her life who are supposed to have looked out for her. Her only concern is the care of her sister, now in the foster system after Iris’s arrest and subsequent bail jumping. She’s at her wits end trying to figure out how to get her sister back and Zane’s appearance, while at first a curse, quickly becomes a blessing. For the first time, someone seems to actually care about her. When she places her trust in him (because, really, at this point she has nothing to lose anymore) the results are explosive both sexually and emotionally. This isn’t a BDSM romance, but there is a definite power play at work, with Zane wanting all the control and Iris willing to give it. As much as Zane wants to claim her as his, she wants to be claimed. The result is an insta-lust story, quickly turning to insta-love as their emotions get just as entangled as their bodies. Their connection is believable given the forced proximity they are dealing with, yet I don’t find them as strong a couple as some of the others the author has written about. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, except to say that Zane’s protective feelings of Iris from the start feel too strong, too fast. Likewise, for someone who has been let down time and time again, Iris’s willingness to put her faith in Zane so quickly is a bit unlikely.
While the first half of the story sets up the characters and the plot (and introduces a rival bounty hunter agency that is sure to feature in future stories in the series), the action really takes place in the second half. While Zane and Iris have been sexing things up, the drug cartel has been on the hunt for her and is ready to make a move. This puts Zane and his brothers directly in their crosshairs. And let’s not forget that Iris is still technically on the run from the police too, so there are several plotlines that get wrapped up all at once. While the romance is okay, and Zane and Iris get the happy ending they deserve, I like that the plot is something I haven’t read before and I’m content to give Take Me Deeper a B. I look forward to reading Quinn and Rush’s stories, and seeing how the relationship between the three brothers evolves.