Tinderbox, the first novel in Rachel Grant’s steamy and action-heavy Flashpoint series, starts with a bang—literally. Dr. Morgan Adler, a paleoanthropologist working in the Djibouti desert, has discovered a set of bones as old as Lucy. Unfortunately this attracts attention of the wrong kind, from an Ethiopian warlord called Etefu Desta. Morgan drives with some of the bones for the nearest US military base. As the daughter of a general, she’s not intimidated by soldiers.
But she hasn’t met one quite like Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard. He flags her down and saves her from a car bomb – literally throwing her over his shoulder and running for both of their lives, while she screams at him because the explosion destroys the bones. After that, it’s a matter of escaping from various threats together, dealing with the military, deciphering Desta’s purpose (despite the blurb, he’s actually not after the hominid’s bones or Morgan’s bod), and, of course, having lots and lots of sex.
I loved the vividity of the setting in Rachel Grant’s Tinderbox. The heat and acacia thorns of the desert, a crowded bazaar, the military base, all of these ring true. So do the characters’ equipment, no pun intended. I’ve read a few romantic suspense novels where the hero uses a mysterious device or some unspecified chemical, but this is not one of them. Whether it’s a living unit or a subdermal tracker, Ms. Grant knows what it’s called, knows how it works, and makes the background intensely realistic.
The plot is fast-paced, with intrigue as well as action, since Desta’s real motives aren’t obvious at the start, plus there’s a mole in Morgan’s camp. As for Pax, he’s a great hero. Anything inappropriate with Morgan could derail his career, but after their rocky start, he sees she’s a lot more intelligent and competent than he realized. Very soon, any threat to her brings out the caveman (the narrative’s word, used frequently) in him. There is one sex scene where this supposed Neanderthal declares, “My senses are on the brink of hedonistic overload”, which was unbelievably silly, but the rest of the time I enjoyed him.
His type was the shy, bookish nerds, which was exactly what he’d been until he joined the Army.
Oh, dude. You had me at hello. I just wish he’d been paired up with one of those shy, bookish nerds rather than Morgan.
Morgan is a skilled archaeologist, a black belt in karate, proficient with guns – to the point where Pax thinks of her as a one-woman army – and, of course, she’s smoking hot. She also supplies a local child with coloring books. If you dropped her on the shores of Antarctica, she’d teach the penguins to swim. It got to be predictable after a point, and when she challenged a soldier to a pool match, I knew in advance she was going to kick his ass (while he gaped at hers).
Rationally, this is far better than a damsel in distress who has to be rescued again and again by the hero, but I found Morgan just as impossible to relate to. And there was her worship of testosterone.
…she was also a fan of testosterone.
A big fan.
God, she missed testosterone…
Lovely, lovely testosterone.
There are more mentions of how thirsty she is for testosterone, but this review is long enough already.
The whole purpose of her paean to an androgen, by the way, is to contrast Pax with the kinds of men she dated before. Basically, they were peaceniks who irritated her father (she has daddy issues), plus they believed in feminism and protected the environment. By the time she dismissed these lesser men as “pro-estrogen activists”, I was done with her.
And it really didn’t help when she sexted Pax a picture of her bare breasts, because to her, this is ‘playing’ and she’s horny. Except she sent this at night, when the poor man couldn’t even take care of himself without waking his roommate up, and when he was desperately trying to keep his hands off her for the sake of his job. The sex scenes are plentiful and explicit, though, so I’m sure they’ll work for other readers.
It’s difficult to grade a romance where everything is fun except for the huge stumbling block of the heroine, but in the end, this one gets a B-. I’d try another novel by Rachel Grant, as long as I read enough of the start to know both the main characters were going to work for me.
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