Crazy Hot

Crazy Love

On the Loose

Cutting Loose
by Tara Janzen
(Dell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-440-24385-4
Sexy hero, vibrant heroine, sizzling chemistry, non-stop action and even laughs – now this is what I’m talking about.

After eight years of “damn hard work and a damn near perfect record as a Salvadoran cocaine kingpin,” Alejandro Campos is returning to CIA Headquarters to discuss the last moments of a CIA operative recently killed in El Salvador. Before dying, the man passed a macramé bracelet to Lily Robbins, a teacher from Albuquerque who was in El Salvador to make a documentary.

Unbeknownst to Lily, woven into the bracelet is a polymer strand containing the decryption key to a...well, let’s just say a document vital to world peace. The key is worth an almost unimaginable amount of money, so some very scary people would be happy to kill Lily for it.

Alejandro, who is now once again known as Zachary Prade, interrupts the first attempt on Lily’s life, but when he takes her on the run, she’s a bit concerned that she may have gone from the frying pan to the fire. It isn’t the first time this man has saved her life – Alejandro rescued her in El Salvador and got her safely back to the States. But while Lily is grateful, it’s a kinda terrifying to be running for her life in the company of a man she knows only as a Central American drug lord.

Lily is no dummy, however, and while Alejandro or Zach or whoever he is might not be one of the good guys, he’s the only bad guy who isn’t currently shooting at her, so she goes along for the ride.

And a very nice ride it is, too. After receiving a cryptic message from Dylan Hart (hero of Crazy Love and mastermind behind the black-ops team at 738 Steele Street), Zach had sneaked into the garage at Steele Street and liberated his vehicle, a Shelby Mustang Cobra known as Charlotte the Harlot. Now Zach and Lily are headed back to Denver so he can hand Lily and the bracelet over to people who’ll keep them safe. Unfortunately they’ve left some damage to people and property in their wake, so the cops as well as the terrorists are after them, and reaching safety is going to be a challenge, to put it mildly.

This book reminded me of why I’m addicted to Tara Janzen’s Steele Street books. I love the savvy, bad-boy alpha heroes (who all manage to have a sense of humor) and the strong, smart heroines who manage to keep surprising the heroes with their capability.

The external conflict is powerful and convincing – it doesn’t get much more urgent than life and death – and the author keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. There isn’t a lot of time for angst and soul-searching, which is fine with me because Lily doesn’t have a lot of inner demons and Zach doesn’t spend a lot of time talking to his. Any more introspection would have been intrusive, in my opinion.

Oh, and the sexual tension between them is delicious, just in case you were wondering. Quite what I hoped for when I met the hero in a previous book.

In addition to the compelling hero and heroine, there is a cast of vivid secondary characters with interesting subplots, including both new and familiar denizens of Steele Street. I laughed out loud at Dylan’s half-appalled observations of the “genius-level computer geeks’ mating ritual” when his security consultant meets the brother of one of his operatives – and I can only hope that these two will eventually get their own story.

I also really enjoy the way this author has constructed the characters’ world. The details – from weaponry to the car stuff – ring absolutely true and build such a lucid picture that I can almost smell the exhaust.

I know this series so well that’s it’s difficult for me to judge if this book stands on its own, but I think it does. If you like this one but have not read the others, I recommend them for some excellent post-holiday escapist entertainment.

-- Judi McKee

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