Under Fire
by Jo Davis
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-451-22679-2
Zack Knight is a young, hot firefighter, living the solitary bachelor life after achieving his dream job.† Heís a handsome genius and his life sucks, big time, as we meet him.† His dad, the only family heís ever known, recently had a stroke.† While he wasnít a great father, always insulting Zack and hurting his feelings, he has been left in an infantile state, and Zack has been moved by compassion to be there for him.†

Except that dear old Dad turned out to be three-quarters of a million dollars in debt to a casino mogul, Joaquin Delacruz, who is a nasty thug.†Once Joaquin learns that Dad is in a permanent vegetative state, he goes after Zack for the balance of the debt, taking his beloved home, his savings, and setting a nearby date for another huge payment - which Zack doesnít have a hope of making, even working extra shifts like he has been.† Joaquin subtly threatens to kill him, making it clear that his invalid father might also come to an unexpected end if Zack doesnít pay up on time.

Exhausted from working overtime, Zack slams his Mustang into the back of an SUV.† The SUVís driver comes out, spitting mad over the fender bender.† Zackís completely bowled over by the tall, gorgeous brunette who heís managed to completely tick off. He tries to stutter out enough words to make amends, but exotic dancer Corinne Shannon isnít impressed.† He may be young and sexy, but now sheís late for nursing class and her SUV will costs hundreds of dollars to fix.

Zack heads to work, where he gets an emergency call to save the driver of an SUV which has had its tire shot out, and it now hangs precariously off a bridge.† It turns out that Cori is inside, and Zack risks his life getting her out.† Cori stops by the hospital afterwards to see if Zack is okay, and her loving, nurturing side brings out the lover hiding inside the shy, hunky brainiac.†

But there is a murderer after Cori, because of her mysterious, dark past, and he will stop at nothing to get her.† Cori is fairly confident that her protective older brother will be able to help her get out of any scrape that life might throw at her.† She hasnít told Zack very much about her old life, making it nearly impossible for him to help protect her.† And Zack is too ashamed to share his burdens with the woman with whom heís building a new, fragile relationship.

† Then, Zack learns that Coriís protective older brother is Joaquin Delacruz. Is there any way that either Cori or Zack can survive their affair intact, both body and soul?

Under Fire is a sexy, steamy, delicious read.† Cori is a multilayered, multitalented heroine with real spunk.†She says what she thinks, whether it comes off as rude or raw.† She isnít ashamed that she works as an exotic dancer.† While she doesnít love her job, she sees it as a means to finance the medical education sheíd almost given up on.† This poses somewhat of a credibility issue, as Coriís overprotective brother, who is supposed to be wealthy, hardly seems like the type to let his baby sister take her clothes off to finance her education.† While itís mentioned early on in the book that Joaquin doesnít like Coriís stripping, the issue is otherwise left hanging, which is bothersome.

Cori is scarred from her past, but sheís been searching for a kind-hearted, sweet man to cherish her until she can really heal.

Zack is so hot, a strong leading man, and a real hero.† He shoulders the burdens his father has left him with dignity, and suffers quietly.†Zack is also a little bit of a geek, he still remembers being a pudgy nerd, which makes him even more endearing.† He is also wildly romantic, having saved himself for the right woman and heís quickly falling head over heels for Cori.†Zack surprised me; he isnít a typical male lead by any means, but he is a breath of fresh air.† His inner musings bring the book to a deep, emotional level as he opens his battered heart to Cori without much thought to the real damage she could do with his vulnerability.

Zackís initial meeting with Cori is realistically written, from Coriís pissed off reaction to the fender-bender, to Zackís babbling, uncomfortable speech to the hottest woman heís run into in a while.† However, when they get to talking on their first date and it becomes obvious that Coriís brother Joaquin is the villain who has ruined Zackís life in short order, it wrecks the honesty that was built in their first meeting.†Itís a little hard to swallow the coincidence of their meeting and falling in lust while Joaquin is making Zack run for his life, and the woman he takes up with just happens to be related.

That said, Davis handles the fallout of this outrageous ďcoincidenceĒ well, and it certainly paves a dramatic road for Zack and Cori to travel for the rest of the novel.

Zackís firehouse family provide comic relief, and an interesting diversion from the hot and heavy relationship between the lead couple.† The lonesome, hard, angry chief Seanís real remorse at his outbursts at Zack, coupled with his headlong slide into alcoholism because of his grief at losing his family in a car accident is one of the saddest, most intriguing background characters Iíve read, and I hope that Jo Davis gives him his own book one day soon.

Under Fire is a captivating, sensual story that definitely worth picking up for an afternoon of satisfying reading.† ††††

--Amy Wroblewsky

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