After I Dream

Before I Sleep

Cowboy Comes Home

The Crimson Code

Holiday Heroes

Involuntary Daddy

A January Chill

Mistletoe Kisses

Snow in September

Under Suspicion

When I Wake

With Malice

The Hunted
by Rachel Lee
(Mira, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-7783-2538-3
You can usually count on Rachel Lee to deliver a suspense-packed punch. She is less promising when it comes to a convincing romance. Her latest falls short on both accounts, but it remains an acceptable read.

Erin McKenna is an investigative reporter. She has recently written a story about fraud perpetrated by government contractors and in particular one company, Mercator. Erin testifies against them in court only to learn that they have bought her newspaper. She is fired. Later that night, she is attacked in her own apartment. The only thing that saves her is the unexpected intervention of FBI agent Jerod Westlake.

Jerod is haunted by the disappearance of his sister. He joined the army and was a skilled special operations leader. After an incident involving a higher ranking officer, he was asked to leave. He joined a private security firm and worked on several international assignments, but did not find his experience very satisfying for ethical reasons. He became an FBI agent instead where, because of his past, he has been working on missing-children cases. Lately, he has also been looking into fraud. Mercator's peculiar behavior has caught his eye. He heads for Houston to keep an eye on his witness and ends up saving her life.

The circumstances of Erin and Jerod's first encounter is the first in a series of dangerous confrontations. It takes a while for Erin to understand just why she is such a danger to Mercator, but both Erin and Jerod immediately realize that the only way to protect themselves is to go off the map. In the age of internet and electronic surveillance, this is hard to do. Their difficulties are compounded because they need those same tools to pursue their investigation. The book is thus aptly named, even if it does not take long for the hunted to become the hunters. Erin and Jerod eventually succeed in killing two birds with one stone: the villains are involved in both government fraud and the international sex-slave trade.

So what did not work? To begin with, Lee inundates us with way too much information. It is useful to have some background information in order to appreciate the importance of Erin and Jerod's mission, but if I really wanted to learn about international sex-trade, I would pick up a newspaper. Then, there is the way Erin and Jerod piece together their clues: frankly, there was a little too much coincidence for me.

I also have an issue with the rather long sequence where Jerod decides to train Erin to defend herself. I imagine that this is supposed to bring the hero and the heroine together. Instead it increased my incredulity. Bring a healthy but not particularly athletic woman to the same fitness level as a career soldier? In less than three weeks? Yeah. Right.

Erin and Jerod's wilderness walk did not develop into a plausible romance. Sure, they get along, and their mutual respect shone through. In my book, this does not take the place of good sexual tension. When they finally kiss, well past the middle of the book, it felt more like a tepid, friendly smooch than anything hot and passionate.

The R is for the violence. On occasion, it is graphic and gratuitous. I am not usually squeamish and overly sensitive, but some scenes were difficult for me to get through.

On the positive side, Hunted does have a few nice action sequences, relatively good pacing and some solid secondary characters. Good as that might be, it is not enough to earn a stronger recommendation.

--Mary Benn

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