Close Quarters
by Lucy Monroe
(Kensington, $14.00, R) ISBN 978-0- 7582-4201-8
****
This spicy romp through rural Africa offers a little of everything. There are tender moments, funny moments and sexy-as-all-get-out moments which help shape the story structure and plot line in Close Quarters.

When I started Close Quarters, I wasn't overly impressed. This was primarily due to Roman Chernichenko, our unfriendly protagonist. He's a sexy (at least physically) super-soldier, G.I. Joe type who is all work and no play. At the beginning of the book, he has a personality that reminds me heavily of Dr. Spock from Star Trek. He's serious, intelligent and shows no human emotions.

Roman's sent to Africa to investigate a security leak of US military secrets, find the leak and kill whoever the mole is. The kicker is that the target is Roman's brother's wife. Now he has to keep his reasons for going to Africa from his brother and his brother's wife back home, and hope that his family won't find out about the planned assassination. My guess is that Roman killing his brother's wife's sister would put a damper on family dinners.

So Roman and the rest of his super-soldier team head on out to Africa to take out Roman's sister-in-law's sister, Tanya. Only she's really nice, sweet, naive and doesn’t fit the profile of a terrorist at all. She's like Bambi. Bambi would be the last person, er, deer, that you would expect of terrorism, right?

Roman quickly discovers that 1) He doesn't think Tanya is the mole, 2) he doesn't want to kill her, and 3) he's got the hots for her.

Over the course of the novel, Roman develops a personality (hallelujah!). He goes from being a super-serious super-soldier, to a slightly less serious and far more decent guy. By the end of the book, I really liked Roman. I won't tell you why, but I'll tell you there are a few instances in the back half of the book that will turn your heart to mush.

Tanya has a heart of gold. She strives to help the sick and needy in Africa and loves her job as an EMT with Sympa-Med (a foreign outreach association that supplies doctors and health care workers to the needy in Africa). She's not yet sure of her place in the world, but she feels that she is doing a good thing in Africa and therefore stays to do what she can. She's a loyal friend, a great EMT and if there was an award for being honest and caring, she would win it. She's also smart, stubborn, sarcastic and to the point. She gives Roman a run for his money and doesn't back down when things get tough. As a reader, I found that she was a fun character to experience.

Besides the main story line, there is a secondary story line that follows two of the supporting characters as they fall for each other. Dr. Fleur Andikan is a refugee from Rwanda who is the boss at Sympa-Med's compound in South Africa. She's a strong, independent, reserved and intelligent woman who finds herself falling for Bennet Vincent.

Bennet Vincent (Ben) is a covert agent working undercover as a Human Rights agent who is in Africa to audit a nearby mine. Bennet is also reserved, even-tempered and kind. However, he is also a fierce killer and will do what he needs to do to protect his country. Ben and Fleur's courtship is heartwarming. Both characters are strong and very well crafted.

I found the story to be solid, with no real gaps or holes in the plot. All of the characters have distinct voices and personalities. Lucy Monroe did a great job at not letting her supporting characters blend into the background. She also did a great job of crafting the landscape. Monroe's Africa is vibrant and beautiful.

As for the sex scenes? Steamy. Also, the sex scenes are not for the faint of heart as the language is rather blunt. Monroe doesn't bother much with flowery language. I found that this worked for the story, as the characters themselves are straight to the point.

Overall, Close Quarters started out rather slow but picked up in pace and entertainment value as it went along. I enjoyed the second half of the novel more than the first half, but I would recommend Close Quarters to anyone who enjoys a little spice in their romances (or who had a crush on G.I. Joe or Dr. Spock growing up!).

--Lindsey Seddon


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