Friday, July 27, 2012


Kindle edition, 348 pages
Self-published July 18, 2012
Genre: contemporary romance novel, romantic suspense
Rating: 5 stars 

Six months after the suspicious boat explosion that killed  her mother and step-brother, emergency physician Cassandra Christo decides to take a temporary leave from her job in San Diego and return to her deceased mother’s estate in Baya, Mexico. Once her beloved childhood home, now the estate is run by her ruthless step-father, Saul Flores, and what Cassie plans to do is to collect evidence of his illicit use of estate funds and involvement in an illegal business, in order to evict him.
 On her way from the US to Mexico, she walks into a human smuggling ring: a truck full of Mexican women headed toward the US border lays overturned on the side of the highway. After taking care of few injured women, Cassie escapes the enraged smugglers and manages to alert the US authorities about her gruesome discovery. Back at the family estate she meets  Saul’s head of security, Rio Santana, the same man who stood next to her and comforted her at the cemetery during the heart-wrenching  funerals of her mother and step-brother.
For months after that first meeting, Cassie has treasured and cherished the memory of that kind man, the unfocused memory of an emotion more than the exact recollection of his face. She has no idea that the feeling of immediate emotional connection she experienced then was mutual: since that funeral, Cassie has been haunting Rio’s dreams and sustaining him with the warm and sweet memory of their embrace. What Cassie also ignores is that Rio is an undercover CIA agent on a mission to gain  Saul’s absolute trust as his chief security guy, and tear down his smuggling organization.
Despite the undeniable chemistry and emotional connection between them,  Cassie and Rio will not be free to reveal their feelings right away: hidden truths, conflicting signals, and misunderstandings will ricochet across a tight string of pulse-pounding events, keeping our lead couple engaged in a   heart-melting “lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers” dance.
 Not only Cassie has to drag around  a huge burden of grief, sense of dislocation, and lack of closure after the sudden and suspicious death of her beloved ones; she also carries the physical and emotional scars of another traumatic experience, the attempted rape and attempted murder at the hands of a man she trusted.  Opening her heart to Rio, a man apparently close and loyal to her despicable step-dad, triggers a huge internal conflict in our gutsy but vulnerable Cassie, opening painful wounds and unresolved emotional issues. On his side, Rio’s internal struggle between his deep feelings for Cassie and the risk of exposing them to certain death in a highly dangerous situation adds to his personal baggage of grief and family tragedies. Their relationship will grow and intensify on a conflictual path, swinging between moments of weak-in-the-knees romance and heart-wrenching misunderstandings.
In this light, Joan Swan's masterful use of sexual tension and love scenes is an extremely powerful writing tool in the advancement of the plot and character building. In one of the steamiest scenes, Cassie and Rio will ultimately let their guards down , abandoning themselves in each other’s arms just to raise issues about their mutual trust and plunge Cassie into a huge feeling of discomfort. She is deeply and emotionally involved with a man she doesn’t really know, hopefully an ally, more likely an enemy.
Sometimes we have to make a huge leap of faith between love and trust, and our characters will hang onto every possible strand of hope, even in the midst of danger and death, in order to heal their wounded  souls and protect each other.
For this and for many other reasons, this well-crafted romantic suspense novel deserves 5 shining stars.  What I love the most about Joan Swan's books is that they start with a boom and from there it's an escalation, with all kinds of plot twist-and-turns and emotional roller-coasters in the middle. The first few pages into the book and I’m already breathless…seriously breathtaking opening lines describing Cassie's night ride to Mexico, fiery  sparks of sexual tension flying between her and Rio from the get-go, poignant is the author's insight into the current and tragic calamity of illegal immigration and human trafficking.
The lead couple is made of likable and believable characters: Cassie with her spunky personality, her snappy tongue, and yet endearing in her vulnerability and deep sense of justice; Rio with his self-confidence, secretive attitude, and “hard shell” when it comes to his undercover mission, but soft in his core when his deep feelings and protective instinct for Cassie are involved.  Absolutely enjoyable are their gritty dialogues and the charming setting of Mexican beaches, extra steamy are the love scenes…reading through them is like opening a jar of spiced honey. The romantic element is very strong and delicious, but it's perfectly embedded in a pulse-pounding plot that escalates  from deceit within Cassie’s family to the social evils of rival gangs, illegal immigration, and terrorism. The flow of emotions and events is always seamless and consistent.
Apparently the popular myth claiming that lightning cannot strike the same place twice doesn't apply to consistently talented author Joan Swan. After FEVER’s acclaimed success, the triple RWA® Golden Heart finalist delivers another solid suspense novel with that perfect balance of gripping action and sensuous romance that may just become her distinguished hallmark.

This is the review of a complimentary e-copy kindly provided by the author in return for an honest opinion.

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