Title: Breaking Point
Author: Pamela Clare
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Denver journalist Natalie Benoit and Deputy U.S. Marshal Zach McBride find themselves captives of a bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartel. Working together, they escape through the desert toward the border, the attraction between them flaring hotter than the Sonoran sun. They fight to stay ahead of the danger that hunts them as forces more powerful than they can imagine conspire to destroy them both…
Natalie is a reporter visiting Mexico as part of a press tour of Juarez. What is supposed to be a safe, controlled tour turns deadly, though, when a drug cartel gets on their bus, kills many of the journalists, and takes Natalie hostage. She gets imprisoned out in the desert somewhere, which is where she meets fellow prisoner Zach. Zach is being tortured and is pretty much just waiting to die when Natalie comes along. It’s clear that they plan to rape and kill her, but she manages to get her and Zach out of their jail cells, and the two go on the run in Mexico. (Trigger warning: No one gets raped in this book, but there is some violence against women and lots of talk of rape. Zach also gets graphically tortured more than once.)
Natalie doesn’t realize Zach is a U.S. Marshal, and he doesn’t tell her for fear that if she’s caught again that information could be dangerous for her. Despite her worries, he’s obviously a better risk than the guys who were actively planning to rape her, so she puts her life in his hands and off they go. They spend a very tense couple days on the run in Mexico, and then they actually hike across the Sonoran desert to get into the US illegally and reach safety. Of course, the two have immediate sexual tension, including one of the most ridiculous iterations of dangerboner that I’ve seen in a while (thanks Sarah Wendell for naming one of my absolute favorite tropes EVER), as Zach feels the stirrings when he’s basically 2/3 dead from torture and starvation. Now THAT’S how you do a dangerboner, manly heroes!
Zach and Natalie reach friends across the U.S. border, and you’re thinking “Wow, that was an exciting and sexy story that seems to have reached a conclusion!” Not so fast, dear reader, that’s just the first part! This book is made for the term “action packed” because it keeps up a fairly fast pace throughout. Once they return to the U.S., Zach slinks off alone because he is screwed up over his former military experiences and thinks himself unworthy of love–fairly typical brooding/ex-military/alpha male stuff. When Natalie’s nearly killed, though, he swoops back in and takes charge of protecting her. Together with some of her absurdly well-trained and qualified friends, the group has to keep everyone alive while also stopping the drug cartel.
This book includes tons of my favorite tropes mashed into one story: guy and gal on the run, which transitions to my even more favorite guy moving in with gal to protect her; elite team of specialists working to get the job done; surprisingly emotional back story for the hero that causes lots of Big Feels; brushes with death for both the hero and heroine; some truly nasty villains; exotic locale (at least for the first part of the story); and a very scary climax scene. All things that get my bookish heart going pitter patter!
This is book 5 of the I-Team series, which I frankly know nothing about! Clearly many of the couples in this story came from previous books, though. If you’ve read the series and like seeing past characters again, I think this book will satisfy you because we do get a fair amount of interaction with the others, especially the men. I wasn’t really clear on exactly what this “team” does or how they became such friends, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this story.
I really like Zach as a character. He is a bit melodramatic sometimes, but I never felt like his drama was completely disproportionate to his past–he genuinely did have some terrible stuff happen to him. But despite his own low opinion of himself, he is kind, caring, and clearly capable of loving Natalie with all he has. His growth is really satisfying to see. Natalie is a good partner for him, too, because she is tough and capable but can still see through the front Zach has put up. She too has pain in her past, in the form of her fiance who was killed in a tragic accident. I love how they both help the other see a way out from under the crushing guilt they have been carrying for so long. They are a great couple with great emotional AND physical chemistry.
As with most romantic suspense, not all the details are perfectly realistic. The rescues are as little too intense, the team a little too qualified, and the villains too conveniently connected and resourced. For me, though, those kind of details aren’t troublesome when the action is thrilling and the characters compelling. The one moment that threw me out of the story a bit was the professional choice Natalie makes at the end. Without spoiling it, I will say that I wasn’t so much bothered by the choice but by the fact that it seemed in contrast to everything that we had seen of Natalie thus far. I felt like it came out of left field, and I thought it was a strange way to leave Natalie’s story.
Bottom line: Breaking Point was a fun, fast paced, and unexpectedly touching story that I greatly enjoyed.
Grade: 4 out of 5
Note: I purchased this book myself for review.