Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stone Cold Texas Ranger - Nicole Helm (HI #1687 - Jan 2017)

A Texas Ranger puts it all on the line for a woman who has everything to lose

Texas Ranger Vaughn Cooper doesn't need or appreciate the "help" of some frivolous civilian on his case. Yet even this seasoned lawman can't argue that Natalie Torres is on her game. She might even unlock the answers he needs to crack this kidnapping…if the bad guys don't erase Natalie first.

With her home burned to the ground, Natalie has no choice but to hide out with Vaughn in a remote cabin. Spending time with the stone-cold officer should keep her mind strictly on the case. But there's an unseen fire burning deep within Vaughn, and it's making Natalie wonder just where the true danger might lie.

Good book. Natalie is a hypnotist who has been working with the Rangers for several years. Vaughn is a Ranger who doesn't believe in hypnotism and thinks that it is a con of some sort. When Natalie is tasked with hypnotizing a suspect in the Rangers' latest case of drugs and trafficking, she breaks the rules by asking some questions herself. Vaughn is furious because she may have wrecked his case, Natalie is angry because he stopped her before she got the answers she was looking for,

Natalie's sister Gabby has been missing for eight years and she's certain that she's still alive somewhere. To hear that someone named "The Stallion" "keeps the girls" gives her hope that had been beginning to fade. When her house is torched that same night, and the suspect she hypnotized is found dead on the property, Vaughn knows she has to be kept safe, and he's the only one who can do it.

Vaughn has devoted his adult life to the work he does. His depth of commitment caused his marriage to collapse, and since then he has been in work-only mode. He keeps his emotions under control at all times. He's not at all happy about the way that Natalie gets under his skin and threatens that control.

It was interesting to see their relationship develop and go from extreme antagonism to love. There had always been a physical awareness between them that both tried to ignore. Vaughn's attitude toward her caused her to think of him as "Ranger Jerk", and Vaughn just plain doesn't trust her. Thrown together to keep her safe, both Natalie and Vaughn have to find a way to get along. I loved seeing how surprised Vaughn was that she didn't fall apart under the stress of the danger they were in. Natalie was equally surprised to see that Vaughn wasn't as emotionless as he appeared. It was fun to see her poke at him and see how he reacted. Both of them have issues holding them back from believing a relationship is possible. Natalie's last one ended because her ex couldn't handle her obsession with finding her sister. She fears getting involved with someone else who wouldn't understand. Vaughn's ex-wife accused him of putting his job before their marriage, accusing him of being unable to find any balance. He doesn't believe that there is anyone out there who could live with his dedication to his work. This causes him to push her away even as he wants to pull her closer. It was fun to see his awkwardness at the end as he tried to be romantic. 

The mystery of who was after Natalie and why was pretty good. The level of danger she was in steadily increased, keeping up the tension throughout the book. The clashes between Natalie and Vaughn were pretty rough until they figured out that they were working toward the same solution. The final confrontation was a little anti-climactic after all the buildup, but still satisfying. I definitely got the feeling that there was something going on between Nat's sister and the undercover agent, so I hope there is going to be a story for them.

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