Elisa Hall is good at starting from scratch. Leaving an abusive relationship in her rearview, she packs everything she owns into the trunk of her car and heads for refuge with her friend in Hope’s Crossing, North Carolina. Alex Rojas returned from his second deployment as a Navy SEAL to find his condo empty and divorce papers on the breakfast table. Now he’s building a life for himself and his daughter at Hope’s Crossing kennels training younger dogs and handlers to search and rescue, struggling to adjust to life back in the States and as a single father. When Elisa shows up at the kennels, it’s obvious she’s running from something. Luckily, the dogs and trainers at Hope’s Crossing are more than capable of warding off trouble. And with every minute he spends with Elisa, Alex becomes even more and more determined to protect the woman he’s certain he won’t be able to live without…
Holy Hell! The men of the Hope’s Crossing Kennels sure do know how to find trouble. Even when they are actively avoiding trouble, trouble seems to come looking for them and in this second installment of the True Heroes series, trouble doesn’t just come a calling, it comes with a scary stalker willing to go to incredible lengths to retrieve his “property.”
Alex Rojas is home at Hope’s Crossing Kennels and he, along with his ten-year-old daughter, Boom have no intention of ever leaving. Alex is a retired SEAL who still deals, on a daily basis with the effects of PTSD. Training and rehabbing the dogs at Hope’s Crossing isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. His friends and partners are really his chosen family and his daughter, Boom is like a breath of fresh of air for the hardened military men. In Alex’s world, there is his family and his dogs and not much else. A very, very bad situation with Boom’s mother has left him wary of women so when Elisa Hall comes into his life, he isn’t quite prepared for the likes of her.
Elisa Hall was once a confident young woman with a promising career as a project manager ahead of her. When she met her ex, it seemed like a dream come true. Unfortunately, the dream quickly turned to a nightmare and getting free from her ex was a harrowing experience that has left her on the run for the last six months. In what eventually turns out to be a wonderful accidental encounter, Elisa meets Boom and Alex at the ER. With no intention of starting up anything even remotely close to a relationship, Elisa plans on slipping in and out of the ER but fate and Boom have other ideas. In the coming days, Elisa finds herself not only on Alex Rojas’s doorstep but neck-deep in his life, a place she never thought to find herself again. Trust isn’t at the top of Elisa’s list of things that come easily but, at every turn Alex proves himself to be a man of his word.
Alex is bowled over by Elisa and the more she shares with him, the more he wants to help her out of the mess that is her life. He and his friends have a great deal of specialized training that can help Elisa break free from her past if she will only trust them enough to tell them the whole story. Elisa is smart, organized, compassionate, and the only person Souze, Alex’s current doggy project really responds too. Alex has learned to trust Souze’s instincts and though it takes a great deal of patience and care (just like doggy training!) Alex is willing to try with Elisa. In fact, each day he is around her, Alex finds his own demons are a bit easier to deal with which makes him an all-around better dad, friend, and trainer.
A new relationship is hard enough but Elisa comes with a whole hell of a lot of trouble. As she grows more comfortable with Alex and the Hope’s Crossing crew, she finds that she is tired of running and being scared and that there can be a happy and settled life for her if she is willing to take a stand. Her ex isn’t just determined to have her back, he’s determined to make her pay for leaving him and is willing to go to some very scary lengths to take back what he views as his. Her ex isn’t above intimidation, threats, and/or violence which means, not only is Elisa in danger but so are the people around her. Getting and free and clear won’t be easy.
The Bottom Line: Book two of the True Heroes series is stronger than the first and was a true delight to read. This one has a little bit of everything including action, drama, a totally disturbing and bat-sh*t crazy ex, naughty bits, and a ten-year-old and dog who damn-near steal the show. Much of the read is taken up by the anticipation of the awful and the awful happening very quickly near the end. During the moments of anticipation, the characters are more thoroughly explored, relationships are established, and a place worth fighting for is established. I liked the tension that was created throughout the read and how explosively quick the awful came and went at the end. In many ways, the speed of the awful reinforced the idea that this moment is time is just that, a moment in Elisa’s life that will pass. Her life with Alex, Boom, and the Hope’s Crossing Kennels is really the story and readers will be happy to know, this one ends with an HEA. With the increased strength of this read, I have high hopes for the future of this series and sincerely hope it extends beyond a mere trilogy.
Alex’s hand came up slowly to cradle the side of her face, encouraging her to tilt her head, and she did. He deepened the kiss then, his tongue running across her lips and coaxing them to open for him. She opened with a sigh, and his tongue swept into her mouth, gently tasting. She kissed him back in return, leaning into him until she had one hand braced against his hard chest.
A needy moan escaped her, and he responded in kind. When he lifted his mouth from hers, she almost tipped into him, her knees not holding her upright anymore and her head spinning. Wow.
She took not one, but several long breaths to clear her head, looking down at a black and tan face staring up at her with soulful, dark eyes. Souze wasn’t shy about watching, apparently.
The thought brought her the rest of the way to her senses, because weird. Yeah. Weird.
She took a step back, and Alex let her. He’d done that since the beginning. Letting her go if she wanted. So why was it so hard to leave now even if she kept saying she should?
“Thank you,” she told him, not looking up into his eyes.
“But?” Alex’s voice came cool, deep, and so sexy it just wasn’t fair.
“But I should go. Especially because this is obviously not a professional thing now.”
“No. But none of your previous employers particularly cared if you left, did they?” He sounded reasonable. “Did they bother to try to check on you?”
“Not that I know of.” She said it slowly. She’d had her phone with her, and she’d been checking her e-mail. Both big mistakes, she knew now. But she’d been paid under the table and they didn’t really have a way to contact her after she disappeared.
“I think that’s a little odd.” Rojas lifted his hand, giving her plenty of time to avoid him, and brushed her hair back from her face. “Maybe this time, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone care about whether you disappear.”
Piper J. Drake (or “PJ”) began her writing career as “PJ Schnyder” writing sci-fi & paranormal romance and steampunk. She has recently received the FF&P PRISM award for her work as well as the NJRW Golden Leaf award and Parsec award. Now, PJ is exploring the complexity of romantic suspense, incorporating her interests in mixed martial arts and the military into her writing.