Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spotlight Review: DEFENDER by Catherine Mann

DEFENDER – Catherine Mann
A Dark Ops Novel, Book 1
Berkley Sensation
ISBN-13: 978-0-425-22802-0
April 2009
Romantic Suspense

Incirlik Air Base, Turkey - Present Day

Chloe Nelson recently found out what she can do to justify the rest of her life on this earth. After receiving a kidney transplant from a serviceman, when she found out an Italian singer was going on a USO show overseas, Chloe volunteered to go along as a singer and dancer. Chloe is an orchestra conductor and has a fairly good voice, but this seems like a good way to give something back to that unknown soldier. Except that there's an explosion on the ship as the troupe is on the way to an aircraft carrier off the coast of Turkey, and suddenly Chloe's in the sea, trying to keep her head above water as everyone else gets rescued. A test pilot helping during the rescue jumps in the water when he sees Chloe, and she is saved, thanks to his selfless action. After such a traumatic event, Chloe must get to a doctor to check on her anti-rejection medicine.

Captain Jimmy Gage is now a test pilot in the Mediterranean. Three years ago, he was a prisoner of war after his partner was killed in front of him. Months of torture and what happened to his partner has done more to hurt him than almost anything. Well, except for the death of his sister years ago and his determination to live life to the fullest because of her untimely death from leukemia. It's a long story, but Jimmy is a psychiatric mess, hanging on to his determination and duty with both hands. Now this cute little lady wants to know how to get to the ship's doctor after he saved her from the ocean because of her “allergies.” Jeez, some people just don't take life seriously.

Mike Nunez works undercover for the military, becoming someone else and infiltrating into countries and becoming invisible in order to collect vital information. Right now, Mike is Miguel Carvalho, a rich man hanging around a bar and looking for information on a serviceman who has been kidnapped. Chuck must be rescued before his body is broken or he gives away military secrets. Jimmy Gage is also trying his best to find out where Chuck is; he has a secret GPS locater inserted under the skin on his shoulder, but it doesn't show his location enough so that he can be rescued. Obviously, the locater needs some more work to make it reliable!

After careful investigation, Mike determines either an Anya Surac or a Marta Surac seems to have fingers in all sorts of pies in the area. Can the uppity waitress called Anya Surac at the bar where he is hanging out be hiding his buddy after hours? If not, is she willing to give information about who Marta is? Only by using their mutual attraction can Nunez use Anya, in much the same way as Anya's aunt has used her.

While Nunez is undercover, Jimmy is trying to keep Chloe out of trouble, deal with her kidney transplant without seeming to be scared of it and deal with the missing soldier who reminds him of the time he also spent being tortured, torture that changed his body permanently like diabetes changed Chloe's. Marta is trying her best to break down Chuck and keep her evil enterprise going --- the purpose: more money for her. After she discovers the GPS unit under Chuck's skin, she tries to sell it to the highest bidder, but soon realizes messing with the military might be more than she can handle.

Catherine Mann had pulled out all the stops in a hard-hitting story of American soldiers and the things they do each day to protect their country and their fellow soldiers. With several different stories going on, there is no confusion in the main players, and each man is better and more intense than the other, and each woman is strong in herself, and yet has a void in her life that only a man who loves her can fill. Strong men and independent women make DEFENDER a story of love and danger.

Everyone's story is delicately sewn together with every character shown off to their best. Mike Nunez is so often undercover there's never time for himself, until he meets Anya Surac, whose aunt Marta and their family have lived by death and destruction. Anya has left Marta and moved, but the memories of the things Marta made her do still linger, and she prefers to live alone. Marta is head of a many-tentacled operation, and since her first kill when she was thirteen, she has had no fear of giving orders and learning the deepest, darkest secrets of men's minds, and prides herself on controlling every man who works for her. Livia Cicero is the Italian pop star who invited Chloe to join the USO show, and Livia's impact on Lieutenant Colonel Scanlon is unknown. His wife died only recently, but the vibrations between these two people is something unknown to either of them; where it will take them remains to be seen.

DEFENDER is the beginning of the Dark Ops Series, with two more books to come: HOTSHOT and RENEGADE. If you love a military novel as I do, DEFENDER is a great start to a fast paced series that will help you appreciate the sacrifices to life, limb, and psyche that every soldier goes through. You'll love DEFENDER and appreciate how Chloe and Jimmy are perfect for each other in ways that are out of the ordinary.

Carolyn Crisher

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