Hard Target (Elite Ops #1) by Kay Thomas
Publisher – Avon Books
Genre – Romantic Suspense
Release Date – November 12, 2013
The first installment in the Elite Ops series, featuring sexy ex-military men … and the women who rescue their hearts.
Former DEA agent Leland Hollis wasn’t planning on being a hero. Recovering from an injury sustained during a drug bust gone wrong and with more personal demons than he cares to admit, he wants nothing more than peace and a chance to rebuild his life. But when Anna Mercado’s crazy ex shows up wielding a baseball bat, Leland can’t ignore his instinct to help. And after her son is kidnapped, Leland agrees to deliver the ransom into dangerous territory south of the border.
Anna has no choice but to go with this stranger she’s just met if she ever wants to see her son again. But getting the boy out of a violent cartel region involves risking everything. And for that Leland will have to convince Anna to do the scariest thing of all … open her heart and trust him.
Romantic suspense is one of my favorite genres, and Kay Thomas’ Hard Target has all of the elements of this genre that appeal to me and make the Elite Ops series one I plan to follow.
Thomas has created a compelling plot with mystery, suspense, and romance that increasingly builds in complexity and tension and is chockfull of action, which made this a fast and engaging reading experience. I had a difficult time finding a stopping place because I was so eager to see what twists and turns were waiting for Leland and Anna in their endeavors to rescue Anna’s son, Zach.
DEA agent LeLand Hollis is a swoon-worthy hero, a born protector who is unable to walk away from a “damsel in distress” when he inadvertently gets in the middle of Anna’s crisis with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Max Mercado. Leland has just resigned from the DEA and is still reeling from a disastrous failed bust that has left him physically injured, emotionally scarred, and uncertain about his future. He now questions his ability to intervene and keep others safe when necessary. Although Leland struggles with how involved he should become in Anna’s predicament, his honor and sense of responsibility won’t allow him to just walk away from Anna until her son is found. Furthermore, Leland has suspicions that some of his personal enemies may somehow be involved in the kidnapping of Anna’s son.
Anna Mercado is a wonderful, devoted mother to her gravely ill son, Zach and is willing to do whatever is necessary to find him and get him the medical attention he needs. I was even surprised by the lengths she’s willing to go to so her son can live longer. Her unconditional love is just one reason Leland becomes attracted to her since he didn’t have that same kind of love growing up.
Although Anna is aware that her husband wants her dead, both she and Leland aren’t certain that Max is behind Zach’s kidnapping after Anna gets a ransom note. Leland turns to Gavin, his former DEA partner who has just started his own personal security business for help. One of the best aspects of the book is following Leland and Anna as they journey deep into Mexican cartel country to find Zach and discover who is behind his abduction. Although Thomas subtly foreshadows the abductor’s motivations, the truth is still almost too shocking to fathom.
In the midst of all this danger, Leland and Anna turn to each other for physical and emotional comfort. Although neither one plans for any serious attachments, their attraction and need for each other continue to grow as the story progresses. There are a few steamy love scenes that show two desperate people clinging to each other for hope when they feel their world is crumbling all around them.
Thomas introduces readers to other characters who are part of Gavin’s security company and who will play key roles as the series develops. In addition, she sets up the next storyline before the resolution of Hard Target that has piqued my curiosity, and I’m anxiously waiting for Nick’s story, which is next – and based on the excerpt I read, it looks good!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
4.5 shining suns
This is a scene from the first chapter of HARD TARGET where the heroine, Anna Mercado, overhears her estranged husband, Max, talking on the phone.
“Take Zach from the party before the guests arrive. We won’t dump her body until the designated time. It’s all been arranged.”
Anna stopped in the doorway of the Presidential suite, her husband’s words abruptly penetrating her lust-fogged brain.
“No, I’m not worried. Haven’t you heard? Mexico is the land of vicious drug cartels and random violence. My wife will be a sad statistic.”
Was this a dream?
She felt the cold Italian marble beneath her bare feet and recognized Max’s voice in the adjoining room, but she didn’t wake up. The seductive words he had whispered moments earlier on the beach still resonated in her head.
The only thing I want you to wrap yourself around is me.
She’d come up immediately when Julia had volunteered to get Zach and the cousins’ meals from the hotel’s beach grill. But on the way to the room she’d been calling herself all kinds of a fool. She and Max were on the verge of officially separating even though they’d been living apart for several months. The counseling wasn’t working. Having sex was a terrible idea. Even comfort sex.
Yet he’d been so attentive, so different on this trip. So anxious to please her, while keeping his temper completely in check. Last week she’d been considering which attorney to use in a divorce. Now she was just grateful she was standing here overhearing his phone conversation in the next room.
Her thoughts raced and her blood chilled, but her feet were glued to the imported floor. She stared across the opulent suite’s living room to the open balcony doors. The heir to the Mercado Tequila fortune settled for nothing less than the finest, even when planning his family’s demise.
An ocean breeze blew through the room, ruffling her hair like a playful lover. The Gulf of Mexico was just as blue as it had been ten minutes ago when Max kissed her on the sand, yet everything had changed. She was listening to her husband order their son’s kidnapping and her murder.
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I didn’t grow up burning to be a writer. As a child I wasn’t even much of a reader until fourth grade. That’s when I was stuck at home with the flu and my big sister read THE BLACK STALLION aloud to me. For hours I was enthralled—shipwrecked in a foreign land and riding an untamed horse across the hot desert sand. Then tragedy struck. My sister lost her voice. (I think she caught my flu.) But I couldn’t wait to hear what happened to Alec Ramsey—so I picked up that book, finished reading it by myself, and went in search of more adventures at the local library. Today I live in Dallas with my husband, our two children, and a shockingly-spoiled Boston terrier.
My next novel will be published with Avon Impulse in November 2013. HARD TARGET is the first installment in a three-book romantic suspense series titled ELITE OPS, featuring sexy ex-military men…and the women who rescue their hearts. For excerpts, book trailers, and more—visit my website at www.KayThomas.net
I can also be found online at Facebook. www.facebook.com/KayThomasWrites
How did you first get into writing?
I loved to read but never thought about being a writer until I was married with a three-year-old daughter at home and…losing my mind.
In college I had had an amazing English Literature professor, Dr. Joe Stockwell. He taught me about writing tight and gave me a real love of beautiful language, but I’d never tried fiction until I signed up for a fun ed class at a local community college, seventeen years later.
I took that course as something to do just for me, and a romance writer taught it. I had been reading romance for a while, but I’d never considered trying to write anything beyond a journal.
The first day of class the teacher said, “If you can walk next door to the fun ed pottery class that’s starting and be happy, go do that right now. Writing is hard stuff and difficult to stop once you start. You’ll be happier in the long run if you do something different.”
How’s that for a pep talk? Not a one of us left the writing class, and I’m awfully glad I didn’t “go next door,” but for a long time I had no idea what she’d meant.
All that time I had kept up with Joe Stockwell (the college English professor I mentioned earlier). When I finished my first manuscript (several years after the fun ed class), Joe read my work and helped me with editing and revisions before I submitted to agents and editors. He worked on my second manuscript, too. Joe turned 88 this year and I dedicated HARD TARGET in part to him.
Why did you choose to write romance?
I enjoy reading and writing about relationships. Initially, I was writing straight suspense because plot has always come easier for me. As I learned more about the craft of writing, I realized I was just as interested in the characters’ relationships as what was happening around them.
When I read (see a movie or hear any kind of story) I prefer happy endings, and despite the body count in some romantic suspense novels, the stories always end with a happily ever after moment. I love that no matter how dark and dire the circumstances, when you read a romance, you know everything is going to end up okay. Today, with so much uncertainty in our world, I believe it’s a huge comfort to readers to escape into a book they KNOW is going to end well.
Describe Leland Hollis—what do you love most about him? And Anna?
I love that he is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Anna safe, even if it means driving her away. Her safety is far more important to him than her thinking he is a nice guy. When the book opens Leland is rethinking a lot of things in his life. He’s disillusioned with the career path he’s chosen and knows that he doesn’t have all the answers. Basically, he’s looking for redemption and finds it in helping Anna and her son. That kind of searching humility is very appealing to me and the whole badass-southern-boy-with-a-heart-of-mush persona makes me melt.
For Anna, I like that she’ll do whatever it takes to protect the people she loves, even putting herself in tremendous jeopardy. But she doesn’t do that in a heroine-that’s-too-stupid-to-live way, but in a their-lives-and-well-being-are-more-important-to-me-than-my-own way. I am in awe of that kind of selflessness.
What significance does the military play in the book?
Several years before the book opens Leland serves in the Army, in Afghanistan. He then joins the DEA. As Hard Target begins he has just written his resignation letter to the DEA after testifying in civil court about a drug bust that has gone horribly wrong.
If you could describe your book in a 140 character tweet, what would it be?
It’s a toss-up between these two:
A DEA agent, a drug cartel vendetta & a beautiful woman. What could go wrong? Mexico, kidnapping & murder. HARD TARGET by @KayThomasWrites
Mexico, kidnapping & murder in HARD TARGET: Elite Ops Book 1 by @KayThomasWrites. Sexy ex-military men & the women who rescue their hearts.
Is there a particular author or book that has influenced your writing?
Many books have shaped my writing, but the one I still remember reading for the first time and thinking how-did-they-do-that was Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle. I loved how Ludlum wove everything together, turning it upside down and on its ear before you reached the conclusion. The Matarese Circle was the first book I stayed up reading till 4am as a teenager. For those reasons, I’d have to say Ludlum was my first and greatest influence in terms of suspense and plot twists.
The first romance I remember reading and having really strike a cord with me was Jude Deveraux’s Knight in Shining Armor. I was newly married when I read that story and I adored Deveraux’s descriptions of the time period, the time travel, and— of course—the amazing hero, Nicholas.
What advice would you give aspiring writers looking to get into the publishing industry?
Don’t give up on your dreams. When those rejections come (and they will…it happens to everyone) send out another query or request immediately. Then go have that chocolate bar, glass of wine, long hot bath, or all of the above to soothe the hurt feelings. I’ve always thought that I got published initially because I was too stubborn to give up.
What can fans of HARD TARGET look forward to next?
Book 2 in the Elite Ops series (working title: Personal Target) is about a case of mistaken identity and a very personal vendetta against former SEAL/CIA operative, Nick Donovan. From Dallas to Mexico, across the African Savanna, to the shores of the Mediterranean‑it’s a race against time for Nick to save the woman he loves but lost years before.
AUTHOR CONTACT LINKS:
Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/KayThomasWrites
Twitter address: www.Twitter.com/KayThomasWrites @KayThomasWrites
Amazon Author page: amazon.com/author/kaythomas
Three ebook copies of Hard Target from the publisher
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a Nook Simple Touch Glowlight (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/p/nook-simple-touch-with-glowlight-barnes-noble/1108046469