Personal Target: An Elite Ops Novel by Kay Thomas
Publication Date: July 29, 2014/ 384 pgs
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Genre: Romantic Suspense
AEGIS: an elite team of ex-military men working under the radar of most governments. If you have a problem no one else can handle, they can help.
A former SEAL and Black Ops specialist who left the CIA, Nick Donovan gave up a life on the edge to work in the private sector. But that didn’t stop his enemies from coming after him—or his family. In a case of mistaken identity, a drug cartel kidnaps his sister-in-law’s best friend … a woman from Nick’s past.
One minute Jennifer Grayson is housesitting and the next she’s abducted to a foreign brothel. Jennifer is planning her escape when her first “customer” arrives. Nick, the man who broke her heart years ago, has come to her rescue. Now, as they race for their lives, passion for each other reignites and old secrets resurface. Can Nick keep the woman he loves safe against an enemy with a personal vendetta?
“Everything is not always as it appears.” –Ernesto Vega, Personal Target
I found this quote spoken by one of the main antagonists to be quite accurate in encapsulating the plot of Personal Target. Thomas takes the hero, Nick Donovan and Jennifer Grayson, the woman he’s determined to protect down a thrilling, dangerous path that is filled with suspenseful action and a bit of mystery as they face down Mexican cartels, human traffickers, and a barrage of violence launched their way at every twist and turn. Needless to say, these characters don’t get much of a reprieve throughout the entirety of the book. When they aren’t dealing with these external conflicts, each is battling an inner struggle with the unresolved feelings still lingering for the other after ten years apart. Just when Nick and Jennifer think they are beginning to understand the broad scope of what’s going on, secrets are revealed that have them reconsidering everything they thought was true.
Nick is one of the AEGIS agents who was part of the action in the first book, Hard Target, and at that time, I was intrigued by his character and the mystery of his backstory, so I was excited when I learned he would be featured in this second installment of the series. At the end of the first book, Nick was in a precarious situation, and readers were left wondering what would happen to him. Personal Target picks up right after the resolution of book one, and takes readers into Nick’s private life and his worries and concerns over his family’s safety, since Tomas Rivera and Ernesto Vega, leaders of two major Mexican cartels are out for revenge after AEGIS invaded their corrupt world to rescue a woman and her son. In the aftermath of the violence and destruction from this last mission, the cartels have formed a tenuous alliance to seek justice, and Nick has become a target for their vengeance. Although I think you could follow the story on its own, I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series. Both books are well-written, sexy page turners with just the right blend of romance, mystery, and action.
Nick is a former SEAL and CIA agent who joined AEGIS, a private security firm after he noticed that his working environment had contributed to the emotional numbness that now defines him, and he fears he may never be able to be come back from it and feel normal again. Thomas has created a great hero in Nick’s character, one who’s honorable, cool under fire, a quick thinker under pressure, and very persuasive in the most dubious of circumstances. He’s also fiercely protective of the ones he loves, and once he discovers his family has been personally targeted, he’s determined to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe. One of his greatest fears is that his loved ones will suffer because of the work he does, and that fear is realized when his former love is kidnapped and sent to a Mexican brothel because of a case of mistaken identity. No matter his conflicting feelings for the woman who disappeared from his life and married another man years ago, his loyalty to her is unwavering. Nick will do whatever it takes to get her back, with or without AEGIS’s assistance.
Jennifer just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a quick grab and snatch places her in right smack in the prostitution capital of Mexico. Held captive and forced to work in the brothel where she’s held, she realizes Nick, the man who walked away from her long ago, may be the only one who can save her now. Nick’s spur of the moment rescue attempt brings her right back into his arms, and she’s not so sure she’s comfortable with that anymore. Her reluctance to let him back into her life and desire to escape his offer of protection led me to believe she’s has secrets she doesn’t want Nick to know about. Besides the great action scenes, the mystery of what caused the abrupt end to Nick and Jennifer’s romance captured my interest and wouldn’t let go until I learned the truth.
In the interim, their reunion arouses all those dormant feelings they had thought long forgotten. When Nick and Jennifer are together, it’s obvious their attraction for each other hasn’t faded the least bit, and this scares both of them. While it would be so easy for them to just go their separate ways, rather than deal with the emotional turmoil of being around each other, Nick is honor bound to keep Jennifer safe when it becomes obvious someone is targeting her as well for some reason that has yet to be disclosed. Unfortunately, Jennifer doesn’t make it easy for Nick to protect her. However, when she’s not trying to run away from him, their passion slowly rekindles, and the intimate scenes between them are sensual but not overly graphic in description. I also like the fact that Thomas carefully places the few love scenes between this couple in places where they have a brief respite from the looming danger, and it is actually believable that they can lower their guard for just a little while to reconnect physically.
As I read the story, I had mixed feelings about Jennifer. She’s stubborn and naively believes that after her kidnapping she can just pick up and resume her life as if nothing has happened. She lets her emotions rule over logic. Her connection to Nick and now the cartels have placed her life in danger, and even though she keeps getting attacked, she refuses to believe anyone would have any interest in her. She naively thinks if she can just keep her distance from Nick, then she’ll be left alone. At times, her actions frustrated me and I just wanted to yell at her to get her head out of the sand and accept her new reality. Furthermore, when Jennifer does finally get the nerve to tell Nick the truth about the secrets she’s been keeping from him, I had a hard time empathizing with her situation, and I could completely understand why Nick feels so betrayed and his reluctance to forgive her. On the other hand, even though Nick is devastated by Jennifer’s revelations, ironically, her truth begins to poke a hole in the numbness that surrounds Nick’s heart. I think Jennifer’s character and her present and past actions would make for a great book discussion. Needless to say, she’s not one of my favorite heroines, but that’s okay because she’s a complex flawed character who can’t easily have a label affixed to her.
Through Nick and Jennifer’s journey, Thomas takes us from Texas to Mexico, and then to a remote region of Africa, and she uses great description to help give readers a sense of each setting. She also brings awareness to the ongoing and increasing worldwide problem of human trafficking. She explores themes of trust and betrayal and the power of love to overcome the bleakest of situations.
Although Thomas provides a satisfying resolution to Nick and Jennifer’s story, the larger plot has gotten much more complicated and left me wondering about the stability of AEGIS and exactly who else may also be involved in attempting to sabotage the firm. Is there a traitor in the mix? Although the larger plot is still evolving and I’m still not sure of what the end game is, Thomas has given me plenty of incentive to want to continue the series.
Source: I purchased an ecopy of this book
“You’re just trying to scare me,” Jennifer said. “The area of Niger I’m travelling to is perfectly safe. I’ll be fine. What gives you the right to have a say in what goes on in my life anyway? Where I go and what I do is none of your business. Africa has got to be better than staying here where I was kidnapped, shot at, and burned out. We’ve hired Tuareg guards for the digs. They’re excellent at security. I’ve gotten all the approvals from the Niger authorities.”
“Which means you’ll be fine unless someone tries to take over the government, which seems to be happening in that country every other month.”
Arguing with him was pointless, and the only other option—not going—was unthinkable. She didn’t answer as he pulled into the driveway of her small rent house. The pansies she’d planted out front by the porch steps as therapy a week ago were wilting in the unusual Texas December heat, a visual aid for how she felt herself.
Nick turned off the ignition. “I’m not trying to scare you. I’m just trying to show you this situation in a realistic light. The cartels control anything and everything they want over there.”
He was out of the car and opening her door before she realized it. How could he argue and display those impeccable manners that melted her at the same time? She grabbed her keys and slung her trashed purse over her shoulder, cross-body style.
He touched her elbow as he stood beside her. “Local governments are too overwhelmed to notice, even if they had the manpower to fight it. The European drug market is exploding, and West Africa supplies over a quarter of the product. It’s hell on earth there and certainly not safe.”
“Why in the world would they care about me?” She walked away from him, climbing the porch steps and moving to open the front door. “I’m not anyone important.”
He sighed. “A person’s influence, whether great or small, doesn’t matter. You’re an American. That makes you newsworthy and a target for robbery, kidnapping, publicity for their ‘cause,’ or for human trafficking.”
She crossed her arms and stood at the front door, glaring at him. She couldn’t back down, not now, even if everything he said was true. She’d just be extremely careful. Paleo-Niger and the Foundation had excellent safety protocols in place. She’d be fine.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I just want to get inside my house and put on my own clothes. I appreciate your getting me out of Mexico. Really, I do. But your work is done. Go spend the holiday with your family. I don’t want you in my life.” That seemed harsh. And yes, it was a bald-faced lie, but she was going with it.
“I’m back, I’m home. I’m safe. I’m fine. And I’m leaving, so I won’t be any more trouble to you. I’m starting a new life, just like you did when you joined the Navy. We have nothing to do with each other anymore. Can’t you let me go?” She hadn’t meant to say that last part. Hadn’t meant to reveal quite so much.
“No, I can’t. I never wanted—” He stopped talking abruptly, as if to keep himself from saying more.
“I still think you’re just trying to scare me,” she muttered under her breath, deliberately misunderstanding him. She was not having this conversation. She couldn’t. Not now when she was so close to a clean getaway. Talking about this would lead to her telling him everything, when she was moments from never having to tell him anything.
She put her key in the lock, determined to go inside and shut the door behind her. But a key wasn’t necessary. The door swung open of its own accord.
Copyright © 2014 by Kay Thomas. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Kay Thomas didn’t grow up burning to be a writer. She wasn’t even much of a reader until fourth grade. That’s when her sister readThe Black Stallion aloud to her. For hours Kay was enthralled—shipwrecked and riding an untamed horse across desert sand. Then tragedy struck. Her sister lost her voice. But Kay couldn’t wait to hear what happened in the story—so she picked up that book, finished reading it herself, and went in search of more adventures at the local library.
Today Kay lives in Dallas with her husband, two children, and a shockingly spoiled Boston terrier. Her award-winning novels have been published internationally.
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