I love being a voracious reader but the hobby comes with a hidden cost, namely that you end up reading some horrible books in between the good ones. With this week filled with more than my fair share of two star books (which to me means that they are written in English, mostly grammatically correct and had promise, albeit that went unfulfilled), it was a relief to read the latest installment of Tessa Bailey’s Line of Duty series. Her books are four star all the way (rich characters, strong plot and conflict, hot sex scenes, and deftly written) and I realized I couldn’t keep her to myself any longer.
I stumbled across the first in her series, Protecting What’s His, about a month ago and was blown away by her writing, so much so that I immediately purchased the second book in the series, His Risk to Take. Wow. Gobbling that one up had me pre-ordering the third in the series, Officer Off Limits, which just came out on June 10th. The third book clinched it – Tessa Bailey has moved into my “will buy anything she writes” category!
In Protecting What’s His, we meet exhausted Chicago cop Derek Tyler, who has recently lost a good friend in the field. Exhausted and guilt ridden, he finds himself annoyed at two young women who appear to be moving in next door. He goes to tell them to pipe down already when he gets a good look. One is just a teenage girl with a unique sense of style, but the other…WOW. The body is a 10 and the face an 11 but what strikes him most of all is the fire in her eye when she tells him off for yelling at new neighbors, and in a sexy Southern accent no less.
Ginger Peet feels the heat between her and her annoying but sexy neighbor, but nothing can come of it. She pegs him as a cop long before he tells her his occupation and that alone means he’s off limits. After all, Ginger has stolen $50,000 cash from her n’er-do-well mother in order for Ginger and her teenage sister to start over in a big city and leave the violence and sordidness of their childhood behind. The last thing Ginger wants is to become like her mother, falling into bed with any guy who expresses an interest only to watch them disappear afterward. Not going to happen – even if she does have hot make out sessions with Officer Tall, Dark, and Yowza.
What struck me when I read Protecting What’s His was Bailey’s strong voice, which stands out in a field saturated with mediocre points of view. Ginger and Derek are both damaged, flawed characters, yet are drawn so empathetically that you immediately fall in love with both of them. I liked the idea of the female protagonist being from very humble beginnings and her sexual experience, combined with Derek’s need for utter dominance in the bedroom, made for a surprisingly hot combination. Ginger is inexperienced yet extremely smart and it gives her a vulnerability while never having her venture into naive territory. Derek’s possessiveness and dominance are just an extension of his personality and (thankfully) don’t go into the BDSM territory that is becoming so common it’s practically a trope in erotic romance (and P.S. publishing industry, I’m tired of it). Rich secondary characters like Ginger’s sister and a pervasive sense of humor (the Dolly Parton mannequin?) make this book a winner in every respect.
In Bailey’s second book, His Risk to Take, we see one of Derek’s coworkers, Troy Bennett, who has also been torn apart by the death of his partner, so much so that he decides to leave the Windy City for a position in the NYPD. He’s working on busting some organized crime players which is demanding work, all the while congratulating himself that he’s not attached to anyone. Troy never wants to feel that sense of loss again, so better to cultivate the lone wolf lifestyle.
Or at least that’s what he thinks until a stunning woman walks into the pub where Troy and his buddies are having a drink and all bets are off. Watching her successfully hustle a bunch of arrogant guys just makes him want to know more about her and it’s clear that she feels the heat between them as well. Now he just has to figure out how to get her home and into his bed.
Ruby Elliott personifies the lone wolf, so she has no expectations of Troy beyond her reckless decision to have a one night stand with him…and that one night just keeps going. She was taught to hustle pool from an obscenely early age and is used to danger, but Troy’s relentless pursuit is breaking down barriers she can’t afford to lower. When she finds out that there’s a connection between his investigation and some old friends of hers, she can’t help him without betraying the code she’s been raised with.
Troy and Ruby are fabulous characters and the vivid Brooklyn landscape well drawn by Bailey, who lives in the borough. I loved that Ruby’s real love was making custom pool cues; she hustled to survive but clearly had an artist’s heart for the love of her craft. Troy’s pursuit of her toward the end of the book, when Ruby doesn’t think she’s going to give him another chance, was so bittersweet and heartwarming, you can’t help but chant, “Let him, Ruby!”
Staying in NYC for the third book in the series, Officer Off Limits, Bailey focuses on Daniel Chase, a hostage negotiator taught by one of the best. His mentor, Jack Brooks, is lying in a hospital bed at the moment and Daniel realizes that he’s next in line in terms of experience. Going out to flirt with the nurse on duty, he spies an image that makes his heart stop – a gorgeous creature in a short skirt and tank top with curves to die for attempting to make a choice from a vending machine. He’s astonished and secretly delighted when she playfully shoots him down; he loves a challenge and getting this beauty into bed will be a great one. The rug is ripped out from under his feet however when she turns into Jack’s hospital room…because this is his estranged daughter from California, Story, someone who Jack makes clear is completely off limits.
Story has no desire to be another notch in this playboy’s belt and the truth is it was a relief to be called to her father’s bedside. Story’s fiancee had just broken off their engagement a mere two weeks before the wedding was to take place and this kindergarten teacher feels that some wound-licking is what the doctor ordered. That her best friend happens to be a highbrow socialite living in Manhattan makes the two weeks of staying in her dad’s apartment while visiting him in the hospital that much sweeter. Daniel proves more compelling than she could ever imagine, but how she can be experiencing real feelings for someone when she just broke up with man she supposedly loved enough to marry?
Officer Off Limits is a fantastic third book in this series. Daniel is someone who has drowned the demons of his rough childhood in both his work as a hostage negotiator and in women, but seeing how special Story is makes him want to be worthy of her. She brings out a nobility he didn’t know he had, while demonstrating to him how meaningless the sex he’s been having up to this point has been. Watching Daniel wrestle with his feelings for Story, while also watching her realize that she means more to him than just a fling, is funny and poignant, with the sex scenes out of this world hot (in the car at the end of the Mets game? OMG!!).
Tessa Bailey doesn’t have a lot on her bio page on her website, but it’s clear that she is a talent in the world of romance. That she emerged from the Entangled Publishing house is unsurprising considering their editors have a nose for finding outstanding writers. Kudos to both the author and publisher for putting out these books rapid fire within the space of a few months – it’s certainly clinched my loyalty. With hints dropped regarding sparks between Daniel’s cop friends and Story’s best friend, I for one look forward to the next book in the series!
[October 2013: check out the follow up novella to Protecting What's His in the Lovers Unmasked anthology for more Derek and Ginger!]