Smoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie RoweSmoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #2
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on February 26th 2018
Pages: 402
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Someone scratched a death threat in the paint of CDC nurse Kini Kerek’s rental car. She’s in Utah researching Hantavirus, but damaging rumors about the CDC have left residents suspicious and uncooperative. Thank goodness for hot, sexy, former soldier Smoke, a man of few words, who’s assigned to protect and help her navigate the isolated desert town as she races to identify a deadly virus before more people die.

Memories from the combat zone leave ex-Special Forces soldier Lyle Smoke in a constant state of battle readiness, and he finds no solace, even after returning home to Small Blind. When he meets Kini Kerek, he discovers his heart isn’t entirely dead. But, that might not last long, because this outbreak is no mistake, and he’ll need to use all his survival skills gleaned from the military and his Native American upbringing to keep him and the beautiful, but secretive, Kini alive.

Romantic fiction that brings biological warfare to the forefront is rare and Julie Rowe’s suspense series about soldiers, invisible but scary threats and doctors/nurses fighting to stop an outbreak always stood out because of their unique subject matter. Well, that and how the first few chapters of her recent books actually have the ability to tip the reader straight into a mystery waiting to be solved and a thrilling ride that pulls together conspiracy theory, medical science and law enforcement.

From the very start when Smoke first glided into the series as a mysterious, near-silent soldier, I knew I wanted his story. Yet Smoke barely lost his enigmatic cover and with a tragic past that was only briefly mentioned, ’Smoke and Mirrors’ started out as a straight up terse, tension-filled ride as Smoke and Kini rushed to uncover how widespread an infection had become in a claustrophobic and hostile small town. Still, a potent, deadly mix of hysteria and confusion that eventually turned into bloodlust made for engrossing reading, and like Kini and Smoke, the confusion and apparent connections between the seemingly unrelated incidents in town didn’t come together for me until the very end when the true monsters emerge. While I liked the action however, it seemed inconceivable that the crazy, superstitious town people leaped to any kind of conclusion (inexplicably ending up with fingers pointed at Smoke) like medieval folk to the point where it almost didn’t make logical sense.

There’s no doubt that Rowe handled the suspense superbly and the twists and turns in the narrative were sufficient hooks to keep the pages turning. The connection between Kini and Smoke however, was harder to get into (with some instalove going on as everything took place within a few days), despite the huge zing of attraction that Rowe wrote into the very bizarre first scene of them waking up together in bed. How believable is it for someone to climb into bed not noticing another person already in it? In any case, with a romance built on this weird foundation and growing too quickly in a short time—Kini and Smoke literally spent the whole time changing vehicles, zipping from place to place—the pairing looked like an incidental feature of the suspense, and the sex that happened down in the bare, hard dirt when Kini was badly injured and fatigued to the point of passing out felt more far-fetched than bedsheet-scorching (there weren’t even any).

That said, I did like both protagonists however; Kini was, quite literally, a ball-buster and Smoke was so cool and deadly—who catnaps in jail after being falsely convicted of murder?—that they could have been a solid pair if they’d been given more time for the burn between them to sizzle apart from the constant flurry of action that gave no one any time to literally breathe.

‘Smoke and Mirrors’, like the rest of Rowe’s books, is only loosely connected to the rest of the series, and functions perfectly as a standalone. I did miss seeing the other couples who’d found their HEA in previous books though, despite some familiar characters turning up, but there really little for me to stand on here, especially when Rowe always leaves me dazzled but chilled by the end of her story.

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