Series: Outbreak Task Force

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.

Viable Threat by Julie Rowe

Viable Threat by Julie RoweViable Threat by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force, #1
Published by Entangled Publishing (Select Suspense) on May 22nd 2017
Pages: 393
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Special Forces soldier and medic Walter River would give anything to snatch more than a few seconds of down time to see if he can rattle the no-nonsense and incredibly hot Dr. Lloyd he's protecting, but dodging explosions, snipers, and student radicals who've unleashed a lethal bio-engineered microorganism have made that almost impossible. Maybe he'll get a chance—if he can figure out how to keep them both alive.
CDC microbiologist Ava Lloyd races to find a cure for a bio-terrorism organism sweeping El Paso. The few stolen moments with her very hunky bodyguard River have been explosive, but no matter how alluring he is, she can't afford to get distracted. The clock is ticking, people are dying by the hundreds, and once this crisis is solved, they'll both be off on their next assignment, thousands of miles apart.

I think Julie Rowe has written a winner with this one. ‘Viable Threat’ is thrilling, heart-pounding, a fast-paced ride that whisks you through the tense situation of a sudden outbreak and a series of attacks in the city that point to biological terrorism. And in the maelstrom, a Special Forces soldier and a microbiologist join forces to help contain it and get to ground zero, but the journey ahead is fraught with nothing but danger and minefields.

There’s also a lot of arguing over territory, conflicting agendas and hidden motives as the ugly politics of emergency management come to the fore…while bodies drop like flies during a plague. As dry as this bit of the conflict can be, Rowe handles it well, with way more realism than I expected and throws in more than a spicy dash of conspiracy theories and odd, but not unwelcome bits of humour that kept me wide-eyed and entertained.

That’s the beauty of fast-paced action and suspense in the RS genre when done right. But the characters as well as the protagonists ground the story, so strongly-crafted and so memorable that they’ll probably stay in my mind for a long time. A side-note here: the Drill Sergeant gets my vote as a fan favourite, by the way.

But River and Ava stole the show completely. River was serious and confident when he needed to be, quietly flirtatious with his ‘mouse’ in a way that made me laugh, unfailingly loyal when given his orders to stick by Ava yet never quite overstepping his boundaries as he defers to her—a rare quality in any case, matched only by his atypical appearance that isn’t quite what the usual RS hero looks like. I loved how competent they both were without the necessary posturing and their partnership—as put together as it is—did seem like a good, solid one that will outlast this outbreak.

There’s no dancing around their attraction or silly games because the stakes are too high for anything else. Battling the sudden outbreak takes priority and everything else fades into the background for now, which is what both characters do, dedicated as they are to their jobs. Yet bonds are forged in risky, life-and-death-type situations and Ava/River’s growing loyalty to each other is no less reminiscent of the brotherhood formed among soldiers who go to war together. It’s an added dimension to the usual physical and emotional connection that most readers crave for in romances and with this unshakeable bond forming in times of emergency, ‘Viral Justice’ gives this burgeoning relationship depth, but it’s compressed so much within this short time span (just over 24 hours) that made me wonder if it’s merely adrenaline and sexual tension sparking between them.

The somewhat rushed conclusion aside, Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force is going to be a series I’ll be keeping an eye on—if the sequels are going to be anything like this explosive thriller, I’m down for the count.