I read and liked Karina Bliss’ What The Librarian Did and had every intention of reading more books by her – and here we are three years after the fact and I finally am. This is what happens when you have more books than good sense. Oh, and an addiction to category romance that routinely gets fed every month when Harlequin publishes a bazillion new titles. So here I am reading the fourth book in Bliss’ series featuring a group of SAS (Special Forces in the New Zealand Army) officers who survive an ambush in Afghanistan. A Prior Engagement features Lee Davis, the man everybody thought was dead – including his “fiancee.”
After nearly two years in captivity, Lee has been rescued by American forces that raided a remote Taliban outpost. Everybody thought he was dead – thanks to DNA that was taken from a recovered severed finger. His father died, thinking his youngest son was dead. His three SAS buddies (featured in previous books, naturally) grieved for him, and eventually found ways to move on. His older brother and sister were devastated. But through it all, as she grieved, the rock keeping everyone grounded was Juliet “Jules” Browne – the woman that Lee told his buddies he was going to marry. So when they found a ring among his personal effects? They gave it to her. They needed her to accept it. And she did. For everybody’s sake. The fly in the ointment? The ring is a lie.
Lee returns from the dead to realize everybody has moved on and that the woman who broke his heart has been playing the grieving almost-widow. Oh, he proposed to Jules right before his deployment and she told him she “needed time.” She didn’t believe in him, in them. She turned down his marriage proposal. And now she has the gall to traipse into his life, ingratiate herself to his friends, look after his father during the man’s last days? It galls, to say the least.
This is one of those stories where the author does a really good job of getting the reader inside her characters’ heads. I “got” why Lee thought the way he thought. I “got” why Jules made the choices she made. Doesn’t mean I still don’t want to bitch-slap them both into next week for, at least, the first half of this story. Lee is so blinded by his anger that he cannot stop to think what it must have been like for Jules. Tell a man proposing that the relationship is moving too fast and then WHAMO! He’s dead. Yeah, that won’t mess with a girl’s mind. Instead he feigns amnesia to rope Jules into a “trap,” to make her pay for all her lies. And Jules? Yeah, I know the guy has been held captive by the Taliban for two years, but seriously – the fact that she doesn’t fess up immediately is brain-bleed inducing.
But, like I said, I do understand why both of these characters make idiotic, hurtful choices. Jules, in part, because of her track record and screwed up childhood; Lee because, well, he’s been a POW for two years. And the fact that neither is honest with the other upfront? Oh, the angst! It makes for a delicious, heart-wrenching, angsty first half.
This book makes a name for itself in the second half, though. Lee has to admit he’s been deceiving Jules, and Jules needs to come clean about the lie she’s been living for the last two years. Then, of course, there’s the small matter of Lee having to deal with the fallout of his captivity. I love that the author doesn’t gloss over that. Lee is not the same man he was before and a happy ending with Jules isn’t like a magical Band-Aid that makes him “all better.”
Even though this is a fourth book in a series, it stands alone fairly well. There are a multitude of secondary characters though, and all the happy, shiny couple stuff does get a little too cutesy-wootsy for me in the final chapter. However, fans already invested in the series will likely love every mushy moment of it – and I tend to be Little Miss Crabby Pants about such things, so take that for what it’s worth.
In the end this is an enjoyable, emotionally gutting read with oodles of angst and characters both real and frustrating all at the same time. If you love damaged military heroes and romances where you’re convinced the author is trying to rip your heart out? Look no further.
Summary:He’s back from the dead, on a new mission… because two can play her game!After two years as a POW presumed dead, SAS soldier Lee Davis is finally going home. Back to his family, friends and…fiancée? He doesn’t have a fiancée…the night before his last deployment, Juliet Browne rejected his proposal. That makes the sight of her playing the grieving almost-wife beyond infuriating. Feigning amnesia, Lee decides to put Juliet’s “commitment” to the test.Yet tormenting her conscience isn’t as easy as Lee thought it would be. Juliet’s still the woman whose memory got him through the worst of his captivity and her actions now prove she cares-a lot. And despite her betrayal, he needs her more than ever. Because Lee is beginning to realize that for him, Juliet is home
Other books in this series: