Linda Howard & Linda Jones
Genre: romantic suspense
Sex scenes: mild
Carlin Reed is on the run – again. For the past year, she’s been moving from place to place, working cash-in-hand, keeping her head down so she can stay off the radar and out of the hands of Brad Henderson. What was two innocent if slightly boring dates on her part became a fully-fledged obsession on Brad’s as he becomes convinced that Carlin belongs to him. When a friend dies in her place, Carlin knew that no matter where she ran or where she hid, Brad, the cop and computer-expert, would always find her.
Zeke needs a new cook – again. Libby moved out several months ago after years of service and ever since, none of her replacements have been right. He has laundry up to his ears, no clean underwear and the chilling prospect of Spencer’s cooking three times a day – only marginally better than his own, which is the only reason that Spencer has been saddled with that burden. Zeke needs a new cook and housekeeper fast – before they all get food poisoning.
Carlin had only stopped in the small town of Battle Ridge for something to eat, but a slice of cherry pie later and she finds herself with a job, place to sleep at night and a new friend – much more than she had ever expected. Kat needs another pair of hands to help her out and so is willing to keep Carlin’s secret; in an instant, Carlin becomes Carly Hunt so that no one in Battle Ridge knows any better.
Kat knows just how desperately her cousin Zeke needs someone a new cook and while Carlin is only learning, she can already do miles better than poor Spencer. Zeke doesn’t want to take the risk of hiring on a pretty, unattached woman like Carly in case his men lose their heads over her like with the last remotely-attractive female he hired, but when his situation takes a turn for the worse, Zeke can’t beg fast enough.
Yes, Carlin will work for Zeke – on her terms or nothing. Right now, he needs her more than she needs him and Carlin has no qualms about walking out and leaving him helpless if it comes to it. Much against his better instincts, Zeke finds himself installing new locks throughout his house, paying his newest employee in cash and following Carlin’s every command for the sake of clean clothes and three hot meals a day. He knows she’s in big trouble and that she’ll be leaving in Spring, but as the months pass and their living together becomes a comfortable routine, both come to dread the blossoming of the new year and her inevitable departure. Carlin doesn’t want to keep running and Zeke doesn’t think she should have to live in fear for the rest of her life; who will get their way?
This was undoubtedly a cross between Linda Howard’s Duncan’s Bride with any of her other romantic suspenses and I loved it. Duncan’s Bride along with Mackenzie’s Pleasure share the privilege of being my favourite Linda Howard novels and Running Wild comes very close to breaking into the party. This was another book that I bought after being rejected from NetGalley, so again, it’s their loss of a positive review.
I have some mixed feelings about Carlin. For some reason, I feel compelled to think that there’s an element of TSTL about her, but I can’t really pinpoint why. Yes, she’s strong, courageous, has been through more than anyone should have to and her time on the run has forced her into a lifestyle that no one should be made to take, but I just want her to stop running and fight back. I’m not one to talk since I’d probably be terrified and do the same thing if I were in Carlin’s shoes, but that’s not the point and since I’m currently lacking the eloquence needed to get to the point that I’m wanting to make, I’m just going to stop now. On a positive note, it was good to see her blossom with Kat and then in Zeke’s household. It was funny watching her learn to cook and slowly relax amongst this bunch of guys who start to become a family to her. Carlin’s far from perfect, but I her good points thankfully outweigh the bad ones.
Zeke is wonderful. Linda Howard has a tendency to write uber-alpha-heroes that can be a little too testosterone-charged to be convincing, but she got Zeke right. Yes, he’s demanding, mean when he needs to be, amazing in bed and is very adamant when he wants something, but none of his alpha characteristics are overpowering in any way. He’s adorably sweet when it comes to protecting Carlin and knows that pushing her on the matter of Brad will only serve to alienate her further. It did annoy me a lot when he then went over her head and did some investigating of his own, but I can forgive him for it.
As a baddie, I thought Brad was kinda pathetic. I can understand that this sort of stalker-obsession-situation does occur in real life, but I would think that it’s fairly rare and so Brad’s actions and frame of mind were just hard to understand. Granted, it may be a little difficult to get inside the head of a crazy, murdering stalker, but despite the various scenes from his perspective, I just don’t think that I was able to understand him better. I get that I’m supposed to want him locked up and that I’m not supposed to psychoanalyse him, but it is nice to be able to understand the reasons behind why villains do what they do.
Running Wild is supposed to be part of a series and so I’ll be interested to read what I assume will be Kat’s story. Given that Linda Howard doesn’t actually have a website (completely true, I kid you not) it’s a little difficult to find out any information about upcoming releases and so my theory is a completely guess. Kat is a great character and small as it is, Battle Ridge is an interesting town so I’d love to go back for more.
I have to talk about the cover. I have no idea how I ended up with the cover at the top of the page when the one to the left is the one that comes up in all the searches, no matter where I look. To be honest, I bought it so long ago on pre-order that I have no idea which one I was expecting to get, but I can’t believe that this is the one I get in the UK. Not that there’s anything wrong normally with getting a half-naked cover, except from the fact that this cover in particular is too photoshopped for my liking, it’s just that I’d expect to get the more PG-rated one as shown on the left considering how UK covers have a tendency to be more … demure, if it’s possible to even use that word in relation to romance novel book covers. Anyway, ramble over.
I liked this book. Nowhere in the league of Duncan’s Bride or Mackenzie’s Pleasure, but I wasn’t expecting it to be and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. Most of Linda Howard’s more recent books have been heavy on the romantic suspense and mystery and so it was nice to have a bit more romance in the mix than has been the case. Yes, there were flaws with the characters and the book, but Linda Howard is generally one of those authors that I forgive for such transgressions because she’s written some works that I love so much. Please let there be more.
Images: half-naked cover, checked shirt cover