A somber slow burn romance with a touch of suspense, Defending Zara is a solid addition to the series. This very much reads like a Susan Stoker romance – it features a gentle alpha ready for commitment, a battered but not broken heroine, a connection that deepens as the story goes on, and suspense that culminates in an action-packed conclusion. However, this also had a heavy, serious first half that focuses on the hardships our heroine has faced, making it a little heartbreaking as well (plenty of triggers with this one).
The story follows Zara, a woman who has spent the last 15 years posing as a teenage boy to avoid unwanted attention from men. She lives on the streets in Peru, with only the barest of necessities and a daily experience that’s completely unlike what she would’ve had back home in the States. When she encounters Meat (yes, this is a nickname, but that’s what he goes by for the whole book so I’m sticking to it), he’s injured and barely able to function. Though she’s wary of all men, something about Meat makes Zara feel safe, and he trusts her to take care of him. It’s not long before the tables are turned and it’s Zara who must trust in Meat to care for her as they slowly build from strangers to friends to lovers.
Stoker’s writing is as solid as ever, and fans of the series are likely to enjoy this book immensely. Personally, I found the first half difficult to get into – it is just so focused on the atrocities that Zara faced that it was pretty heavy. Once the story moved into the second act, I found it much easier to enjoy. Meat is such a tender, caring, and patient man that it was easy to root for him and Zara. He’s definitely got some alpha tendencies, but I didn’t feel like they overpowered the story. And the ending sets up the next book in a big way, giving readers a hint of what they’re in store for. I received an ARC and am voluntarily leaving a review of this suspenseful romance.
Release date: March 3rd
For a Mountain Mercenary and a desperate woman, love becomes a dangerous refuge in New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker’s novel of heart-gripping suspense.
Mountain Mercenary Hunter “Meat” Snow has a mission: eliminate the human traffickers scouring the barrios of Lima for vulnerable prey. But it’s Meat who’s taken down. Separated from his team and beaten within an inch of his life, he’s left for dead. When he wakes, it’s to the intimate care of a beautiful stranger who knows all about survival.
Zara Layne was a child when a brutal murder left her orphaned and abandoned in Peru. Ever since, she’s fended for herself on the streets, outrunning its predators. Trusting men is not in Zara’s blood…until it warms to the exhilarating touch of the wounded hero who promises deliverance. As each other’s rescuers, they return to Colorado for a new normal.
But when Meat disappears, Zara discovers how ruthless the past can be. With the help of the loyal Mercenaries, she’s drawing on her own skills of endurance to find him. And for Zara, there’s no danger great enough to come between her and the man she loves.