Jill Sorenson
December 2012, Romantic Suspense
Harlequin HQN, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373777329

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

Iíve never been in an earthquake and canít even imagine how horrifying it must be to have the ground around you suddenly shift away. Aftershock is all about being in the worst kind of quake, then being trapped within a concrete chasm with some very deadly predators. It makes for an intense, exciting reading.

Lauren Boyer should be on her honeymoon enjoying a fruity, paper-umbrella-topped drink while lying on a beach. Instead, she is riding in an ambulance working on her regular shift as an emergency paramedic. She just wants to get through the day with as few reminders as possible of what should have been. Her wish comes true when a routine ride to a rescue becomes a nightmare of massive proportions as the highway she is on buckles and heaves into nothingness. When the horror of flying cars, falling bodies and shifting cement is over she is trapped in a precarious situation, unsure how she will survive.

Iraq war veteran Garrett Wright doesnít see himself as anybodyís hero. But when the earthquake hits, he begins to rescue those he can find alive. His greatest pleasure is in helping the sexy paramedic out of her teetering ambulance. Together, the two rescue a young pregnant teenager named Penny and the three join forces with Don and his granddaughter Cadence. Don and Cadence have a motor home, a fact which could become vital to the groupís survival.

As Garrett and Lauren continue their search and rescue routine they meet another group of survivors; three men sit in the back of a pickup, two enjoying an ice cold beer, the third resting after a head injury. After a few minutes conversation it is clear the men have no intention of helping make the situation better. Later that night Lauren learns why when Garrett explains that a vehicle in the far corner of their concrete cave is a prison transport van. The men prove they have no intention of playing nice when they try to attack Lauren that evening. Garrett is able to achieve a stalemate this round but it is clear he is deeply concerned about ongoing violence from this group. With Penny due any day, numerous desperately wounded patients, aftershocks keeping the ground they stand on shaky as hell, violent criminals trapped with them and their only helpers an elderly man and a young girl, it is clear to Lauren that their situation is anything but comfortable. As the minutes stretch into hours and the hours into days, what will become of them all? And why is Laurenís biggest concern her growing feelings for the man beside her?

This is a terrific, suspenseful read. It had a perfect blend of action and moments of calm which allowed for a believable romance to blossom. Lauren is everything the situation calls for. Trained in emergency care she has knowledge their little group needs and the kind of calm in the eye of a storm which is called for in this tragedy. She is tenacious, strong, resilient and clever. Garrett is her perfect match. His survival skills are coupled with common sense, creativity and ingenuity, and a willingness to take on the tough jobs. Those tough jobs include violence. He is more than willing to go toe to toe with the felons circling them. He is also practical; he knows three against one have the odds decidedly stacked in their favor. I liked that he didnít just take for granted that one former soldier is a match for a group of scum any day. He knows the men he faces are as familiar with violence as he is and is cautious in facing them.

As a couple, their shared strengths draw Lauren and Garrett together. Neither of them would enjoy coddling a weak partner and both are thrilled to find someone equally tough to share this ordeal with. Their shared values pull them toward each other as well; they are both people who serve, rescue and care for those around them. They are big at showing how they feel by how they act. I could see them together. Because the time covered in the novel is short and they are meeting under intense circumstances, I thought the HEA might be a difficult sell. But the author did a good job of showing us these how these two could make it after leaving their small environment. I especially liked that the author gave us a glimpse into what Garrett might be doing with his future. A career is an important part of who we are and for good reasons he wouldnít be the easiest person to employ, but she gives us a glimpse of what he might do and I loved it.

Garrett has a big secret which I think most readers will guess pretty easily. I liked how it was resolved. I also thoroughly enjoyed the secondary semi-romance surrounding Penny. I have my fingers crossed the author will follow up on this in another book. I may have to write her and beg.

The secondary characters were really vital to the plot here and Ms. Sorenson did a wonderful job with them. Cadence, Don and Penny, were well drawn and took up just the right amount of page space. I enjoyed getting to know them.

This is a terrific book which I am excited to be able to whole-heartedly recommend. While the first few pages may feel more like a disaster movie script than a romance novel, stick with it. By chapter two I can practically guarantee you wonít want to put it down. I read it in one sitting, anxious to get to the end. Youíll want to put this at the top of your Christmas shopping list, a gift to yourself during this busy holiday season.

-- Maggie Boyd

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