He was a haven in the midst of Hell…
Temporarily assigned to the Shadow Squadron in a troubled region of Afghanistan, Chief Warrant Officer and pilot Leah Mackenzie is no stranger to conflict -- even if most of her physical and emotional scars are courtesy of her vicious ex. Still, she's got a bad feeling about picking up a team of stranded SEALs. A feeling that's all too justified once enemy fire hits their helicopter and all hell breaks loose…
SEAL Kell Ballard's goal was to get the injured pilot out of harm's way and find shelter deep in the labyrinth of caves. It's a place of dark intimacy, where Leah finds unexpected safety in a man's arms. Where prohibited attraction burns brightly. And where they'll hide until the time comes to face the enemy outside…and the enemy within their ranks.
Another fantastic Shadow Warriors book that kept me glued to the pages until I finished it. Leah is a helicopter pilot filling in for an injured pilot in the Shadow Squadron at Camp Bravo. She loves what she does, and has an excellent reputation as a pilot. The bad feeling she gets about the latest mission, to pick up a team of SEALs is realized when the chopper is hit by an RPG and goes down. Leah is the only survivor.
Kell is a SEAL sniper, assigned to the area to watch Taliban activity and look for the local leader. He witnesses the attack, but is too late to stop it. He does find Leah and gets her away before the Taliban fighters can find her. He's surprised to discover that the pilot is a woman and takes her to one of the caves that he's made into his shelter and treats her injuries.
I loved the quick connection that Leah and Kell made. Though she was disoriented and in pain when she awoke, Kell's voice made her feel safe. His care and kindness and gentle touch is something she'd never experienced from a man. It also affects her in ways she doesn't understand. Leah is cautious around men. She'd been married for three years to a man who abused her, physically, mentally and emotionally. She's surprised by how easy it is to trust Kell, something in his eyes breaking through her barriers.
Kell had quite a few reactions to Leah. Her beauty hit him first, as he was working to treat her injuries, with a physical attraction he knows can go nowhere. She is an officer and he is enlisted, so a relationship isn't possible. After she is awake and he learns more about her, there is the respect that he he feels because of the job she does. And after she awakens from a nightmare, he discovers a feeling of protectiveness, wanting to stop the fear he sees in her eyes. Kell is surprised by the things he is starting to feel, as he'd had no intention of getting involved with another woman while he's still serving. He'd been married before and his wife couldn't handle the long separations and danger of his job.
Because of the presence of a large number of Taliban, it isn't possible to get a chopper in to rescue Leah right away. Over the next few days as Leah heals, they slowly get to know each other. I loved Kell's sensitivity to Leah. From some things she has said, he suspects what her past holds, and he's horrified when something he says brings on a flashback. I loved seeing how an event from his own past helps him figure out what to do when he is with her. He's slowly able to show her what an incredible woman she really is. Thanks to him, Leah begins to feel more confident in herself on a personal level. Her heart and soul begin to heal, and she finds herself wanting to trust him with her body as well. Even there, his sensitivity has him waiting for her, never pushing her for more than she's ready for.
When their location stops being secure, they have to leave the safety of the cave and head for a safer area. I loved this section of the book. The descriptions of the area they traveled through were vivid, and I could easily picture it as I read. The intensity of their attempts to avoid the growing number of Taliban kept me riveted as they got closer to their destination. I enjoyed the brief mention of Khat from Taking Fire, and the stop at the cave she used for so long. I loved the way they met up with Kell's SEAL team, and the descriptions of who they were. Once they arrive back on base, Kell and Leah have to be careful not to give away their relationship any time they meet.
Throughout the first part of the book Leah's ex-husband was hovering in the background. Though he pretends to be anxious for her return, in reality he is planning to blame the crash on her. He is looking for a way to destroy her career. Kell and Leah are worried about what he might do and Kell enlists the help of his brother SEALs in watching out for her. We also see that Hayden's abuses have continued. When his latest victim comes out to Leah with her plans to press charges, Leah realizes that it's time for her to come forward also. She's afraid, but with Kell's support she is determined to make sure Hayden is punished. I loved seeing how the other SEALs also were behind her, and their efforts to help. Leah also has to deal with her father, a man who would easily win the award for worst father. His indifference to her and support of Hayden was just sickening. I was really waiting for him to get what was coming to him, though what he got was not what I expected. That confrontation was really intense and I loved seeing Leah stand up to him. What happened next was nerve wracking and seeing Kell and Clutch in action was amazing.
The ending was fantastic, with Leah healing physically and emotionally. I loved the way that she and Kell kept in touch while they were apart and they continued to learn about each other. Their trip to Kentucky to see his parents was sweet and his two brothers were great. It was terrific to see Leah and Kell talk about their future and what they wanted. I loved learning something new about Kell and his dreams. I was a bit surprised at Leah's choice but happy that she had the confidence to make it and know that Kell would support her in it.