I first came to know of Stephanie Tyler’s work through author Larissa Ione when I followed the breadcrumbs after reading her books to the ACRO series, which they co-author under the pseudonym Sydney Croft. I had also read “Night Vision” a novella written by Ms. Tyler as part of the anthology “Hot Nights, Dark Desires”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wasn’t aware that she was writing a series about a tight knit trio of Navy SEALs until I happened by her website one day and read about, “Jake and Co.” And I have to say, I’m damn glad I did.
Hard To Hold
The story opens in the jungles of Africa where Navy SEAL Lieutenant Junior Grade Jake Hansen and his team have been forced to scatter to complete their mission to secure missing equipment and the intel it contains. Under the cloak of darkness with rebel gunfire erupting all around a wounded Jake and his best friend and teammate Ensign Nick Devane are making their way silently through the jungle to the rendezvous point. They receive a call through their communication devices that the rebels have reported a female hostage north of their location. The woman, Dr. Isabelle Markham is believed to have been kidnapped 72 hours previously and is Senator Cresswell’s daughter. Dr. Markham’s reported location requires the SEALs to retrace their steps and takes them back toward the line of fire. They do find Isabelle inside an abandoned hut naked, bound and gagged, lying face down on the dirt floor, very badly injured.
After stabilizing Isabelle to the best of their ability Nick is forced to go ahead to bring back help as their communication devices have failed. Isabelle is conscious and as the rebel forces move closer Jake carries her into the jungle to hide and await help. Terrified and in shock, Isabelle turns to Jake for comfort and shares a dark secret with him. Jake, uncharacteristically, tells her something about his past that has haunted him since his youth, after all, he never expects to see Isabelle again. During that brief time lying in the jungle hidden and waiting for the rest of the SEAL team to arrive and unlikely bond is forged between these two people.
Dr. Isabelle “Izzie” Markham is a Harvard educated reconstructive plastic surgeon, and instead of staying safely in America, setting up a practice and marrying her former fiancé, she chose to volunteer with Médecins Sans Frontières a.k.a. Doctors Without Borders. This is one feisty, strong, brilliant and stubborn heroine who despite being betrayed and brutalized by her bodyguard in Africa, prevails. All had been well during Izzie's previous stints serving with Médecins Sans Frontières until her strong willed and controlling mother was elected to the Senate. Then threats against her life started and Izzie was forced to accept “security” while volunteering in Africa.
Jake Hansen (like all highly trained men who serve on SEAL teams) is focused, stubborn, deadly in combat, fiercely loyal to his teammates, and accustomed to assuming control under the worst of circumstances. He is, however a tortured hero, having endured extreme hardship and abuse as a youngster until he was taken in by the Waldron’s. Jake lives in a big house off base with fellow teammates Nick Devane and Chris Waldron. These men share the special bond that is inherent as SEAL teammates, however they are also brothers, not biological but Chris’s father and mother adopted Jake and Nick and raised all three boys. Each one of these men knows the other better then they know themselves and Ms. Tyler wrote subtle sarcasm into the dialogue shared between the guys that had me chortling with laughter on a number of occasions. Let me tell you, these guys are hot, drip charisma, just magnetic.
It takes 2 months for Isabelle to recover from her ordeal to the point that she can consider resuming practice again. At that point, with the help of her “Uncle Cal”, who is an Admiral, signs on as a civilian consultant for the Navy and is assigned to the same base where Jake and Co. hail from. Isabelle needs to see Jake again to thank him for saving her life. There is however more to what she feels for him than just gratitude.
Jake is none to happy to see the stubborn and irascible Dr. Markham again. He fights his attraction to Isabelle because of his position as a SEAL. He also believes that she is attracted to him as a result of the harrowing circumstances when they met. In addition, Isabelle was brutalized and violated and is dealing with the aftermath of that horrific experience.
However, when Admiral Callahan approaches Jake and orders him to guard Isabelle because the man who kidnapped her is still at large, and has threatened to take her again he has no choice but to agree. Jake handles things his way, first by enlisting the help of a mercenary in Africa to track the infamous “Rafe”, Isabelle’s previous bodyguard turned tormentor. Then, against his better judgment, he offers her an apartment in the upper story of the guy’s house so he can keep a close eye on her.
What I loved about this story is not only the characters, which are well developed, and complex, but also the progression of the relationship between Izzie and Jake. Their emotional connection grows over the course of the story and is believable. Jake knows Izzie is not ready for a physical relationship even though there is a powerful sexual attraction between them. In a setting of danger, intrigue, and an underlying conspiracy that involves people closest to Isabelle a smoldering attraction ignites into a bond fire of passion that smokes up the pages of this novel.
Readers are given insight into the rigors of SEAL training and what is required of these men to stay at the peak of physical shape and adept at the variety of skills that are required of them to complete their missions in the worst of circumstances. It was quite an eye opener for me and I think well researched.
Ms. Tyler wove a romantic sub-plot into the narrative involving Sarah Cameron, an African photographer who is essentially a lost soul, and ‘Clutch’, a mercenary who works for a mysterious clandestine group in Africa. Theirs is a harrowing tale as they travel through the jungle in search of the ‘ghostly’ and deadly Rafe at Jake’s request.
The climax to Isabelle and Jake’s story is heart in the mouth riveting. Ms. Tyler infused a number of plot twists and turns, and surprises into the narrative.
The best way I can describe “Hard To Hold”, is a total RUSH. I read this book over the span of 2 days and could barely put it down. I can say without hesitation that “Hard To Hold”, will be one of my favorite reads of this year. If you enjoy romantic military suspense, you may like to give it a try.