It doesn’t happen too often to me that I become so emotionally invested in the characters of a book to the point of losing focus on the greater story at hand, but on more than one occasion, I found myself solely captivated by the protagonists’ personal journeys and the unique connection between them. Aly Martinez excels in the Romantic Suspense genre as always, effortlessly combining nail-biting action with flawless development of her characters, and with this book, she had my undivided attention from the very first page. Hot, angsty, emotional, this is the story of two people forever tied to one another by one fated incident that changed their lives irreversibly, a tale of second chances and reclaimed destinies, of forgiveness and redemption, and of catching each other after the fall.
We meet Jude Levitt as a young Chicago cop, called to investigate a triggered security alarm at the expansive Park Hill estate—a property he knows to be vacant most of the year—only to find the lavish mansion swallowed by flames. And perched on a narrow ledge of the blazing house, he discovers a young woman desperate to escape the inferno all around her. What follows is a sequence of events that would not only cost him his career in the police force, but would forever imprint themselves in Jude’s mind and become his life’s greatest regret, the memory of those short moments turning into a recurring nightmare always ending with a vision of the young woman falling into the flames, flailing her arms like a wounded butterfly while screaming for his help.
I’d woken up every morning at that blazing house. I didn’t even have to be asleep for the memories to assault me.
Four years later, we find Jude back in Chicago, starting a new job at Guardian Protection Agency—a well-known and respected team of misfits providing all aspects of security protection to their high-profile clients. Life might have hardened him over the years, even taught him how to cope with his demons, but from the moment he returns to the city he once couldn’t wait to leave behind, his dreams become once again filled with images of the young woman he failed to save.
I lived in his nightmares. He lived in my dreams.
As sole heir to the Park Empire, Rhion Park could have any life she wanted. Instead, she spends her days trapped in her apartment, terrified of the world around her, and protected around the clock by the security firm whose offices are located one floor above hers. Over the years, the men of Guardian Protection Agency have become her only family, the only people in her life she trusts to keep her safe and have her best interest at heart, but in the romance books she secretly writes, the only hero who saves the heroine’s life time and time again is the man who once saved hers.
There was something about Guardian Protection that eased my soul in ways I hadn’t experienced since my father had died. It was more than just a security firm. Inside that apartment-slash-office, I felt a luxury I had rarely been afforded over the last few years—absolute safety. No one could touch me when I was with my guys.
Fiction turns into reality, however, when she unexpectedly finds the man of her dreams standing before her, and everything about him better than any fantasy she could have ever conjured up. When Jude is suddenly assigned as Rhion’s main bodyguard, they find themselves spending every waking moment together, growing closer and closer and eagerly pursuing the sizzling attraction between them. But the more she gets to know him, the more Rhion realises that while her every memory of Jude had been her only source of strength and comfort during her darkest moments, his memory of her had been nothing more than a constant source of pain and regret.
“You’re real,” she breathed before biting her lip, a single tear rolling from her eye.
I smiled and then cleared the tear from her cheek with my thumb, whispering, “I’ve always been real, Butterfly. Even when I didn’t want to be.”
As an old enemy slowly approaches, endangering everything they’ve fought to build between them, Jude and Rhion are forced to not only embrace their new-found reality, but also a past that could never be rewritten.
“We live in two totally different worlds, Rhion.”
“Maybe. But, in yours, you’re living in the dungeons of what you could have done differently had you been sober or more courageous. In my world, you saved me, you’re falling in love with me, and I’m refusing to let go.”
A fast-paced page-turner with well-rounded, dynamic protagonists, a healthy dollop of suspense, and a cast of fascinating, albeit at times blurry secondary characters—this was a book I read in a single sitting, and loved every thrilling minute of it. I might have guessed some of the plot twists ahead of their well-timed reveals, but to me those moments were of no consequence. The true beauty of this story lies in the many imperfect brushstrokes with which the author lovingly paints her two characters—those imperfections even taking centre stage at times—adding a powerful layer of depth to the them that is impossible to resist. From beginning to end, the story remains inseparable from its lead characters, making it a truly compelling read cover to cover, and one I cannot recommend highly enough. I already cannot wait for the next story in the series!
I didn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t have to be the hero who did everything right. I didn’t have to carry the guilt and shame of my actions that night. I didn’t have to own any of it. With Rhion, I was free. To her, I was perfect.