The story opens with a scene of Regan being raped. This is definitely not a novel for the faint of heart and may be a trigger for those who have suffered from similar situations. It wasn't easy to read, but my small discomfort is nothing compared to what women in Regan's position have and are going through. Sex slavery seems to be a hot topic right now in the news and media and I've noticed some authors are trying to tackle the controversial subject. While I commend every author in their efforts to create awareness, Last Breath is the first book I've read about the issue that felt the most realistic and didn't try to sugarcoat it.
I first want to talk about the characters, starting with Regan. It's one thing to decide to write about a sensitive topic, but it's a whole other situation when you are writing a character that is going through it. It has to be handled just right. As I stated above, the story opens with Regan being raped. Despite her months of captivity, she is known as a "biter", and refuses to show any kind of emotion because she knows that most of the men that buy her get off on women that cry, scream, and struggle. No way will she give them that satisfaction. To keep her mind separate form her body, she recites horror movies in her mind by going down the alphabet. I remember grimacing and smiling while reading this scene which is an odd reaction. Quite honestly, I don't know how Jessica Clare did it. Somehow she was able to infuse the seriousness and horror of the situation with grim humor. Too much and it could have been a disaster.
Once Regan is free and on the run with Daniel, she goes through a roller coaster of emotions. One minute she is fierce, the next minute she is falling apart, the next she is plotting how to keep Daniel from dumping her off at the Embassy. While at first I had a hard time keeping up with her ever changing thoughts and emotions, I soon realized how realistic her mood and behavior were. The fear of being abandoned. The fear of trusting a man after being used over and over again. The fear of being recaptured. The fear of being broken and never being "normal" again. I can only imagine the relief of being free and then the sudden harsh reality of how to even begin to start rebuilding the life you lost. For Regan, it will never be the same again. So I get it.
I don't want to say too much more about Regan's journey, but I will say as the story progresses, her growth as a character blew me away. At the same time, I like the fact that Clare is consistent. What I mean is, some romance authors that write about rape victims will portray them as frightened and broken in the beginning, but are miraculously healed by the end of the story with no after affects. In Last Breath, Regan, with the help of Daniel, is on the road to recovery, but she still suffers from PTSD which is more of a realistic portrayal of someone who has gone through what she has.
Now to Daniel. Where do I even start? There have been times when I've read a series from an author where the hero in each book sound the same. Yes, they may have a quirk or specific trait here or there that makes them stand out from one another, but over all, they are the same. Not the case here. Daniel couldn't be more different from Nikolai and I'm not just talking about the obvious American-Ukrainian difference. Is Daniel a bad ass like Nikolai? Yes. Is he an alpha male that wants to protect Regan like Nikolai wanted to protect Daisy? Yes. But that's where the similarities end. While Nick was serious, stoic, and raised in a world of violence, Daniel had a pretty normal life until he enlisted in the military. Once his sister goes missing, his relationship with his parents becomes strained. All he wants to do is rescue his sister so he can go back to his family's ranch and maybe raise some cattle. But it is Daniel's sense of humor that really sets him apart from Nikolai. He not only uses humor to get themselves out of some sticky situations but I absolutely love the way he uses it to help Regan. The first time he sees her break down, he realizes he rather have a pissed off Regan than a broken one. So he calls her annoying pet names like "babydoll", "sugar tits" (love that one lol)-- anything to get her mad so that it keeps her on task. Regan soon figures this out and is grateful for it. As their relationship progresses, what started as a necessary way to keep Regan from breaking down or loosing it turns into flirting and affectionate teasing.
The next thing to talk about is the chemistry and sexy time. There is no denying the chemistry between Regan and Daniel. And I thought Nikolai and Daisy were a hot pairing? Holy Moses! But going back to what I said about the sensitive topic at hand, this had to be handled with care. From the first moment Daniel lays eyes on her, he has to fight his attraction, even admitting there must be something fundamentally screwed up with him for getting a hard on at seeing her for the first time. Regan also misconstrues Daniel's intentions. At first, she thinks she has to throw herself at him in order to keep him interested so he doesn't abandon her. This pisses Daniel off as it should. But slowly, Regan begins to realize that Daniel can be trusted and he doesn't just view as a piece of ass. He really cares. Suddenly she wonders what kissing him would feel like. She wants to know if she is completely broken or if she has a shot at being a normal woman with needs. The sexual tension was thick and hot. Daniel basically allows her to do whatever she wants with him, refusing to touch her in any way unless she asks for it. She can go as far as she wants and can stop whenever she wants. As funny as Daniel can be, he also is very tender and patient with her. At the same time, he wants to pleasure her, to show her how good it can really be. In Last Hit, we learn that she had only one boyfriend prior to being kidnapped. So even before the rape, she really didn't know how good sex could be. But of course Daniel feels possessive of her and his thoughts about how he feels is so hot and beautiful at the same time.
"I would rend anyone from limb to limb who tried to come between Regan and I. From now on the only one who would be hearing her screams when she came would be me. The only man who gets to taste the nectar between her legs is me. The only cock that would ever pleasure her, from this moment until I never drew another breath is mine."
I also like that Nikolai and Daisy make an appearance in Last Breath. Their part in the story is important (I'm avoiding any spoilers) but more than that, it is nice to see how they interact with Daniel and Regan. It's also interesting to see where Nick and Daisy are at in their relationship. Daisy is going to college and Nick is trying to live the domestic life by cooking meals (there is one hilarious part where Daisy describes her walking in on Nikolai trying to make Hamburger Helper. So funny!)
Last but not least is the interesting way Clare and Frederick set up their next novel in the series. I don't think this is much of a spoiler since it's been swirling around the internet but I will refrain from saying names. We find out that the next heroine is going to be a high functioning autistic woman and her hero is going to be a member of the Bratva, a Ukrainian from Nikolai's past. Wow. It's almost as if these ladies want to keep challenging themselves. Just like with sex slavery, writing a character with autism can be tricky. I actually work with multiple disabled children, two of which are on the spectrum. In Last Breath, the authors already hinted at some of the sensory issues the heroine for the third book will have, so I can't wait to see how far they will go with this new interesting character and how the hero will handle it. Autism is just not a topic you read about in romance novels. If they are up for the challenge, then I am happy to go along for the ride.
I originally was going to give Last Breath a 4.5 rating because I came across a few inconsistencies. But then I remembered the version I read was an ARC/pre-copyedited version, so it's not really fair for me to mark it down half a star when they might not even be there anymore. But some of these inconsistencies were small, like the scene where Daniel and Regan decide to sleep at a nicer hotel. Daniel puts a dresser in front of the door on top of locking it. Later someone gets into the room and Regan starts shooting a gun at the intruder. Wouldn't someone hear this person breaking in since he has to go through a locked door and a dresser? Also, wouldn't someone in the hotel hear gun shots? Stupid little things like that.
Last Breath far exceeded my expectations. I give both Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick a lot of credit for tackling such a sensitive issue and handling it with brutal honesty and dignity. It appears as if there is nothing these ladies can't write about and I anxiously await to see what they will do with the third book in the Hitman series.
Jen & Jess have discounted LAST HIT, book 1 in their Hitman series to an amazing price of ONLY $0.99 for a limited time. If you haven't read it yet, click HERE to purchase it!
She’s a biter. That’s the warning given when I point to the blonde with the glazed green eyes in Senor Gomes’ book of whores. He shakes his head and says that he has access to dozens of others that are better and all willing to engage in whatever perverse activity I want. He brags that there isn’t a sick sex act I can think of that Gomes can’t fulfill. I like home cooking, I tell him. A Texan in Rio sees a lot of beautiful Brazilian women, but sometimes you want a little star-spangled banner in the rotation.
He nods as if this makes sense to him, but I think it’s the money that I’m flashing that he understands. We walk up to the second floor and down a narrow hall toward the back, a windowless part of this brick and metal building. I can’t call it a home or even a brothel. It’s a dingy place where men with deep perversions but shallow wallets can get their rocks off.
I don’t want to have sex here, I’ve explained to Gomes. I have a thing against hellholes and having sex in them. I wave around a lot of cash, and Gomes nodded and asks no more questions.
We’re a strange parade—Gomes, me, and some house mom trailing behind. He stops at the second to last door and removes a key.
I’ve seen pictures of Regan Porter before, and not in Gomes’ look book, but nothing prepares me for her full-fledged, magazine-quality beauty. She hasn’t been eating well; her delicate bones are beginning to look sharp in places—at her shoulders, ribs, and hips. But there’s no denying her breathtaking looks. Her blonde hair is damp and small strands stick to her perfect skull. Her oval face, with its pink cheekbones and lush lips and eyebrows that look like wings, stands out like a piece of fine china at a flea market. Though she’s thin, there’s a delicious curviness in the slope of her side as it dips into the waist and flares back out to form a cuppable roundness at the hip. And those endlessly long legs.
Shit. I close my eyes and swallow. No decent man would be standing here thinking about those legs wrapped around his waist. But then again, I’m not decent. I’m no longer army sniper, Special Forces Daniel Hays who may have once been lauded as a hero for killing insurgents in Afghanistan. Now I’m Daniel Hays, mercenary who kills people for money and spends all his spare time in brothels and flesh dens like this one. Decency is a word I don’t even know the meaning to anymore.
It’s been too long since I’ve had a woman. That’s my only excuse. That and I’m becoming the monster that I’m hunting. I focus on the bruises on her knees that are scraped red and raw from time on the floor and the manacle around her ankle. Any feelings of arousal are jettisoned by the obvious signs of abuse.
Glancing sharply at Gomes, I wonder how he’s come to possess a beauty like Regan Porter. Gomes is a small-time flesh peddler, stuck up here in the slums, with a house full of females—half of which are missing their teeth or are too old or too broken.
He usually gets what the market calls second-hand goods, the girls that no other house wants. But Regan Porter is gorgeous, and while she looks a little rundown, she’s still model beautiful with big pink lips and wide green eyes.
“Nice tits,” I smirk for Gomes’ sake and her shudder of disgust only feeds into my growing belief that I’m as dirty as the flesh trader beside me. The dark edges of the world that I now inhabit are seeping into my skin like an oil slick covering an ocean. I shouldn’t want to touch her. And if I have to fuck her in front of Gomes to get her out of here—I don’t even let myself finish that thought.
There’s still life in her eyes. If she’s biting and spitting out acerbic insults, there’s spirit left in her, and I don’t want to be the one to snuff out that last flame. Her eyes convey her hate, and if she had a knife, I’d be sliced from my throat to my belly. I stare back, not because she’s fucking beautiful, but because she’s still standing. I’m not sure I would’ve been as strong. I don’t know if she sees my admiration or whether she can only interpret varying degrees of lust and degradation, but she sees something. An invisible string spools out between us and her eyes widen when it hits her like an electrical shock.
For months I’ve swum in a pool of blood and death and ugly deeds, and to hold onto my sanity and maybe my soul, I’ve told myself that saving these doves balances the scale. For every life I take, if I save one then it’s all a wash in the end. Don’t think it’s tallied that way at St. Peter’s Gate, but that’s the lie I tell myself so I can sleep at night and look at myself in the mirror the next day. Regan Porter will either be part of my attempt at salvation or the bloody stone that etches out the words He Failed on my headstone...
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