When I found out that Dangerous Race is Dee J. Adams’ first book, I was even more impressed than when I finished it. I don’t read much romantic suspense, but to me this was an example of the genre at its best: a compelling and (actually!) mysterious suspense subplot, combined with a terrific romance featuring wonderful characters and sizzling chemistry.
The book’s heroine is Tracey Bradshaw, the most talented female race car driver in the sport. Four years ago, she survived a horrible crash that took her out of what had been a winning race – and almost took her life. Now, after intensive physical therapy and an unending amount of tenacity, Trace is back at the Arrow 500 and prepared to win the “the biggest, toughest, most grueling car race in the world.” They were never able to find the person who dropped a balloon of oil on the track and caused Trace’s crash and when dangerous things start happening again, it’s clear that the perpetrator is back and still out to get her. After her team leader and beloved mentor is killed, though she was the intended target, Trace is torn up and feels as lonely as ever.
It doesn’t help that Mac Reynolds, a retired race car driver and the man hired to replace Uncle Joe, is stubborn and opinionated – while also being intriguing and gorgeous. She and Mac can’t agree on anything – from how she should take a turn on the track to how they should deal (or not deal) with the growing attraction between them. Trace doesn’t need any distractions, but instead of being able to solely focus on winning the race, Tracey is having to balance track practice with repeated attempts on her life, a love interest that could develop into the type of romantic relationship she previously thought impossible, and the sudden appearance of a family member she never knew existed and whose motives are unclear … Definitely not the ideal conditions under which to make a big comeback.
Adams’ writing is strong and she creates interesting and varied characters with distinct personalities. Even the secondary characters that don’t have much page-time stand on their own and add to the story, no matter how little their role. The mystery was well-done and while I had a theory, it was completely unfounded and I kept looking for clues. I only knew for certain once I reached the point in the book where the hints are obvious and the author is clearly giving us some indication as to the guilty party(ies). Even after that, there were twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting.
Tracey (23) is one of those rare things in romance: a kick-butt hard-ass heroine who is likable and relatable. She’s what so many PNR authors try to create, but in my mind so often fail to accomplish. Trace has survived a lot, yet she is never self-pitying or whiny. Her fiancé abandoned her after the crash, yet she is not a bitter man-hater. She’s afraid of Mac’s rejection and ashamed of the scar she sustained on her leg from the crash. Nonetheless, she does slowly and steadily open up to him and it never feels like a Ping-Pong match or a game of two steps forward and one step back.
While Trace is rough around the edges and keeps everyone at arm’s length, we see her vulnerability and are able to watch her start to show it to Mac. This is probably the single most important factor that made her such an easy heroine to root for. I adore strong heroines, but in romance books it seems to be a thin line between strong and straight-up bitchy. When all we’re shown is the latter, I find it hard to care about the character or to understand what the hero even sees in her. In Dangerous Race, Tracey is this type of heroine done right: she’s strong, but never bitchy; reserved, but never mean; and driven, but never at the cost of others.
Mac (34) was a good fit for her, though they were by no means opposites. Reserved and grouchy romance characters are often paired with someone who is much sunnier and happier. Mac is by far more outgoing and approachable than Trace, but he is battling his own demons and they are all the more powerful now that he’s around Tracey, inevitably comparing his reaction to a near-death crash with hers. From the beginning, he wants to get beneath her prickly exterior and becomes exasperated when his attempts are spurned, or when right as he thinks they’re making progress, she retreats. There is an instant chemistry between the two of them, but it’s clear from the start that Mac admires Tracey for much more than just her body.
There is a secondary romance and for the first chunk of the book, I was enjoying it much more than the primary one. Tracey and Mac hadn’t really gotten anywhere yet, so it was the other two characters whose story I was paying attention to. The way they “meet” is funny and cute, their developing (and conflicting) feelings for one another are vividly written, and the chemistry between them is sizzling! I loved the mix of heavy sexual tension and lovely tenderness – so, so sigh-worthy. Even by the end of the book, after I had become fully invested in Mac and Trace’s relationship, the secondary hero remained one of the biggest attractions.
Honestly, there was not much to criticize. One of the things I was bothered by was Tracey’s scar. From the description, it definitely doesn’t sound pretty, but when I read “scarred inside and out” in the summary I was expecting much worse and the degree of Trace’s obsession with it doesn’t seem proportional. Especially since much of it is driven by her fiancé’s rejection of her four years ago after he saw it. I wanted to shake her and say, Tracey, you can’t let one guy’s reaction determine your entire life, convincing you that you’re going to die a virgin and have no hope of having a husband or children! This may make me sound sick (may? HA!), but I had been looking forward to this aspect of her story. No, I’m not a sadist. What I am is a real life woman who gets tired of the always-drop-dead-model-gorgeous heroines with big breasts, tiny waists, perfect facial features, unbelievably kissable lips, legs that go on forever, and long hair that flips. Give me some imperfections, baby!
The ball was dropped on Trace’s history, in that we still don’t know why her mother left her behind. I also thought that the final obstacles in Mac and Trace’s relationship seemed contrived. The barriers are self-imposed and I found especially annoying the scene towards the end, when after much back and forth Trace puts herself out there and Mac withdraws. To me, it felt like it was done only to prolong the will-they or won’t-they … which doesn’t even exist, since this is a romance, but you know what I’m referring to – that last stretch authors always put in before the assured HEA.
Regardless, we get there in the end, evil is conquered, the double-HEA is delivered to us in a wonderful Epilogue that had a funny twist to seal the deal, and I finished the book thinking it was time well-spent. Dangerous Race was a great find and I’m glad I took a chance on this new author; I’m already looking forward to Adams’ next book in the series, Danger Zone, to be published in February 2012.
One of My Favorite Quotes:
His gut tightened; his chest constricted the massive pounding of his heart. “I’m glad you trusted me.” He couldn’t disguise the raspy emotion of his voice. Didn’t try. “You keep trusting me with the most important things you have.”
“I do?” she whispered.
“Yes, you do,” he told her. Her gaze softened as though the wall she’d erected cracked down the center.