Series: Mountain Mercenaries #4
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Setting: Colorado Springs, CO
Source: ARC, NetGalley
Also in this series: Defending Allye, Defending Chloe, Defending Morgan, Defending Everly
Also by this author: Protecting Cheyenne (SEAL of Protection #5), Justice for Mackenzie (Badge of Honor: Texas Heroes #1), Protecting the Future, Rescuing Rayne, Justice for Corrie, Shelter for Elizabeth, Rescuing Emily, Justice for Boone, Rescuing Harley, Shelter for Adeline, Marrying Emily, Claiming Grace, Rescuing Kassie, Protecting Kiera, Claiming Alexis, Shelter for Sophie, Rescuing Bryn, Justice for Erin, Claiming Bailey, Rescuing Casey, Claiming Felicity, Justice for Milena, Rescuing Sadie , Rescuing Wendy, Shelter for Blythe, Defending Allye, Defending Chloe, Securing Caite, Defending Morgan, Rescuing Macie, Claiming Sarah, Shelter for Koren, Securing Piper, Defending Everly, Securing Zoey, Shielding Gillian, Securing Avery, Shielding Kinley, Trusting Skylar
Danger rises and love is threatened in New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker’s fourth book of the Mountain Mercenaries series.
Lowell “Black” Lockard, former Navy SEAL, has watched his fellow Mountain Mercenaries settle down with the women of their dreams, but he’s convinced he doesn’t need love. Then he gets a call from Harlow Reese—a chef at a local women’s shelter—and begins to reconsider his decision.
After being continually harassed by a local band of punks, Harlow asks Lowell to give the women of the shelter lessons in self-defense. She doesn’t expect him to take such a special interest in her safety, but he insists on escorting her to and from work, never taking no for an answer. Not that Harlow minds the personal touch…especially when it’s coming from her former teenage crush.
Despite her long history of bad dating luck, seeing Black again makes Harlow rethink her self-imposed celibacy. Easy on the eyes and hard to forget, the man has morphed into an alpha stud. And Harlow may be exactly the type of woman Black is looking for. Making her feel safe isn’t only a duty; it’s a pleasure. But the threats are escalating. The motives are a mystery. And as the danger burns almost as hot as their passion, there’s much more at risk than their hearts.
The Mountain Mercenaries series continues with Defending Harlow and I must say this: I’m glad the characters in the book brought up the misnomer of “mercenaries” since that is not at all what they do. It has really bothered me for the entirety of the series (check out the excerpt for Harlow asking this exact question). Defending Harlow also has a different tone than the previous books. Harlow isn’t being stalked, she hasn’t been kidnapped and held for a year in a foreign country, or anything as horrific as the previous heroines have been subjected to. Her story is more the story of the shelter and what happens there. It gives the book a very different tenor because the extreme danger isn’t as omnipresent. I thought I wouldn’t like Defending Harlow as much since I really enjoy the suspense aspects of stories, however it wasn’t really an issue.
Lowell (aka Black) and Harlow went to high school together. Harlow had a huge crush on Lowell; but he graduated and they went their separate ways. Now its 10 years later and they both end up in Colorado and their paths cross. Harlow is a chef but instead of getting a job at a swanky restaurant, she becomes the chef at the women’s shelter that has been a background in this series. I admired Harlow for being willing to move to a different state and take a totally different, unorthodox job simply because it makes her happy to help others. Harlow has had a terrible history with dating and now has sworn it off (yeah….you know how that is going to go!). Her dating history was a bit over dramatic in my opinion. I get it-she had bad luck. But the stories were outlandish and it kind of made me roll my eyes a bit. But, I’m a cynical bitch, so maybe its just me.
Lowell isn’t my favorite “mercenary”. He doesn’t ever see him self settling down and having kids. He wants to pursue something with Harlow, but he sees it as a relationship with a future end date. His friends all point out to him that doesn’t seem likely, and if that IS what he thinks, he is a dick because it will hurt Harlow in the end. Does this deter him? No. That action made me less enamored with him. I get it-no one goes into a relationship thinking that on day one this is the one they will marry. But, going in with a termination in mind isn’t great either.
As I mentioned, the suspense in Defending Harlow isn’t really about Harlow exactly. Its about the shelter. I thought the motivation of the “bad guy” was pretty obvious but I could see how the mercenaries were struggling to figure out who would be doing all this. These women have some crazy exes, the shelter is in a bad neighborhood, and there were a lot of external factors. Overall, I thought this plot line was good and a nice detour from the previous books in that sense. If you like second chance romances, ex military men, and a touch of mystery, Defending Harlow is a good pick for a weekend read!
- POV: 3rd
- Tears: no
- Trope: second chance romance, ex military
- Triggers: View Spoiler »Some of the women in the shelter were physically abused. While it doesn’t occur in the story, it is mentioned and discussed. « Hide Spoiler
- Series/Standalone: stand alone (you really don’t need to read the previous books since this one is a departure)
- Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »no « Hide Spoiler
- HEA: View Spoiler »yes « Hide Spoiler
A Mountain Mercenary’s Sneak Attack with Author Susan Stoker
Defending Harlow is book 4 in the Mountain Mercenaries series. Each book features one of the men who were recruited by the mysteries “Rex” to work on his team to help rescue kidnapped women and children. In this book we meet Lowell “Black” Lockard who was a Navy SEAL before he became a Mountain Mercenary. He joined the group because after his stint in the Navy, he realized that he was happiest when he was being useful, helping others. He’d been close to his fellow SEALs when he’d been on active duty, but somehow he was even closer with his fellow Mountain Mercenaries.
They worked together, they played together, and they simply enjoyed spending time with each other both during missions and when they were living their lives in Colorado Springs.
Black loves that his friends have found women that completed them. Gray met Allye when he rescued her from a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and they had to swim for hours to safety. Ro met Chloe when her brother was holding her hostage in his house and was about to pimp her out from his strip club. And Arrow met Morgan when they’d been down in the Dominican Republic to rescue a child who’d been kidnapped by her non custodial father. Turns out, Morgan was one of the most famous missing people the United States had ever had, and she’d been held for over a year before she’d accidentally been found by the Mountain Mercenaries.
He loves that his friends are happy, but realizes that he is…bored. He wants someone to laugh with. To talk to at the end of the day. To break the routine of his life. He envies his friends for having that.
Meeting Harlow is a turning part in Black’s life. She makes him laugh and he’s intrigued more than he’s ever been by a woman before. And realizing they went to the same high school once upon a time makes him even more curious. But there’s a problem…Harlow has had bad date after bad date and she’s sworn off dating forever.
But Black won’t give up. He decides to “trick” her by refusing to call what they’re doing as ‘dates.’ They’re just “hanging out.” And the more he spends time with her, the more he likes her…and vice versa. Harlow will have to decide whether or not to take a chance on Black, and he’ll have to figure out how to neutralize the threat looming over Harlow and the women’s shelter she works at or else the semantics of what they’re doing will be a moot point, because someone might end up dead.
Neither said anything for a while as they drove toward downtown.
Finally, Harlow asked, “Where are we going?”
Lowell smiled. “Since this isn’t a date, and we’re talking about the shelter, I decided I should take you to the place where me and my team conduct business. The Pit.”
“It sounds scary. Please tell me there aren’t snakes on the floor and Indiana Jones isn’t going to pop up and run pell-mell through the place being chased by members of an ancient civilization because they want their artifact back.”
Harlow stared at Lowell when he threw his head back and laughed loud and long. She couldn’t help but chuckle herself. The man sitting next to her was so different from any man she’d dated in the past—no, wait … this wasn’t a date. Nope. Not even close.
“I can’t wait to tell the others that. No, Harl, The Pit is a combination bar and pool hall. It’s pretty much a hole-in-the-wall kind of place.”
“Why do you do business in a bar?” Harlow asked.
“To be honest, I’m not sure. The Pit is where we were interviewed when we were first asked to join the Mountain Mercenaries … I’m assuming you know about the team?”
She nodded. “A bit. Loretta told me. I’m sorry if she spoke out of turn, but she was trying to reassure me that you knew what you were doing and could help us.”
“I can help you,” Lowell confirmed. “And in a nutshell, me and my teammates are all former Special Forces soldiers, and we work for Rex, getting women and children out of untenable situations.”
“Why mercenaries? I mean, it doesn’t sound like that’s what you guys really are.”
Lowell shook his head, and a small smile formed on his face. “Why do women always concentrate on that word?” he asked, more to himself than her.
Harlow answered him even though he hadn’t really asked. “Because. It’s weird that you call yourselves something that you technically aren’t. I wouldn’t start a catering business and call it Harlow Photography.”
“Point taken. I don’t know why Rex chose that name. Probably because it was catchy and sounded better than Colorado Badasses, or Your Worst Nightmare.”
Harlow couldn’t stop the bark of laughter that escaped. “True.”
“The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what we’re called. We’re six men who go where we’re needed and do what we have to do to rescue those who need a helping hand. I know women are empowered, and there are many who are just as talented at what they do as we are. But the fact remains, there are a lot of men out there who feel the need to subjugate and beat down the women and children in their lives. They take advantage of teenagers who are too young to know better or those who have had horrible lives. They hurt them and force them to do things against their will. It’s not right, or fair, and me and my friends are playing a small part in trying to right those wrongs.”
Harlow wasn’t sure how their light and playful conversation had turned so intense, but she turned slightly in her seat to better look at Lowell. His teeth were clenched, and the hand on the steering wheel was holding on so tightly, she could see his knuckles turning white. He obviously felt deeply about the topic and his job, and Harlow couldn’t be more proud of him.
“I’m proud to know you, Lowell Lockard.”
He looked at her in surprise. “What?”
“The world needs more men like you and your friends. I don’t know why men like the ones harassing the shelter are the way they are. Why they feel the need to exert their power over those they deem weaker than them. But I’m glad you’re there to help tip the scales. Other than the high-speed-chase guy, generally I haven’t been afraid of my bad dates, I’ve just been disgusted by or disappointed in them. But I know there are a lot of women out there who’re in bad marriages and relationships, and it helps knowing there are people who care. People who will put their own lives on the line to help get others out of those situations, if asked.”
Lowell pulled into a parking lot of a dark and seedy-looking building, and Harlow wasn’t surprised to see the neon sign above the door that said The Pit. This was exactly the kind of place where she imagined Lowell and his fellow badasses would meet.
He stopped the engine, brought the hand he was still holding up to his mouth, and kissed the back of it. “Stay put. I’ll come around.”
He went to let go of her, but Harlow held on to his hand. “This isn’t a date,” she said, not sure if she was reminding him or herself. “It’s a work meeting. I let you pick me up, but I should’ve driven myself. And I can open my own door and pay my own way.”
Lowell leaned into her, and Harlow forced herself not to pull back.
“I know this isn’t a date. You don’t date. I heard that loud and clear, Harl. But in my world—and make no mistake; when you’re with me, you’re in my world—a man opens a door for a lady. He walks on the outside of the sidewalk, he picks her up whenever possible, and he pays for drinks and meals. If it makes you feel better, you can think of this as a business expense I can write off on my taxes.”
Harlow stared at him for a beat, then nodded. What else could she do? She didn’t want to like Lowell’s world, but she had to admit it felt good being there. She’d had doors shut in her face when men had entered ahead of her and hadn’t held them open. She’d had to pay for her own meals on dates. And she’d even had an experience when she’d literally almost been run over by a bus in Seattle because she’d been forced to walk on the outside of the sidewalk near the curb.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” Lowell said with a small smile. Then he squeezed her hand once more and climbed out.
“Not a date, not a date,” Harlow chanted to herself quietly as Lowell walked around his car to come to her side. He opened her door and held out a hand. Taking a deep breath, Harlow put her hand back in his and allowed him to help her up and out of the low seat.
He didn’t let go of her hand once she was standing next to him, though. He simply shut the car door with his free hand and led her toward the door of the bar.
Not a date, she told herself once more as Lowell smiled at her and pulled open the heavy wooden door.