ORDER A COPY: Secret Maneuvers (Ex Ops Series)
Publishing Date: June 15, 2013
eBook: 239 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Some mistakes from the past haunt us forever… unless fate steps in with a second chance.
One ‘dear John’ letter haunts Bobby Baker’s every living moment. It’s the letter he stupidly wrote to his high school sweetheart, Belle, right after he left to join the Army. The letter that he told her that he wasn’t so sure if they were ready for forever yet. But before he can let her know that the letter, and his second thoughts, are nothing but a mistake, she up and disappears from the small Georgia town they were both raised in.
Fifteen years later, Belle unknowingly walks back into Bobby’s life when her job as an ATF Agent forces her to work with a group of men secretly headed by the CIA to help her track down whoever is involved in funneling black market weapons to a drug cartel in Mexico.
Bobby will use this mission to try and soothe Belle’s hurt feelings while proving to her that their love is still meant for forever. He’ll use every dirty trick he’s learned since he joined the Army to maneuver her back into his life for the long haul. But Belle’s not making it easy as she keeps him at arm’s length in the hopes that mistakes of her own never come to light.
Annabelle Smith was the girl from the trailer park, hardened by years with an alcoholic father. He might not have physically killed her mother, but the years with an abusive husband took their toll on her and she died when Belle was just a young girl, leaving her alone with a Dad who now took out his anger on her and who would rather spend his money on alcohol and smokes than food for his little girl. The only love Annabelle has ever known is from her best friend, Teagan.
So as a teenager, she is wary when the captain of the football team is following her around school, and trying to convince her to go out with him. Bobby Baker is smart, athletic and from a good, normal family. He could have any girl he wants so what would he want with Annabelle. They were together for two years and on the eve of his leaving for boot camp, they spend the night together making love under the stars, and discussing their unbreakable bond and their plans for the future once Bobby has finished his training.
It was thirteen weeks since Bobby left town and Belle hasn’t heard anything, but this last fight with her Dad has been too much. If she doesn’t get away from him now, he’ll probably kill her. Maybe Bobby’s parents will take her in? When she shows up at their door, his Mom has a letter for Belle which just arrived from Bobby. A letter which shatters Belle’s heart when the one person she thought could actually love someone like her, tells her that he doesn’t want that forever they always talked about.
Now fifteen years later, the ATF is looking for help with a dangerous drug cartel that is smuggling automatic riffles and drugs between the U.S. and Mexico, and they need to work with the Government’s EX opts division. Imagine Bobby Baker’s surprise when Belle walks in the door to brief his team introducing herself as Agent Annabelle Roberts…Roberts? Bobby has been searching for Belle since he was stupid enough to send a letter to the love of his life telling her they could not be together, but Annabelle had left town, left Georgia and no matter how many time he sent out a private investigator, they never returned with any information. It was like she dropped off the face of the earth, until she walked back into his life and looked right through him like he wasn’t even there.
Does she really think he’s going to let her walk away from him again after it has taken him 15 years to find her again? He needs her to know that he sent another letter begging her forgiveness. That he’s been searching frantically for her all these years. That he has never felt whole since she disappeared from his life.
Annabelle knows there will be no other love for her but Bobby, but she isn’t the same unwanted girl he left behind. Her life has changed since the day she read his letter, and after all the pain, lies and secrets, she’s not sure if there ever can be a Happily Ever After for them.
This was a wonderful, emotional story with very realistic characters. I was absolutely heartbroken for Annabelle. She finally gave her fragile heart to someone who she believed was too good for an unloved girl from the trailer park, in a town where no one has a good word for her, and she was amazed that Bobby would actually want forever with her. Then she receives the letter which tells her that he doesn’t want forever with her anymore, that they were too young, haven’t experienced any of the world, and they shouldn’t be thinking of forever so soon.
With all that goes on, I had a problem really liking Bobby, first because even knowing Belle’s situation with her family and knowing that she has never experienced love before him, and after convincing her to trust him with her heart, he would send her this letter cutting out that heart and stomping all over it. He basically leaves her with nothing and no one, no future, no love and no hope. He couldn’t at least wait and do that face to face. Then he expects her to welcome him back with open arms because he tried to take back everything he said a few weeks later and has been looking for her for 15 years. He might have been desperate to find her, but she has spent the last 15 years thinking she was like gum on his shoe that he scraped off the first chance he got. Then he is forcing himself back into her life with no consideration for how much his betrayal hurt her and changed her life. Worse, once she starts hoping that things might work out for them, Bobby finds out some things about Belle and changes his tune from “you’re the love of my life” to “you’re a heartless, evil bitch” and once again stomping on her fragile heart.
Is there a HEA? Of course, but it is certainly hard won between the two of them.
**** SPOILERS SO JUMP DOWN TO STARS******
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Annabelle’s big secret that she was afraid to tell Bobby was that she was pregnant when she disappeared, since their last night together included no condom sex in a field which I think that pretty much guarantees any teenager getting knocked up. Although she didn’t know she was pregnant until weeks after she left, he still is really, really furious with her and suddenly she isn’t the love of his life that he needs to get back, she’s an evil bitch that hid his kid from him. Personally, I was behind Annabelle the whole time since Bobby kicked her out of his life by note. She didn’t keep the kid from him to punish him. She was just a kid and she thought would he even want them? Would he think she got pregnant on purpose to trap him? Would she ever know if he took her back just because of the baby? And years later, she was afraid to go back and find him there with a new family and he would then hate her more for bringing an unwanted past back into his face.
Saying that, I thought she should have told Bobby’s parents since they seemed to like her and didn’t hold her father’s alcoholism against her. They never gave any impression that they would have stolen the baby from her. Bobby might not have wanted Belle anymore, but the parents seemed upset that Bobby had sent that letter. She should have let them know they were grandparents.
I do have to say that I do love, love, love the son, Seth! He’s 14 and he is very mature for his age, and very “Mom and me against the world” kid. When Bobby gets in Annabelle’s face over not telling him, Seth is right there protecting his Mom from Bobby’s angry words. I was very “Yeah, someone is finally standing up for Annabelle!”
This is the second book that I have read from the very promising writing team of Melissa Pahl and Crystal Leo and this seems to be the start of a great new series. What disappointed me in their last book was that there were chunks of the story that were fantastic, the writing was funny and the characters were great, then they deviated the story and the main characters started doing things that were uncharacteristic and annoying. I could see they had writing talent and I was disappointed when they deviated from their originally storyline which had been going great.
This is a much better representation of their talents, and although I wanted to jump into the story and slap Bobby around a little, good writing makes you feel even if that feeling is angry. There were a lot a great characters in this story and a lot of potential for future stories.
It was an enjoyable and well written story and you should definitely give these new authors a try.
Received an ARC from the authors. Thank you.
“Come on, Annabelle. Entertain me here. Better yet, tell me another story for my blackmail book.”
Declan quickly ducked backwards in his seat when bobby tried to hit him.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“Come on, woman! I’m bored as shit back here.”
Bobby was studiously ignoring both of us by looking out of his passenger side window. What could it hurt? It wasn’t as if Bobby could hate me anymore than he already did. Maybe hearing some of the good times would remind him that it hadn’t always been bad between us.
“Ok, Declan, you’ll appreciate this one. See when Bobby joined our high school football team he had to go through an initiation, a hazing of sorts. What small town would be complete if they didn’t continue crazy rituals that would give all the gossipy, old, married ladies something to talk about all year long? So, anyways, all the seniors wrote embarrassing tasks to be completed, then threw them in a hat to be drawn out by the freshman.
“Bobby here was lucky enough to have to go through our local grocery store in nothing except a hot pink thong. They made him go through the checkout counter, buy a box of condoms and he couldn’t leave until he sang the school song at the register. All the while, the poor check out girl, who was sixteen, stood there staring at him with a river of drool coming out the side of her mouth because, even at fifteen, Bobby looked and was built like a Chippendale stripper.”
Declan was roaring with laughter in the back seat. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bobby’s cheeks turn pink as he blushed.
“But don’t feel too bad for Bobby. My best friend Teagan had it much worse. You see she was the team’s punter and the only girl in the whole state of Georgia on a high school football team. Her initiation task was to streak through the school grounds while school was being dismissed. None of the guys thought she would do it and that it would be the quickest way to get a girl off their championship winning team, but they underestimated Teagan; like most people did. The entire school got to see her naked itty bits and I drove the getaway car she dove in when she was done streaking around the school. Lord, she couldn’t get any of the guys at school to stop hitting on her after that, no matter how many times she kicked them in the nuts.”
Declan was laughing so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks and he struggled to breathe. He promised through the entire tirade to spread the story to everyone they knew between his choking gasps for breath.