“SPECIALTY: One shot, one kill
“WEAKNESSES: Women in high heels, freedom under siege, and eBay
“PROFILE: Prefers to work alone—except in the bedroom
“MISSION: Kill the bad guy, save the world, and hopefully end up with the girl
“New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon has created a major buzz with her stories about the sexy heroes of the Bureau of American Defense. Now, she presents her first full-length novel featuring the agents of BAD—a story of unforgettable characters and heart-stopping romantic suspense.
“BAD agent Sydney Westbrook must find the perfect sniper for a risky counter-terrorism mission. The assignment is simple: find and kill a hired assassin before he kills a high-profile world leader during a peace conference on American soil. JD Steele, a trained military sniper whose attitude problem landed him in prison, seems a good candidate for the job since he doesn’t have many other options. But it turns out Steele doesn’t take orders easily—not even when they come from an intriguing agent who has his number down pat. As they’re dragged deep into a secret world of freelance killers, Sydney begins to discover the man of honor and passion hidden beneath Steele’s arrogant façade. It’s a man even Steele didn’t know he could be. But how can he fulfill his duties when doing so will risk the life of the only woman he’s ever really cared for?”
I’ve been reading a lot of new (to me) authors lately and I wanted a fun read by an old favorite. I couldn’t locate the next book in Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series (yes, I’m still pacing myself and slowly re-reading that series), so I thought I’d start something new. I’ve seen a few of her BAD (Bureau of American Defense) books here and there at bookstores, online, and at the local library. Anyone who glances at my reading history knows I lean away from “modern romances,” especially ones set in the United States. Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series is a bit of an exception because it contains so many historical and paranormal aspects that it breaks me out of the norm. BAD is borderline. It is a modern series surrounding a secret branch of American agents who have access to incredible technology, possess amazing abilities and talents, and come from varied backgrounds. At the heart of it, these agents are still just people. Still, I wanted to give this series a shot. This book is supposed to be the first in the BAD series, but I quickly got the sense that I was missing something. It was mentioned that two agents were on vacation together, which gave me the impression that theirs was, perhaps, a novella or short story that I hadn’t yet read. I noted on FantasticFiction.com that there is a collection of stories for this series, but it’s not listed first in the reading order. Maybe this solves my issue? I don’t think my enjoyment suffered because I felt like I wasn’t reading the stories in order, but the perfectionist in me doesn’t like doing this (even by accident).
We’re introduced to Steele when he’s still overseas. His best friend and spotter has just been killed and he’s struggling to come to terms with the loss, as well as the pain and anger everyone else is taking out on him, the survivor. It isn’t until later that he discovers that his CO (commanding officer) is covering up the mission and shoddy intelligence he used to send Steele and Brian out into danger. The CO blames them for getting lost and making foolish decisions, ending in the loss of Brian’s life. Steele, blinded by anger and pain, does something very stupid in retaliation and, in turn, he winds up tried and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison back in the States. This results in his military-oriented family disowning him and Steele finds himself more alone than ever.
Two years into his sentence, he’s approached by a strange man and two women. There’s something very different about the trio and his training instantly tells him that these are no ordinary individuals. Their mannerisms and controlled expressions tell him they’re well trained and a part of something very dangerous. The kicker is that they want to draft him into a very dangerous mission, dangling the carrot of freedom and an expunged record if he complies and succeeds. Clearly there’s only one choice for Steele to make.
We quickly learn the intricacies of the secret agency, BAD, and the hidden role it plays in the security of the United States. Headquartered in Nashville, TN, they have access to the entire country, seemingly limitless technological resources, and licenses to do things other agencies would deem unsavory. They’re comprised of past criminals, loose cannons, and those who struggle with following the rules and rigid authority. It’s the perfect environment for Steele.
Other than his talent and his past, Steele was chosen for this mission because he was also approached by APS, another secret agency BAD has been attempting to infiltrate, but has yet been unsuccessful. They need Steele to pretend to accept the position at APS in order to uncover top secret information and, perhaps, prevent another World War. This, of course, lands both Steele and Sydney in more danger than BAD predicted. They soon find themselves on the run in a life-or-death game of cat and mouse. Only if they survive do they stand a chance of stopping an assassination that could cause history to repeat itself.
Steele was a good, typical “Kenyon” male lead: He’s angry, tortured, has a rocky past, and doesn’t care for distractions or interferences. She has an amazing knack for creating male leads who seem like antiheroes, but they eventually discover that they have it in them to be real heroes (very, very few of them remain antiheros – I can probably list them off using the fingers on only one hand). Their dark and twisty natures are always well-developed and unique. I hadn’t read a book of hers where the male lead was once in the (modern) military and I definitely appreciated all of the research she so obviously did. I felt like I understood the mentality and the world that shaped them. In Steele’s case, it was his entire history that helped make him the man he was when he met Sydney. By far my favorite part of his character was his “bad attitude.” (Don’t you love it when a title comes into play in a review?! No? Maybe that’s just me.) His sarcasm was extreme and I loved how he went out of his way to annoy absolutely everyone. His attitude was bad to the max. It’s easy to create a male lead with a generic “bad” attitude, but Kenyon tweaked him enough through mannerisms and comments that he was unique. I do have some criticisms about him. The first part of the synopsis indicates he’s a fan of eBay – I didn’t see this once in the book, though it would have been an amusing quirk. I’ve learned from snippets here and there (not just this book) that snipers do not, in fact, work alone. They have a spotter and work very, very closely with them. They form a unique, tight bond born of trust and danger. To say that Steele prefers to work alone wouldn’t be entirely accurate. A sniper doesn’t really work alone. Now, if this is intended to say that he never means to take another spotter/partner because it means risking someone else’s life, then this might be more accurate.
Sydney, on the other hand, was less unique. We’re immediately introduced to her as a slightly curvier, heavier, shorter Angelina Jolie lookalike. I don’t really care for such blatant comparisons – it makes the characters feel less unique and more based off of impressions of a real person known by everyone. Granted, it makes it easier to picture a character by giving them a blatant lookalike, but I find it less fun and it actually hurts my sense of imagination. Personally, I then picture the actress/actor’s mannerisms and speech patterns I’ve seen during interviews or events or even as they act in films. Maybe I’m the only one who has an issue with this, or maybe I’m just being picky. I’m not used to Kenyon making such blatant comparisons and I usually find her characters to be much more unique. This is probably why I didn’t find Sydney to be overly interesting. She had a decent backstory and reason for wanting to be a part of BAD, but that was about it. She, herself, had a bad attitude and I didn’t feel like the reason was explained particularly well (over and above her reason for refusing to date coworkers anymore). I did like her banter with Steele – they seemed well-equipped to go toe-to-toe again and again and again. I kind of wanted to see her (quite literally) kick his butt because she probably could have, but it was not to be. In the past, there hasn’t really been an issue with Kenyon writing physically and mentally powerful women who can (and do) kick men’s butts, but I wonder why she didn’t really use that here. It seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity for this plot.
As far as the romance goes (because this is, at its heart, still a romance novel), I found it less believable than in Kenyon’s Dark Hunter books. The scenarios are similar: man and woman are thrust together under dire circumstances, they learn to work together as a well-matched team, they save the world and fall in love in the process. However, while I get that Steele has been celibate for a long time, I don’t quite understand how he “clicked” with Sydney. He could have been attracted to her, but I would have felt more convinced had he chosen to “scratch his itch” rather than hold off. He didn’t know Sydney; by all accounts, she could have never given in to his crude advances, why wait? On the flipside, I was more convinced by the progression of Sydney’s growing feelings for Steele. Her sympathy felt genuine even if her weakness for him did not.
Overall, this is a very different type of plot and brand of storytelling than Kenyon’s wildly popular Dark Hunter books – and there’s a reason those are so much more well-loved. Kenyon’s genius lies in the way she can craft whole underworlds and histories, fantastic characters and captivating otherworldly plots. BAD does this to a small degree, but I don’t find it as successful. I still finished reading this book in less than 24-hours, so that has to say something. I still enjoyed it. Had I read this before becoming such a fan of the Dark Hunter books, then perhaps I would have been more enamored. Echoes of Kenyon’s talent ring throughout – especially in her secondary characters (for those of you who know the world of her Dark-Hunters, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say there are shades of Acheron complexity in BAD’s director, John Q. Public; I also eagerly await reading his story…because he so clearly has one coming). There was a nice spark between Steele and Sydney, even if I didn’t always find it the most believable. They did have chemistry. The fast-paced plot and interesting story kept me very interested and I enjoyed reading this in (almost) one sitting. Even if I’m not in love with the series thus far, Kenyon remains one of my favorite authors.