Countdown to Zero Hour (Black Ops: Automatik #1)
Carina Press / February 22, 2016 / $3.49 digital
Former Special Forces agent Artem “Art” Diaz is tattooed, muscular and undeniably dangerous. He's also deep undercover, posing as mob muscle for a deadly bratva boss. His mission: gain the Russians' trust. Then lead the strike team that will take them down.
Chef Hayley Baskov knows better than to get involved with someone with such close mafia ties, but the handsome bodyguard who brought her to this sprawling estate full of ruthless mobsters is inexplicably kind. A little flirtation may keep her safe amid the growing menace.
As Art's timetable for action escalates, so do his encounters with Hayley. Stealing what illicit pleasure they can keeps them both sane in the face of evil. But when things get dangerous, Art has to tell her about his assignment, bringing her deeper into the shadowy world of black ops…and putting her life on the line.
Now Art has a new objective: protect Hayley from the men who'd see them both dead.
I cut my reading teeth gnawing on mysteries, suspense and Gothics of various stripes, which has led me over the years to feel quite strongly that romantic suspense is the hardest romance subgenre to pull off. The writer has to figure out a way to blend the romance with mystery and danger while somehow satisfying both camps of readers.
Romantic suspense was to the late 1990s and early 2000s what Billionaire Doms with red rooms of pain are to today. We wanted more, we wanted them now, and then we all fell down what I like to call The Serial Killer Rabbit Hole.
Lots of world weary cop/detective/private-eye heroes. Lots of heroines in peril. Lots of creepy, over-the-top serial killers that just seemed to get more creepy and more over-the-top with each new release. And just like that? Romantic suspense started to wane.
However, the subgenre is currently experiencing a revival. What Nico Rosso does with this first book in his new Black Ops: Automatik series is to throw a rope to readers mired in the Serial Killer Rabbit Hole and pull us out into action movie territory. Much like his heroine, a chef, Rosso mixes in a variety of ingredients—a heaping helping of Russian Mafia, a dash of sneering bodyguards, and brings a hero playing a dangerous undercover game to a full boil.
Chef Hayley Baskov had big plans to open her own restaurant with her ex, Burton. Her first clue that it was doomed should have been that her ex’s name is….Burton. Anyway, she now finds herself bunking with friends and pushing a steam cart outside of a San Diego night club trying to scrape up enough cash to 1) pay back her Mom and 2) get on her feet again. Her food catches the attention of Rolan, the owner of the club, and his bodyguard, Artem “Art” Diaz. Before she knows it Rolan is “asking” her to be a chef at a private house “party” in the middle of the desert for ungodly sums of money. Hayley cannot refuse the offer; not only does she need the money, but Rolan is also a big baddie in the Russian mob. Saying no isn’t exactly an option.
She’d found a good place to start her life back up but had to make a deal with a bad guy to do it and had entered into a world of knife attacks and violent men.
Art is deep undercover and has infiltrated Rolan’s inner circle by trading on his mixed ethnicity. He’s part Russian, part Hispanic, and has become valuable to Rolan by feeding him tid-bits of information about the Mexican gangsters trying to horn in on his territory. What nobody knows is that Art is Black Ops and his mission is to lead the Automatik team to strike during that house “party” in the middle of the desert – when five of the biggest names in the Russian mob will all be under one roof. Having an innocent bystander, Hayley, thrown in the path complicates matters considerably – especially since he’s hot for her, in and out of the kitchen.
“You keep telling me how dangerous it is, but it was you who brought me here.” She squinted, but his face was dark in front of the bright window.
“Did you have a choice?” He led her with the question.
“You know I didn’t.”
“Neither did I.”
There’s literally a little bit of something to attract just about every reader in this book, making it a feast for the reading senses. A Black Ops hero with his own personal agenda for revenge, a heroine who is smart, tough, and who finds her back up against the wall (literally and figuratively), and a house full of Very Bad Man to ramp up the danger until the mercury blows off the top of the thermometer. Then there’s the food and the descriptions of Hayley’s cooking. I swear I gained five pounds just reading this book and I’m pretty Rosso owes me at least a month’s gym membership.
After years of dormant complacency, romantic suspense is making a comeback, in part because of authors like Rosso who are taking it into more action-adventure territory. However, at the heart of the story, even with the Russian mobsters and the bad guys carrying assault rifles and various knifes, we have a romance. A fairly sensual one, with Hayley seducing Art with her cooking and Art seducing Hayley with his charm and charisma. Now excuse me while I go hop on the treadmill….
Learn more about or order a copy of Countdown to Zero by Nico Rosso, available on February 22, 2016:
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.