TBR Challenge and this month it was a pretty easy choice. I have several books from this series that I've been wanting to read, so it was time to get back to them.
Badlands by Jill Sorenson is the 3rd book in her romantic suspense series named after the first book, Aftershock. I loved Aftershock and I also enjoyed the first book in her MC series, Riding Dirty. This book picks up with two of the characters from Aftershock and uses some of the same settings in Riding Dirty, around the Salton Sea of southern California.
Penny and Owen were trapped with several others in the earthquake described in Aftershock. In Badlands it's now five years later. Thanks to his heroics in the aftermath of the earthquake, Owen, an ex-con, is now working as a bodyguard for Penny's father, a presidential candidate. For years the two of them have kept their feelings for one another to themselves. Penny is a single mother devoted to raising her son, Cruz, and Owen knows his job means he can't get emotionally involved.
But then Penny, Cruz, and Owen are all kidnapped and taken out to the California Badlands in a plot to get Penny's father to withdraw from the presidential race. The kidnapping is compounded by the fact that one of the kidnappers (and the ringleader) is none other than Owen's older brother, Shane. Shane takes them all to badlands near the Salton Sea, not far from where the brothers grew up, so its an area they both know fairly well. On the first night, Penny manages to take Cruz and escape into the desert. When the gang attempts to retrieve them, Owen also gets away, finds Penny and Cruz, and begins to lead them to safety. Of course, things don't exactly go smoothly....
I really enjoyed this book. The suspense was very well done, and Sorenson does a great job of describing the terrain, the heat, and all of the obstacles Penny, Cruz, and Owen face. We get a good look at Owen's family, the forces that shaped both he and Shane, and the very real differences between Owen and Penny. Besides the suspense angle, I think the romance angle was also well done. Both characters have to reach for what they want. Owen feels held back by his upbringing and his time in prison; Penny has conformed herself to her parents' wishes to overcome the stigma of being a single mother. I liked both of these characters very much.
I'm happy to recommend this book. I don't think you need to read the earlier entries to enjoy this one, although if you haven't read Aftershock, you're missing another great book.