Anne Ashburn is an independent woman caught up in a conflagration of complicated family dynamics. All she ever wanted was to be like her firefighter father who was always her hero, until his death on the job uncovered a dark secret that tarnished him forever in her eyes and left her at odds with both her mother and her brother. Despite her father's belief that women had no business in his profession, Anne still went on to become a firefighter, pushing herself to the limits and never allowing anything to get in the way of her career, not even fellow firefighter, Danny Maguire, who has the potential to become the love of her life. Instead she's married to her work until a fateful decision while fighting a warehouse fire changes her forever and forces her to reinvent herself as an arson investigator. Just when she thought her new job could never be as thrilling as the old one, Anne finds herself pitted against an arsonist who refuses to be caught and now has her in his cross-hairs at the same time that her relationship with Danny starts heating up again.
After losing his entire family and experiencing more than his fair share of trauma on the job, firefighter Danny Maguire is in an emotional downward spiral. It doesn't help that he's loved Anne from afar since the day they started working together and that she refuses to even entertain the idea of a serious relationship with him. He also can't get past the unthinkable decision he was forced to make in that fateful warehouse fire. Consumed with guilt, he begins taking unnecessary risks on the job to the point that it appears he has a death-wish. It's not until a mutual friend draws Anne back into Danny's life that he starts to make peace with the past and finds something to live for. And he's not about to let a dangerous firebug turned stalker take her away from him again.
Consumed is the first full-length novel in J. R. Ward's new Firefighters series, and it's an excellent beginning. We were introduced to our hero and heroine, Danny and Anne, in the two prequel novellas, The Wedding from Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner and The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Reception. There we learned of the strong, irresistible attraction they've shared for one another since the day they started working together. But Anne has worked hard to get where she is as a woman in a male-dominated world, so she couldn't bring herself to give Danny anything more than a one-night stand. To do so, she would've risked her entire career, because of the fire department's no-fraternization policy. I fully expected the story to fast-forward from there, so I was pleasantly surprised that only a few weeks had passed between their passionate night together and the beginning of this book. The first few chapters contain some nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat suspense as both Danny and Anne are involved in fighting a fire that leaves Anne trapped, and Danny forced to make an agonizing decision that has permanent repercussions not only to Anne's life but to his psyche as well. From there, the story does fast-forward ten months to Anne starting her new job as an arson investigator. She's also gradually drawn back into Danny's life and an eventual relationship with him, while investigating a suspicious warehouse fire that looks like it may have ties to a string of other fires, including the one which was the last fire she fought as a firefighter. It took a little while for this part of the story to build, but it led to a surprising, action-packed climax that was equally as intense as the opening chapters.
Anne is a strong, independent heroine with some complex family dynamics. Her firefighter father was always her hero, and she wanted nothing more than to be like him. But he looked down on a woman going into that type of profession. He died on the job when she was a young teen. That event revealed a dark, family secret that only she knows about, and that permanently marred her father's memory. Anne also has a troubled relationship with her mom. She views the older woman as far too meek and dependent, so she refuses to be anything like her, instead relying only on herself. Even her relationship with her brother is a rocky one. She brings a lot of this baggage into her romance with Danny, as well, holding him at arm's length sometimes and allowing the past to unfairly color her perceptions of him at times, too. I very much admired Anne for her strength and resilience in the face of a life-altering event. She's one tough cookie and a pragmatist, who doesn't allow circumstances to get her down. It's a big change to go from fighting fires to investigating them when she's used to that adrenalin rush, but again she throws herself into her work with gusto. She may be a kick-butt fighter, but she has a gentler side as well, proving herself to be a great pet parent with a soft spot for dogs, and I absolutely loved Soot. Anne also finds a soft spot for Danny, and once she fully lets him in, she's a comfort to him in his times of need.
Aside from his chosen firefighter family, Danny is alone in the world. His parents passed away a long time ago and he lost his twin brother, who was also a firefighter, on the job three years before, something that has stayed with him. In addition, he witnessed the loss of another fellow firefighter in the line of duty, so he's already had a lot of trauma in his life. Then he has to make an unthinkable decision in order to save Anne, the only woman he's ever loved, from the clutches of a burning building. This in turn leads to his own near-death experience, from which it takes months for him to recover. Once he does and he gets back to work, Danny is in an emotional downward spiral and basically seems to have a death-wish. That's when a mutual friend draws Anne back into his life, giving him something to live for again. I adored Danny. Underneath the tough firefighter exterior beats a tender heart that's been deeply wounded by all the tragedy in his life. He's struggling to keep his head above water and not drown in his own emotions. He may have been a playboy, going from one woman to the next, but I love that he's only ever truly had eyes for Anne. She's the other half of him, and I love that he never tries to stifle her independent spirit. Although he initially has some trouble being around her because seeing her drives home the agonizing choice he had to make, he eventually comes to accept her as a whole person and the only one he loves. He also proves more than once that he'll always have her back and will do anything to keep her safe.
J. R. Ward has set up a number of interesting supporting characters who would make great main characters in future books and could conceivably keep the series going for quite a while. First up is Anne's brother, Tom, who gets several of his own POV scenes. Tom is the chief firefighter and a bit of a chip off the old block. I have to admit that for quite a ways into the story, I didn't really like Tom much. He's a hard, intractable man who doesn't get along with Anne and even has an argument with her while she's in the hospital right after being injured in her last fire. He really rubbed me the wrong way until he had a run-in with Mayor Catherine Mahoney who called him on the mat for being difficult. At that point, he seemed to have a bit of a wake-up call and became a better person for the rest of the story. There's a definite attraction between these two, so I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find them engaged in an enemies to lovers romance in the next book. Danny's former roommate, Jack, a SWAT officer, helps Anne with her investigation. The author has dropped some intriguing tidbits about a couple of other firefighters, Emilio and Vic. Not to mention, between the 499 and the 617 there are lots more of these guys in the background, as well as police officers, who we haven't gotten to know yet. Moose and Deandra, the (un)happy couple from The Wedding from Hell prequel novellas continue into the marriage from hell. Called it!;-) Then there's the villainous real estate developer, Charles Ripkin, who's a real creep. I'll be looking forward to seeing him get what's coming to him.
Overall, Consumed was a great story that I very much enjoyed. J. R. Ward has a real talent for making me care about her characters and the worlds she creates. The firefighters and other first responders in this series are shaping up to be a brotherhood of a different sort, who I very much look forward to getting to know better. Anne and Danny were awesome characters who made me feel for them and each of their individual situations. I loved seeing them gradually come together and find some healing in their relationship, as well as seeing Anne mend her severed family ties. There were no easy answers or magic solutions for Danny's tragic past, but I was heartened in knowing that he's now working to put it behind him and look to a brighter future. This is also a book about families, both those by birth and those we choose, that's wrapped up the mystery of who's setting the warehouse fires and why, which leads to a reveal that I honestly didn't see coming but which made perfect sense. Consumed was an all-around wonderful read that really has me looking forward to future books of the series.
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