Lieutenant Reed Solliday started out as a firefighter, but when he married, he transferred to fire investigations at the behest of his wife who was worried about his safety. In all of his years of experience with fires, he's never seen anything quite like the spate of recent house fires he's been called to look into. At the first scene, he immediately recognizes the signs of arson, but there is also a victim, burned beyond recognition. When an autopsy reveals that she was shot and also likely raped before being burned, the police are drawn into the investigation as well. Reed is partnered with homicide detective Mia Mitchell. With her having just recently returned to work after being shot in the line of duty, Reed isn't sure she's ready to be back yet, but the longer he works with her, the more respect he gains for her courage and skills. He also discovers a deep attraction for Mia, but between his work and raising a teenage daughter, he doesn't have much time for relationships. Not to mention, ever since his wife died, Reed hasn't had much luck dating, because he can't seen to find anyone who measures up to the high standard she set. Instead he suggests a casual fling, thinking that's all he can offer Mia, but as their investigation progresses and he spends more time with her, he starts to realize that she just might be someone he could see himself with permanently... if the killer doesn't get to her first.
Mia Mitchell had a troubled childhood with an abusive cop father, but she chose to go into the same line of work to help people like herself and her sister find justice. She's become a respected homicide detective who has a reputation for being married to her work. Although she'd briefly been engaged, she isn't sure she's the settling down type. When she's partnered with Reed, and he makes his no-strings affair proposition, she thinks that's what she wants, too, but the more time she spends with him the more she finds herself opening up to him about her past, which makes her start thinking about the future. As she takes a wait-and-see approach to whether they'll be able to get on the same page regarding their romantic relationship, the investigation heats up and the body count rises. Mia and Reed work non-stop trying to find the killer, but when he places Mia in his crosshairs, neither she, Reed, or their families will be safe until he's caught.
Count to Ten is the sixth book in Karen Rose's larger interconnected romantic suspense series or if you're reading them by location setting, it's the fifth in her Chicago series. This one follows Detective Mia Mitchell who has factored into several of the previous books. Both she and her partner, Abe, were recently shot in the line of duty, and she is just returning to work. She's partnered with fire marshal Reed Solliday who is investigating multiple arson cases that have turned deadly. They quickly discover that the victims were murdered, which changes the whole trajectory of the investigation. As they begin to put the pieces together, the evidence seems to be leading to a facility for juvenile delinquents. But before they can find the culprit, he strikes again... and again. Gradually they figure out his identity, but by then, he has Mia squarely in his crosshairs. Along the way, Reed and Mia grow closer and agree to engage in a no-strings affair. Neither really thinks they're ready for commitment, but as the killer targets both of them, along with people close to them, they start to rethink their priorities and may discover that there's room in their lives for each other after all.
As a kid, Reed was abused by his mother and ended up in the foster care system, but he was eventually adopted into a large, diverse family that gave him the stability he craved. As a result, he grew up into a respectable man who was first, a firefighter, and later, a fire marshal. In college, he met the woman who he believed was his soul mate, but she died several years ago, leaving him the single father of a teenage daughter. He hasn't really dated much since losing his wife, though, because he can't seem to find another woman who measures up. Reed is called to the scene of a house fire, which he almost immediately recognizes as arson. There is one victim, burned beyond recognition, but an autopsy reveals that she was shot and likely raped before she was burned, which draws the police into the investigation. Reed is paired with Mia, who he, at first, thinks may not be up to the job given that she's just returned from being shot, but the longer he works with her on the case, the more respect he gains for her abilities as a detective. They make a good team, running down clues and figuring out who the perpetrator is, and along the way, Reed realizes that he's very attracted to Mia. However, unable to put the memory of his dead wife to rest, he has no real interest in anything beyond a casual fling. The further the investigation goes and the deeper he gets involved with Mia, though, the more he realizes she might be someone he could actually see himself with long-term. But if the killer gets to her first, he may not have the chance to tell her. Reed is a good father, a smart fire investigator, and he treats Mia with respect. Normally I'm a fan of heroes who've been celibate for an extended period of time, but even that aspect of his character didn't grab me in the way it usually does. Overall, Reed is a good character, but for a reason I couldn't quite pinpoint, I didn't connect with him or fall for him in the way I wanted to.
Mia grew up in an abusive and extremely dysfunctional household with a father who was a cop. He was respected by his fellow law officers who never would have guessed at what was going on beneath the surface. Because of the abuse, Mia and her sister, Kelsey, took two different paths, with Kelsey ending up in prison, while Mia became a detective with a desire to help people get out of situations like the one they were in. She's married to her work, and although she was briefly engaged to someone, she doesn't really see herself as the settling down type. When she's partnered with Reed, she's attracted to him, so when he makes his no-strings proposition, she thinks it's what she wants, too. But the more time she spends with him, the more she finds that Reed is someone she feels comfortable enough with to open up to about things she's never told anyone else. As the intimacy grows between them, she realizes that she's not going to be good at a casual affair after all. While waiting to see if she and Reed can get on the same page with their romantic relationship, they work non-stop trying to identify the killer, but when he targets Mia, it puts people both she and Reed care about in jeopardy. For the most part, Mia is a tough, no-nonsense cop. She thinks her partner, Abe, is the one who's good with people, but she possesses empathy that makes her good at dealing with the victims' families. She also proves to be better at relationships than she thought, handling Reed's headstrong, teenage daughter in a healthy way and forming an instant bond with an orphaned little boy. Once Reed realizes that he can't replace his wife and shouldn't try, but that he can form a new and different sort of romantic bond, she's more than happy to completely let him into her life. I liked Mia and thought she was a good heroine, but much like Reed, I didn't fully connect with her for some reason.
Karen Rose's romantic suspense world is huge, meaning there are lots of great supporting characters in Count to Ten who either had or will get their own books in the series. Mia's partner, Abe, and his wife, Kristen (I'm Watching You) are seen a few times. Abe is recovering from a gunshot wound and Mia must get past her own sense of guilt over not preventing him from being hurt. Mia's best friend, Dana, and her husband, Ethan (Nothing to Fear), help support Mia throughout the investigation and her personal problems. It was nice to see them and their growing family again. Aiden (You Can't Hide) and his partner, Murphy, get drawn in to help with the investigation. Mia is also friends with David Hunter, who was introduced as a teenager way back in the first book, Don't Tell. He's now all grown up, working as a firefighter, and he'll be paired with Mia's sister, Olivia, in their own book, Silent Scream. There are assorted other characters who've been a part of the series, such as Mia's chief, Marc Spinelli, their CSI guy, Jack Unger, and reporter Joanna Carmichael, who has questionable methods for getting her stories, but who does help out with important information sometimes. Of course, we also have the bad guy, who is someone most people don't suspect at first glance, but who manages to wreak havoc on a lot of lives, as well as numerous characters who end up dead at his hands, some deserving of punishment and others mere innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. All in all, it was a lot of characters to wrangle into one story, but I think I generally kept track of most of them.
Count to Ten ended up being my least favorite Karen Rose book to date, but even still, it was a good story. Karen Rose on a so-so day is still much better than many other authors on their best days, so it held my attention well. I think two things contributed to my mild dissatisfaction. The first is that with all of Ms. Rose's other books I've read to date, I don't think I figured out who the bad guy was or at least not until very close to the reveal. This time, I pegged him not long after meeting him in the story. I have no idea why it was so easy for me this time, but it did take away some of the enjoyment of figuring out the mystery along with the detectives. I also felt like either his identity was revealed a little too soon or that things were drawn out a little too long after the reveal, which made the pace a bit sluggish. The other reason is that I felt like the romance was more subdued in this one than some of the earlier books. The romantic scenes definitely seemed to take a back seat to the mystery and suspense elements this time. Also, maybe because I didn't connect deeply with either Reed or Mia on an individual level, I didn't really feel a strong emotional connection between them as a couple. They each have a lot of respective baggage and yet they form a romantic bond and work through their issues in just a matter of weeks while also being embroiled in an intense investigation, which didn't leave a lot of time for more romantic moments. There are a few, but not quite enough to satisfy me, and it's also a very quick time frame to fully develop a relationship. Otherwise, though, Count to Ten was an enjoyable read that was definitely worth my time.
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