Hard Evidence

By: Pamela Clare

Series: I-Team

Book Number: 2

Star Rating:

Sensuality Rating:



Spoiler Disclaimer


While waiting in line at a convenience store one night, investigative reporter Tessa Novak bears witness to a drive-by shooting that leaves a teenage girl dead. Tessa caught sight of the shooter's arm encased in a black leather jacket, so when she sees a guy in the same kind of jacket lurking around the crime scene, she has him pegged as the killer. Just before the girl died, she'd begged for help. Suffering from survivor's guilt and thinking she could have done more to save her, Tessa is determined the girl's death won't be in vain and that she'll bring the murderer to justice. When she chances across the same guy she saw at the scene the next day, he drags her into a supply closet and kisses her senseless. She isn't quite sure what to make of Julian at first, but she eventually concludes that he's probably some kind of law enforcement officer and that he doesn't want her investigating the case. Tessa doesn't let that stop her, but when she becomes a target for the killer, Julian takes her into protective custody at his safe house, where their sexual attraction explodes into passion. But she didn't realize how dangerous the men she's searching for are and they won't give up so easily.

Julian Darcangelo is an undercover FBI special agent who has spent the last several years of his life hunting down Alexi Burien, a Russian mafia boss who's running an extensive international sex-trafficking ring. Julian recently had the villain in his sights, but a carefully planned, multi-front raid somehow went sideways, leaving two members of his team dead. Now he's working with the Denver PD and feels he's very close to Burien again, but suspecting a mole within the agency, he trusts very few people. Following the shooting of the girl, who Julian is all but certain was being held against her will by Burien, Tessa starts getting in the way of his investigation. A part of him admires her persistence and understands why she's doing it, but he really doesn't want her anywhere near the dangerous criminals he's hunting. When she gains a stalker and an attempt is made on her life, Julian decides to put her under lock and key in his safe house. Although he'd never planned on marrying, Tessa starts to get under his skin in more ways than one. But when the mole gets to Tessa despite the safeguards Julian had in place, he finds himself in a race against time to save her from a fate worse than death.


Hard Evidence is the second book in Pamela Clare's I-Team romantic suspense series. In this one, we have Tessa who is an investigative journalist for the Denver Independent's elite I-Team. One night on her way home from work, she stops by a convenience store for coffee. While waiting in line, a teenage girl runs into the store, begging for help in Spanish just before being gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Tessa had gotten a glimpse of the shooter's arm, wearing a black leather jacket, and in the aftermath, spots a man in the crowd outside wearing the same type of jacket, but by the time she brings him to the cops' attention, the man has disappeared. Shaken and feeling that if she'd acted just seconds sooner, the girl might still be alive, Tessa is determined to use her skills as a journalist to track down the killer. After interviewing the only other eye-witness to the shooting, Tessa spots the man in the jacket, but before she can call for help, he drags her into a supply closet and kisses her senseless. Julian is actually an FBI special agent who's been working for years to bring down Alexi Burien, a member of the Red Mafia who's running an extensive sex-trafficking ring, and the girl had been a victim. His and Tessa's paths keep crossing as they both investigate the case, with their mutual sexual attraction increasing with each new encounter. When an attempt is made on Tessa's life, Julian decides that the best place to keep her safe is at his house, because virtually no one knows where he lives. Holed up there together, their passion for one another explodes, but Julian has vowed never to marry, thinking he wouldn't be good husband material, while Tessa is clearly a white-picket-fence kind of girl. Not to mention, there's a mole somewhere within the agency who could put both their lives in danger.

Tessa was born to a teenage mother and never knew her father. She grew up in poverty with a drunken abusive grandfather, so when she came of age, she couldn't get away soon enough. After attending college, she remade herself into a successful and determined investigative journalist. After a brief and unsatisfying relationship in college, she's basically sworn off men, thinking that the fantasy of sex and romance is far better than the reality. After witnessing the shooting of the girl at the convenience store, Tessa feels some survivor's guilt, which she pours into an investigative piece about the incident. She also swears on the girl's memory that she'll find the killer and help bring him to justice. Along the way, she meets Julian who both infuriates and intrigues her. He clearly doesn't want her looking too deeply into what's really going on, which only makes her more determined to find the truth, and at the same time, his kisses draw a heated response from her body that makes her want to see just how intense their passion might burn. When her inquiries lead her to some dark and dangerous places and an attempt is made on her life, Julian saves her and insists on keeping her safe at his house, where she gets answers to her sexual curiosity, and it's far better than she could have dreamed. Deep down, though, she knows that Julian isn't the marrying type, so she tries to come to terms with the possibility of it being a limited-time affair. But they may not have a chance to figure it out if the mole gets to her first. Tessa has a great combination of kindness and compassion mixed with strength and determination. A part of me admired her for not giving up on finding the killer, but there were a couple of times when I thought her persistence bordered on TSTL. However, I felt like she eventually learned from her mistakes and stopped taking quite so many chances. I also liked that she's so accepting of Julian and his troubled past, so overall, she was a pretty good heroine.

Julian was taken from his mother at the age of two and grew up in Mexico with an abusive father who became a pimp. He never really had a mother figure aside from the prostitutes who worked for his dad and never really experienced any gentleness in his life. Then he was convicted of manslaughter and went to prison where the FBI plucked him out and trained him to pour his rage at his father into going after sex-traffickers just like him. Julian has spent a lot of years working undercover pretending to be a pervert to catch the worst of the worst criminals, which has left him emotionally hardened. He's been hunting Alexi Burien for the past several years, but the man always seems to elude them, leaving Julian suspicious that there might be a mole in their midst. He knows that the girl's shooting is Burien's doing and he also knows that as an eyewitness, Tessa's life is likely in danger, too. As they keep crossing paths, he becomes equal parts infuriated at her for taking chances in her investigation and hot to get her between the sheets. However, sensing that she's a marriage-and-family kind of girl, he tries to ignore his body's lustful responses to her until he saves her life and brings her to his secret lair. Then all bets are off, as he starts to crave her kind compassionate nature as much as her body and he finds himself opening his icy heart to her healing touch. But extreme danger still lurks far closer than they realize.

I had very mixed feelings about Julian. A part of me sympathized with his troubled past and understood why he was so hardened and closed off, but at the same time, he took a little too long to warm up IMHO. As a result, he was just too rough around the edges for me to fully like him. The first couple of times he kissed Tessa, I felt like he was manhandling her, and the only thing that borderline kept it from being non-consensual is that, of course, deep down she liked it. There's also a scene where he's trying to push her away, so he basically shoves her to the floor and takes her forcefully. Again the only thing that kept it from being rape is that she didn't protest at all and later said that she didn't mind. Admittedly he did feel contrite about it afterward, but it still made me very uncomfortable, and it threw me out of the emotion of their burgeoning romance. I think he could have accomplished the same goal by perhaps scaring her a little, while not adding questionable sex into the mix. Until he finally gets in touch with his emotions and gives in to them, he also has a tendency to blow hot and cold, sometimes being nice to Tessa and buying gifts for her, while other times barking orders at her like she's a soldier in his army of one and icing her out. By the end, Julian had finally calmed down and was more even-tempered so that I didn't question their HEA, but I simply didn't fall for him in the way I would have liked.

I-Team is a fairly long-ish series, so there are several supporting characters in Hard Evidence who have their own books in the series. First it was great to catch up with Tessa's best friend, Kara, and her husband, Reece, (Extreme Exposure) and to see their happy and growing family. They're a big support to Tessa as she faces all the danger from her intrepid investigation. Tessa has many other friends as well, including those who are still working in the I-Team newsroom. Sophie is probably her closest friend there, and she becomes the heroine of the next book, Unlawful Contact. There's also the newest member of the team, Katherine, who is the heroine of the fourth book, Naked Edge, and photojournalist, Joaquin, who is the hero of the eighth book, Deadly Intent. Tessa has other friends at the newspaper outside the I-Team, including fashion reporter, Lissy, who along with her husband, Will, become the hero and heroine of the novella Heaven Can't Wait that falls between books one and two, and entertainment reporter Holly, who seems to have a one-track mind about sex, is the heroine of the seventh book, Seduction Games. Several of the I-Team cast members also come together for the Christmas novella, Dead by Midnight, as well as cross over to Pamela Clare's Colorado High Country series.

I read the first I-Team book eons ago, and although I generally enjoyed it, the series somehow got buried on my TBR list. It was nice getting back to it after so long, and I didn't feel at all lost, which is probably a good indication that the books stand well on their own. While Hard Evidence was a pretty good read, much like with the first book, it wasn't quite perfect for me. I did struggle a bit to connect to Tessa and Julian and get into their relationship. I think a lot of it had to do with my issues with Julian more than anything. Every time I was starting to feel something, he'd mess it up by going cold or doing something that made me uncomfortable. Once he finally has a break-through in getting in touch with his emotions, I felt more of a connection between them, but unfortunately that doesn't happen until pretty late in the story. This kind of left me feeling like the ratio of romance to suspense was a little lop-sided in favor of the suspense. One other thing that kind of bugged me is that Ms. Clare has a tendency to repeat things--something that I thought was a problem in the first book, too--particularly in the case of characters recalling lines that someone else previously uttered. Doing this occasionally can be impactful, but she does it a lot and sometimes even has the same line repeated several times in close proximity, which was rather annoying. I think there was probably a better way to sum it up than to be so repetitious. On the up side, the suspense portion of the plot was very well done. I enjoyed reading about Tessa and Julian's independent investigations into what happened to the murdered girl. The danger to Tessa was high throughout, keeping me on the edge of my seat, as Julian tries to keep her safe. Also, sex trafficking is a scourge on the world, so I commend the author for bringing attention to this difficult issue and allowing Julian and his team to save a number of girls who were languishing in sexual slavery. All things considered, Hard Evidence was a solid four-star read for me that's left me open to continuing the series, so I'm going to try to get to the next book a little sooner than I managed to read this one.


Pamela Clare


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