Isaac Rothe has been living life on the edge as an assassin and covert agent for a secret governmental agency known as XOps. Battle weary, he's finally decided he wants out. The only problem is, short of death, no one ever truly leaves XOps. Now hunted by the agency he used to work for and on the run for his life, Isaac is making a living as an underground cage fighter, but when the cops raid a fight in which he is participating, he finds himself in jail with his fragile cover blown.
Grier Childe is normally a high-priced attorney who works for her father's law firm, but occasionally, she offers her services as a public defender. Her brother was a drug addict, and no matter how hard she tried, Grier was never able to help him get clean, which led to his death a few years earlier. Grier hopes that by volunteering her services as an attorney to those who can't afford one, she can somehow atone for the mistakes of the past and help someone else where she wasn't able to help her brother. Assigned to Isaac's case, she ends up posting bail for him out of her own bank account, because he reminds her in some ways of her lost sibling. When Isaac tries to skip town, she goes after him and convinces him to stay put by offering her own highly secure home as a temporary hide-out from his mysterious past. Grier falls hard and fast for the troubled bad boy, but she soon finds out that his past is far more dangerous than she ever could have imagined and that he is haunted by it in ways that are difficult to fathom.
Little do Grier and Isaac know that while they're fighting a battle in the real world for Isaac's life and freedom, a supernatural war is being waged for his very soul. Can Isaac's old XOps buddy, Jim Heron, and his fallen angel cohorts defeat the evil forces in time to save Isaac from falling into the clutches of a demon or will they be led down a path of destruction and chaos? And if Isaac survives the coming battle, can he and Grier ever have a future together when they're from such different walks of life?
Crave is the second book in J. R. Ward's Fallen Angels series, and overall it was a good story. However, I felt that this one, perhaps more so than the first in the series, focused a little more on the urban fantasy elements rather than the romance. I've always admired Ms. Ward's ability to create engaging stories with characters who exhibit a great deal of depth and for whom I can root. In that respect, Crave was no exception, but where I felt it fell rather flat was in the relationship development. I know from her Black Dagger Brotherhood series that the author is quite capable of creating deeply emotional romances that make me, as the reader, feel like I'm a part of a great love affair, but the hero and heroine's relationship in Crave didn't quite have that same spark of connection that I've felt in many of her other books. Otherwise though, it was a good story that advanced the overall plot arc of the battle between good and evil.
Isaac is nothing if not a fighter. For several years, he's worked as a mercenary in a covert ops group known as XOps, and during that time, he carried out several assassinations. Now, things have changed for him and he wants out, but the guys in charge aren't about to let him go so easily. In their minds, the only way out of XOps is death. To avoid becoming the next target of an XOps operative, Isaac has been trying to lay low and earn enough money to pay the bills by cage fighting. His cover is blown though, when he's arrested in a police raid on the illegal fighting ring. His life takes another unexpected turn when he meets his beautiful public defender. She makes him long for things he shouldn't want and believes he can never have because of his jaded past. The thing I loved most about Isaac was that he can very much be the gentleman. He has a proper side that seems to be at odds with his rough nature, but I felt like it showed him to have scruples despite the seemingly terrible things he's done. I just loved the way he treated Grier like the well-bred lady that she was, and that he was willing to sacrifice himself to ensure her safety. I also liked that he had a vulnerable side and that deep down, he really wanted a future with a woman like Grier by his side.
Grier comes from a wealthy family, but as she soon finds out, her own father, who is her only living relative, has some pretty big secrets of his own. Grier's brother, Daniel, died of a drug overdose and ever since, he sometimes appears to her as a ghost. I thought this was an interesting angle, which gave the story another supernatural side apart from the angels and demons. Grier harbors guilt over her brother's death, thinking that she somehow could have saved him, which is why she volunteers her services as a public defender. She hopes to help other people in the way she couldn't help Danny. I liked that despite Grier being obviously well-off, she had a willingness to go into the trenches, so to speak, and help others in need. Her attraction to her client, Isaac, is almost immediate, and she thinks she sees similarities to her brother in him, which drives her to go above and beyond the call of duty. She posts his bail and then is determined to see that he doesn't leave town before going to trial, even if that means bringing him into her own home to keep an eye on him. Of course, she soon finds out that Isaac is much more than a mere cage fighter and that his past is dangerous and frightening. I like that Grier was able to give Isaac the strength to try to come forward and do the right thing even if it meant him going into the witness protection program and her probably never seeing him again. I also liked her strength and resilience which made her unwilling to take crap from anyone, but at the same time, she had a softer, more relatable side which cared deeply about other people.
As I said before, I felt like the weak link here was Isaac and Grier's romance. Things go from zero to sixty between them almost in a heartbeat, and the whole story plays out over a matter of days. Although I liked Isaac's vulnerability during their first love scene, I didn't really start to feel a true connection between them until their third love scene (which is also the last full love scene in the book). Up to that point, they'd been through a lot together, which easily could have heightened their emotions, but it just didn't feel like enough upon which to base a lifetime commitment or even their declarations of love. There's also some time during which the pair are separated and Isaac allows Grier to believe some things about him that aren't entirely true for her own protection. I felt like this short period of distrust only added to the distance that IMHO hadn't been fully bridged yet at that point. Their final little reunion scene was sweet and romantic, but again, not quite enough to make me fully buy into a lasting love. Isaac's eleventh hour turnaround was also made with little explanation except that he needed some time to get his head on straight, and after giving it some thought, realized he wanted to give a more serious relationship with Grier a try away from all the danger and drama.
Probably the biggest strength of the book, in my opinion, was the ongoing story of Jim Heron and his fallen angels sidekicks Adrian and Eddie, as well as their continued supernatural battle with the demon Devina. Jim is surprisingly unaffected by the heinous tortures Davina devises for him in this book until she pulls out the emotional big guns. Nothing affects him more deeply than the twin losses he suffered in which he blames himself for not being there in time to save his mother when he was a boy or the young girl Davina sacrificed in the last book. He's determined to save the girl's soul even though he wasn't able to save her in life. Jim also begins to exhibit some new and intriguing powers that may some day be Davina's undoing. While getting to Jim may have been a challenge for Davina, the same cannot be said of Adrian, who sacrificed himself in the last book to keep Davina occupied. He's still suffering the after-effects of being Davina's "plaything." The person... er, angel... who is there for him the most is his long-time friend, Eddie, and it seems their relationship may go a bit deeper than just friends. Davina is the character I love to hate for her pure evilness, manipulations, and everything she does to the guys. However, she shows some interesting vulnerabilities in this story that may end up being the key to defeating her. While their hands may be tied in certain matters relating to the battle, Nigel and Colin, the angels from the heavenly realm, are there to provide some assistance and guidance for our boys on Earth. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Jim's scruffy little dog, Dog, who is still an adorable little furball.
Overall, I enjoyed Crave for the strength of its urban fantasy aspects and the advancement of that part of the story arc. I look forward to seeing where things go from here and how the battle progresses. If only the romance had been stronger, this easily could have been a five-star read. It's just that when I've read other books by J. R. Ward in which the romance made me swoon, Isaac and Grier's relationship simply seemed to pale by comparison. Even when the Warden doesn't hit it out of the ballpark, though, she still writes a pretty solid story, so I remain eager to continue with the series.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook