Reese Theriot is the head of the Secret Service presidential detail. He is also madly in love with President Brennan Walker. The two tried to stay away from each other; they knew that a relationship between a closeted president and his lead Secret Service agent would be a scandal that could destroy Brennan’s presidency. And Brennan has so much good he can do for the country. He is a humanitarian who has spent years working to make the world a better place for everyone, and now he has a chance to really make a difference as president. But no one knows Brennan likes men, and a relationship with any man, let alone an agent assigned to protect him, could destroy his reputation. Yet despite all that, Reese and Brennan love each other fiercely and have finally accepted that they need each other despite the risk.
When Brennan gets word that the CIA Director needs a top secret meeting with him, Reese knows arranging it is a risk. Brennan will need to be without his usual fleet of protective agents and the meeting will need to happen off book, but Reese trusts Brennan when he says he needs the meeting to happen. So Reese does everything he can to make sure that every detail is in place to secure the president’s safety. And all seems to be going smoothly, until Reese gets word that the president’s limo has exploded in a fiery inferno. There were three men in the car and they have found two bodies, and no one knows if Brennan is alive or dead.
It quickly becomes clear that foul play was involved, but Reese has no idea who could have pulled off such a brazen attack in the face of some of the best security in the world. If word gets out the president is missing, possibly dead, all hell will break loose. And so now it is a race against time for Reese to find out just what happened. And more importantly, to find out if his lover is alive and, if so, where he is. Even as Reese’s heart is breaking fearing the worst, he is determined to chase down every lead and do all he can to find the man he loves and hopefully bring him back alive.
Tal Bauer is one of my favorite suspense writers and this story is a thrill ride from beginning to end. The story opens in present day as Brennan is heading out for this clandestine meeting. Reese knows this off book meeting is a huge breach of protocol, but he also trusts Brennan when he says the meeting has to happen and Reese is determined to make sure Brennan stays safe. Of course, the worst then happens and Brennan’s car explodes and Reese is facing devastation at the idea that Brennan may be dead, as well as a determination to do all he can to figure out what happened before word gets out that the president is missing and possibly dead. The story then moves back and forth between dual POVs from the past, as we see Brennan and Reese’s relationship develop, and a present day POV from Reese as he heads the investigation into the crash. The flashback scenes are sweet and mushy and sexy as the men fall for one another. Reese is hesitant, as he has such belief in Brennan’s ability to do good for the world and doesn’t want to mess it up. The tone is a bit purple at times, with high romantic drama, but I think it works to get us up to speed and invested in the couple as we see a frantic Reese in modern day then racing to save his man.
The mystery is well done and super exciting. It is hard to believe it takes place in about a day as so much happens. (If you ever watched the show 24, it almost has that feeling of intensity as the clock is racing and the hero is just going non-stop to solve the mystery.) Reese is starting basically from zero, as there is almost no evidence to be found. And of course, at the same time as he is trying to find out what happened, they are trying to hide from the world that the president is missing and possibly dead. Not to mention, Reese is heartbroken and terrified and almost sick at the idea that the man he loves could be dead. The tension is high and the mystery is so exciting and suspenseful, I was just completely caught up in figuring out who was behind it all. Bauer is great at the little details that really bring a story to life, so we get lots of fun behind-the-scenes moments about the White House, the way the Secret Service operates, and how Reese runs down leads.
FWIW, this is the third (?) distinct book/series from Bauer involving a romance between the president and a Secret Service agent (I’ve also read The Night Of and the Executive Office series). So I was a little bit worried that maybe jumping back into this same dynamic again would feel a little repetitive of past books, but that wasn’t the case at all. The story felt fresh and exciting and having read similar pairings from the author didn’t detract at all from this book.
I really loved this one and found it incredibly exciting. Bauer is so great at thrillers and this is no exception. If you enjoy romantic suspense, definitely pick this one up.
Note: This story takes place with the political backdrop of a war between a fictional Russia and Ukraine. It was written prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February in our real world, but there are obviously some parallels between the fictional and real world events.