Series: Black Knights Inc. #1
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 7 August 2012
Hell on Wheels is the first novel in the Black Knights Inc. series by Julie Ann Walker. An elite special ops team works out of a custom motorcycle shop, handling jobs that no one else can. Our hero, Nate “Ghost” Weller, is an ex-Marine sniper has had a crush on his best friend’s sister, Ali, for over ten years. Even after his best friend dies, Nate honours the guy’s warning to stay the hell away from her. Ali of course is also in love with Nate but can’t understand why he is so cold towards her. When she is nearly mugged and being followed, she runs to Nate for protection. Many romances are built on the premise that the hero and heroine are unable to articulate their long standing love for each other and are destined to live boring, beige lives until an event throws them together. This book works a little better than others because of the loyalty that Nate has for his best friend. He has also been scarred by experiences on the job and doesn’t want to expose Ali to those kinds of horrors.
The characters are diametrically opposite – he is broody, monosyllabic and at times sullen while she is a cute kindergarten teacher who can’t handle violence. She vomits at anything distasteful and would never allow swear words to cross her lips. The vomiting gets annoying fairly quickly as does her h-e-double hockey stick substitutes for swearing. Ali is able to bring Nate out of his shell though gradually and they bond by sharing Grigg stories. I enjoyed this side of the novel and if Walker had focussed more on these two, the book probably would have been more successful. Both admit they don’t really know each other as they have spent the last twelve years trying to avoid interacting so this is prime fodder for romance. Unfortunately Walker introduces a plethora of secondary characters that detract from the hero and heroine actually getting to know each other. The vast amount of page time dedicated to Becky and Frank is clearly a set up for the next book and it irked me. When the author can’t muster up the energy to spend more time with her two main characters, how can she excite the masses?
The pacing drags quite a bit at times and the suspense plot line is a let-down. Instead of focusing on retrieving the all-important zip drive that has implausibly been placed in a tree house and then escaping, you know because there are bad guys after them, they take a moment to snuggle, talk about Ali’s first kiss and how her parents didn’t really love her. This doesn’t really scream “I am an elite, top secret, special ops professional”, does it? An assassin comes after them and rather than dealing with the threat using the skills he honed in the Marines and then getting Ali to a secure location, Nate takes her to a motel. Hmm.
This novel is not bad per se but suffers from first book in a series syndrome. Setting up the back story of the Black Knights and introducing the next couple in the series detracted from the romance between the hero and the heroine which is a shame. It is also more of a romance with suspense elements rather than a romantic suspense novel as the suspense side really needed to be expanded. I’ll give the next book a chance as Frank and Becky seem to have a lot more chemistry than Nate and Ali.