Caught up by human traffickers, Morgan — or Dusk as she's now called — never expects to know freedom or happiness again. And after the horrors she's witnessed and endured, she's not even sure getting away would save her. But a door opens when she least expects it, and against all odds and loss of hope, she's saved from the brutal life that was forced on her. Only her captor wants her back, and he'll stop at nothing to find her and punish her for her betrayal.
But... This is not a negative at all as far as I'm concerned, but I figure I'll throw it out there for those of you who like darker romances. This is not going to be your typical dark love story. The subject matter is certainly heavy and gritty and downright terrifying if you stop to realize that it's probably the true story of someone right this moment. But while the details are disturbing, they're not relayed in disturbing detail, if that makes any sense. And the hero who saves our poor girl doesn't within a few short weeks heal her emotional wounds and show her what a healthy relationship can be. In fact, the only time he spends in her bed is holding her after she wakes from nightmares. So if you're looking for that rather unrealistic mess that some sell as dark romance, keep looking. This book is much sweeter, even while the heroine's past is a nightmare in itself.
Judging Covers: The cover's what caught my attention, and as I was collecting my weekly list of books on sale for our Sunday Steals feature, I kept stopping to look at it. The synopsis initially made me think I'd never read it, but then it didn't really seem to be selling the human trafficking thing the way other so-called romance novels do — badly, I might add. So I stopped to read the first few pages available online. And then I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I bought it and read it and really loved it. All because a haunting cover caught my eye.
The Verdict: Wow. This book is so far out of my comfort zone that it's not even funny, but it's so damned good I couldn't help myself. There are so many romance novels out there that use the subject of human trafficking as a badly-executed excuse for some over-the-top agent to swoop in and save the damsel in distress. But while that subject is definitely present here, and one hell of an agent did ride in to save the day, somehow this story is different, not so much exploitative but rather of finding some kind of hope.
Morgan's clearly been through hell, and while there is a gritty realness and certainly violence in the experiences and memories, they don't seem to be done gratuitously as so many other stories do. They're part of what she endured, certainly, but it's about coping and moving past them, and then when the action really kicks up, it's about surviving and finding final closure.
Lincoln is strangely taken with Morgan, and nearly from the first moment he comes into contact with her, he knows she is different than the other girls he has helped free. He's more invested in her, in her survival and hope for happiness, and while he doesn't necessarily put a label on it, it's clear that he loves her. He would do anything to keep her safe, even when that means staying away, so she can put the past behind her.
While most sites list Hunted as a romance, I'm not so sure that it is. There's certainly love there, but it's subtle and not really spoken of, and the main characters don't share so much as a kiss. Perhaps that's the romantic aspect of it, that they do develop feelings for each other that aren't really played out during the telling of the story. And honestly, with so much going on, from Morgan's attempt to regain some of her independence to the chilling fear and mad scrambling when Jezek's relentless pursuit of her puts her right back in danger, anything more than the rather chaste relationship Morgan and Lincoln develop would have been terribly out of place.
But while I may not know exactly how I would classify the story, I can still say it was a fascinating read, and once I'd started, I couldn't put it down. It held up to all the documentaries and new articles I've seen about human trafficking, delivering a dark side of the world in all its evil, just as it happens every day to so many women and children. It speaks of the hopelessness, the fear, the complete defeat that victims suffer, and then it slowly walks one victim back out into the sunlight before taking us all on a terrifying and suspenseful journey to closure. That Lincoln and Morgan were able to find what seems to be the beginning of a fresh relationship only made it that much better, a sweet promise of a happy ending just past the last words of the book.