“No good deed goes unpunished” is often just an adage lazy people use to avoid doing anything selfless or altruistic. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just look to this story, wherein a woman whose husband was killed in military service starts a website to support other widows, which then gets hacked, and the woman almost killed while trying to protect the personal information of war widows. Lots of good deeds, lots of punishment. Though, to be fair, it’s not all punishment – she does get thrown together with a handsome, charming British super-soldier who falls head over heels for her. So even though it feels like a whole lot of anxiety and vending machine food for two nice people who could have just met-cute at a grocery store, that book would have been super boring. I guess it’s probably better this way.
Type: Charmingly awkward romantic suspense
The couple: April Banks is a military widow who has found a way to redirect her grief into creating a website that supports other women who have lost partners in active duty. As if you didn’t feel bad enough already at not being quite clear on what “coding” entails, April found the time and energy while working through her grief to become a largely self-taught sophisticated computer programmer. Contract security agent James Sant is a former Special Air Service (SAS) agent with the British military, which means he fills the role in this book of the badass, amiable-but-tortured commando who is both falling for April and also convinced that he doesn’t deserve her. James is great, aside from two things: first, he has a sort of shady history that involves some pretty nefarious dealings. Second, despite being a self-proclaimed an expert on chai, at no point in the book does James weigh in on the great Oregon vs. Tazo debate that plagued my high school years as a Pacific Northwesterner. But other than those two things, he’s a top-notch dude.
The story: This whole thing starts when April’s inspirational, altruistic website gets hacked so that people can steal the identities of both the widows on the site and their dead husbands, because the world is terrible. James had been secretly protecting April until the first chapter in the book, when she gets attacked in a parking lot, and suddenly he’s not-so-secretly protecting her. They team up to fight bad guys with April’s computer skills and James’ shooting/punching/stabbing skills. Between chasing the hackers and running from the bad dudes trying to kill April, the two end up on a pretty epic road trip. They travel well together, essentially guaranteeing a happily ever after. I can’t even travel with people I like, much less people I met after being almost murdered outside a grocery store.
How’s the sex? Great. And then awkward, in the best possible way. There’s not a lot of sex in this book – though there’s plenty of chemistry, and eventually there’s even a very flirty reloading-the-guns scene (not an innuendo) that is adorable and a little odd. But both James and April have reasons for holding back on their attraction, and not just the normal “staying alive” kinds of reasons. A mutual attraction with someone doesn’t make you cool and suave around them, despite what a lot of action movies and books would have you believe. This couple isn’t relatable because of their barely contained sexual tension; they’re relatable because their awkwardness doesn’t disappear after one night of great sex. It’s endearing and real in a way that romantic suspense often doesn’t bother with.
Is this book for you? If you are a romantic suspense author, this book may not be for you. Here’s why: James is part of a black ops band of merry men called “Automatik,” which is hands-down the best name for a romantic suspense black ops team ever. If you are not Nico Rosso, who wrote this book and the others in the Automatik series, you are probably very sad that “Automatik” is now taken.
If you are not a romance author grieving your missed opportunity to use the name “Automatik,” you’re probably good to go. Sure, Seconds to Sunrise is a little short on details – I’m still not clear on how James knew April’s late husband, though it might be explained in one of the books in the series I haven’t read. But honestly, the exact how and what and why of all of the different pieces would drag this book down. Seconds to Sunrise’s real charm is in the way Rosso brings complicated emotion to romantic suspense. That uncertainty even bleeds into obligatory high-stakes battle scenes. You know that James and April are definitely going to be fine. But since they’re slightly more human than most suspense romance characters, you wonder for a minute whether they’re actually going to be ok when they face off against half a dozen trained killers. But of course they’ll be fine. Right? Yes. Probably.
Fun side note: as far as I can tell, Rosso is also Restricted Reading’s first male author. Don’t worry, though: just like all high-quality romance authors, he seems to be a pretty rad feminist.
Conclusion: If you’re not reading Seconds to Sunrise for an intricately plotted, in-the weeds thriller or a definitive decision on the best chai one can find ready-made in the grocery store, then you’re in for a charming blend of angst and car chases.