Julie Ann Walker's debut novel Hell on Wheels is a fast paced and exciting start to her Black Knights, Inc series that left me eager to read the next instalment. After several years of reading mainly paranormal stories I've recently rediscovered my love of contemporary romance and romantic suspense in particular. I can't seem to get enough of these alpha military heroes who are hunky, strong, protective and possessive but also surprisingly sweet and caring towards the women in their lives.
Nate is a perfect example of my favourite kind of alpha and of course I fell for him big time while reading his story. An ex-Marine Nate now works for Black Knights, Inc a group of ex-military specialists who do the kind of jobs that the government doesn't want anyone else to know about. His last mission went badly wrong and ended up with both Nate and his best friend Grigg being captured and tortured for days, Grigg didn't survive and Nate has been grieving and struggling with his guilt ever since. When Grigg's sister Ali thinks she is being followed she turns to Nate for help and they soon find themselves caught up in a web of secrets and lies surrounding a conspiracy that could be the death of them both.
It can be very hard to get the balance right in the first book of a new series, the author has to introduce the main characters, create a believable world, build interest for future books and at the same time give us the romance and action that we are looking for in a romantic suspense novel. Although at times there was slightly too much page time given to the next couple in the series overall I felt Julie Ann Walker did a good job of getting the balance right. I loved all of the characters at Black Knights, Inc and can't wait to see more of them as the series continues. I have to confess to having a particular soft spot for a hunky geek though so of course Ozzie was a favourite of mine and I was very excited to learn from the author that he will be getting his own book. I'm excited about all of these heroes though and have a feeling I'm going to love them all. It's always fun when you can get to know a group of characters throughout a series and I enjoyed the teams banter and the way they all look out for each other.
The main characters were almost complete opposites. Nate is very self contained, he is known as the ghost but is also a bit of an ice man who never shows any kind of emotion. He holds everything very close to his chest and this can make him appear cold at times but when you look past the surface he is red hot on the inside. Ali is soft and innocent, she is a kindergarten teacher who never swears and always tends to look on the bright side of things. She has a tendency to babble when she's nervous or scared and Nate makes her very nervous which leads to some very funny conversations between them. I did find her habit of being sick at pretty much anything got a bit tiresome after a while but in a way it was nice to read about a heroine who had a normal, horrified reaction to violence. What they say about opposites attract is certainly the case with these two, they make a perfect couple and I really enjoyed watching them grow closer throughout the story. What I really appreciated was Ali's reaction to Nate's secret but I can't say why without giving spoilers so you'll have to read the book yourself to see if you agree with me.
One of the things I loved most about the story was the humour, I laughed out loud several times while reading the story but I was also so emotionally connected that the author managed to bring tears to my eyes not just once but twice while I was reading. It's been a while since a book last made me cry and I can't think of a romantic suspense story that ever had that effect on me. Hell on Wheels is a very promising debut and I can't wait to read In Rides Trouble and Rev it Up. I think Julie Ann Walker is definitely an author to watch out for - I'm sure we'll be seeing great things from her in the future.