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Linda Howard’s latest release, TROUBLEMAKER, is not like anything this high-profile romantic suspense author has written before. The book features small-town life in West Virginia as opposed to the glamorous locales and sizzling relationships between the heroes and heroines of her previous novels.

When part-time sheriff Bo Maran’s long-forgotten and hated half-brother, Axel, calls her out of the blue and offers to pay her to house one of his secret operatives, she is stunned and wary. Her first thoughts are to protect the residents of her small town, but the offer of enough money to ease her debt is something she cannot refuse. During the heated conversation with Axel, she arrives home to find a weak and barely conscious man slumped over the wheel of a Tahoe sitting in her driveway.

"Not every love story has a glitzy and glamorous backstory, as TROUBLEMAKER proves, but happiness, love and a smart dog come along when you least expect them."

Morgan Yancy’s condition is due to being shot and near death. The only reason he survived the surprise ambush in his own yard is that he is a highly trained paramilitary operative who travels the world carrying out dangerous missions on behalf of the U.S. government in Washington, DC. His strength allows him to swim 10 miles, run seven miles, do pushups with a hundred-pound weight on his back and shoot like a sniper. When he arrives on Bo’s doorstep to hide out until his boss can figure out who shot him --- it’s an inside job --- he is a shell of the man he usually is. He sleeps on Bo’s sofa for weeks due to his weakened condition and eats peanut butter sandwiches.

Bo’s “rhythm of her life” with her beloved golden retriever, Tricks, goes on around the recovering gunshot victim. Tricks is the center of Bo’s universe, the real hero and star of TROUBLEMAKER. Bo’s short-lived marriage left her down on men until she sees a naked Morgan with “the body of a warrior.” The dog goes to work with Bo at the station, seemingly understands her verbal communication, and has Bo “trained” to answer her every wish, which usually entails long walks and playing ball.

The book’s initial romance is between Bo and Tricks, and annoyingly so. Eventually, about two-thirds of the way through this everyday-life-in-a-small-town book, Bo and Morgan’s chemistry builds and they connect romantically: “This was new to him, scary new.” Although the relationship lacks the usual Linda Howard sizzle, Bo is the best thing this small town has to offer Morgan, who is not used to having an “everyday” life. He has been living life on the edge for years. The recovery time is the first real home life he can recall, and he begins to enjoy the mundane routine, dog and all.

As the weeks drag by, Morgan makes it his mission to walk the surrounding hills to regain his strength and make himself familiar with the terrain to prevent another ambush. He goes to work with Bo and observes local law enforcement complete with sweets being delivered by the town bakery to Bo’s office, plans for a holiday parade and scuffles between a divorcing couple. One night over dinner, Bo’s calm questioning about the day he was shot leads Morgan to recall an event that eventually reveals the missing memory that will bring the episode to a riveting, dangerous end involving Bo.

Not every love story has a glitzy and glamorous backstory, as TROUBLEMAKER proves, but happiness, love and a smart dog come along when you least expect them.

Reviewed by Hillary Wagy on May 27, 2016

by Linda Howard