Beyond Valor by Lindsay McKenna
Romantic Suspense released by Harlequin on January 22, 2013
Luke Collier knows his duty. A marine corps combat medic, his job is to save lives-not satisfy his own desires. Megan Trayhern is his corpsman, but the beautiful redhead can’t be anything more. Luke has already given his heart once, and he understands the toll the corps can take on a woman, on a romance…on a marriage.
Megan has her own mission. While she doles out medical care in the nearby village, she’s also gathering intel. It’s a dangerous assignment that the onetime military brat undertakes without fear. She needs to focus-and be careful-and the growing passion she feels for Luke can only put them both at risk. Honor binds them both, but the heart gives its own orders….
I was immediately interested in this story, a continuation of the Black Jaguar Squadron storyline. This book takes us to the mountains of Afghanistan, and we meet two Navy Corpsmen assigned to a combat command. They soon discover they are kindred spirits mutually haunting the other’s thoughts. The persistent danger only draws them closer together.
Megan Trayhern is a demure redhead who arrives at a Marine base near a small village. She is trained to speak the local language Pashto and gather information from the local women. A trained medic, she is eager to do her duty. She also has an unwavering desire to help people in need. After college she joined the military to fulfill her families’ tradition of service. Upon arriving at the base she is looked at as a liability by her commanding officer. Soon she changes his opinion by gaining the friendship of the village leaders’ wife, and gaining valuable knowledge of the Taliban fighters.
Luke Collier is a seasoned combat medic. He doesn’t think twice about going out on another patrol, or putting himself between a wounded Marine and enemy fire. He shares the same unwavering desire to help people with Megan. Until she had arrived he was the only medic in the area. He’s well-liked by anyone who meets him. Still he has a slightly heavy heart, since his career in the military destroyed his marriage. He prides himself as a ‘scrounger’, which means he get hard to find items better than anyone.
Lindsay McKenna doesn’t overload the front chapters with backstory. There are Black Jaguar Squadron characters in the periphery of the narrative, but this book easily stands alone. Megan and Luke rarely interact with the Marines at the base. The most significant secondary character is Mina the wife of the village leader. She is almost too courageous to be believed, even considering her rare formal education. She is unexpectedly open to Megan’s progressive suggestions.
Megan doesn’t have much time to get used to her surroundings. During the night the base comes under attack. She has to stand there in terror until Luke comes back to check on her. His calmness is soothing to her and deepens her growing attraction to him. When they aren’t in danger they mostly talk about their common views of duty and war. Their single-mindedness is only thing that takes me out of the story. Navy Corpsmen are the salt of the earth. I know this from my 5 years in the Marines. Many of them were my close friends. One thing they didn’t do was sit around all day lamenting their place in the world.
The action definitely wanes in the middle chapters as their relationship builds. Megan does have to watch as Luke goes out on patrol, but he isn’t gone long. After an attack in the village they travel with wounded children to a large Air Force Base. The carnage makes Megan retch in horror. She’s surprised to learn that Luke has the same problem. He asks her to spend the night off-base, but don’t get the opportunity until the end of the book. There are constantly hindered by the military’s rules against fraternization.
In my opinion this book suffers from the matter-of-fact dialogue from all the characters. I can forgive this of Mina, since English is not her first language. I can’t always forgive it from Megan and Luke. They come off a little wooden. This could’ve been offset by some raucous secondary Marine characters, and made the story more interesting. The lack of contrast is lessened when the action picks up. I don’t want to include spoilers, but I’ll say someone is put in a dangerous situation. The situation is then mitigated in a blazingly fast fashion that makes you forget it soon afterwards.
Our lovers finally find themselves away from prying eyes at an off-base apartment. Exhausted from their trials they put sleep ahead of lovemaking. I know it’s realistic, but it’s boring. They could’ve and should’ve tried harder. They’re romantic tension had been building for months at this point, and the first time they are truly alone they shower and pass out. Finally the next morning they (and the reader) wake up and embrace each other. The story ends with them heading back into the fold together.
Their concern for each other and everyone else does help the narrative along. I would have liked to see more in their hearts than just their aspirations. They look at each other in brief moments without allowing fantasy to enter their thoughts. This might go along with their practical nature, but I don’t think it was intended that way. Without the constant danger and taboo of their relationship, I wonder if they would be interested in each other at all. Megan and Luke could’ve run into each other on Main St. USA, and after looking each other over kept walking by.
Still they are in this situation. They go thru it together courageously devoid of malice. They come out of it with a few scratches and in love. They promise to marry after serving their country. It would be interesting to check in on them a few years down the road. I’d like to see if their love lasts after the bombs stop exploding around them.