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Protector's Instinct by Janie Crouch @janiecrouch - another 5-star winner

Protector's Instinct (Omega Sector: Under Siege) - Janie Crouch

In an episode of the UK television mystery series Death in Paradise, DS Camille Bourday is at a party on board a ship when her best friend, singer Aimée, is murdered while performing. Camille starts acting unprofessionally. When her boss, DI Richard Poole, arrives on the scene, he immediately orders her to sit down. This enrages Camille. Her best friend has been murdered, she's a police officer, and she wants to find the murderer. She storms off.


Her colleague, officer Dwayne Myers, approaches her, holds bother her hands while facing her, looks her in the eye and nods. She nods back.


A puzzled Richard asks Dwayne what that was all about. "I tried to help her, and she bit my head off. You just hold her hands and nod."


"I simply told her that I was there for her," Dwayne explains.


"But you didn't say anything!"


"I didn't have to," says Dwayne.


"But I was trying to help!" Richard protests.


"Sir, someone like Camille doesn't need help, she needs support."


I thought of that scene while reading Protector's Instinct


Here's the blurb:


He knows he failed her once before. This time he’s determined to protect her by any means necessary…

Former police detective Zane Wales won’t let history repeat itself. He couldn’t save the woman he loved from a brutal assault, so he left the force—and Caroline Gill’s life. But now a psychopath has her in his vengeful sights. And the only way Zane can keep the strong-willed paramedic safe is to stay close 24/7—even as their reignited desire burns out of control.

Caroline can finally face down her past by helping Zane catch this perp. And she’ll give Zane all the passionate healing he needs to show they have a future together. But a danger they never saw coming will turn their second chance into a lethal, inescapable trap…


"He knows he failed her once before" really should be "thinks her failed her once before".


Zane gave up law enforcement when he was called to the scene of the brutal rape of his lover Caroline Gill. He blamed himself. He felt he should have been there. He'd stayed away that evening because he wanted her to feel she had the upper hand in the relationship.


Afterwards, he'd been unable to handle the event emotionally. He'd treated Caroline the way everyone else did: carefully, with kid gloves. And in his mind, she'd reacted by pushing him away.


She’d needed gentleness for the first few months as her body had healed from the attack. But then she’d needed her life to get back to normal. Nobody seemed to understand that. Zane definitely hadn’t understood it.


All relationships have different dynamics: 


Their relationship had always been so tumultuous, almost emotionally violent. It was just how both of them were wired: live hard, fight hard, love hard. But when Caroline had been ready to get back to the fighting and the yelling and, yes, the lovemaking, Zane had already programmed himself to be something else. Something she didn’t recognize. Didn’t want.
And he’d quit the force. She’d been unable to fathom that. When she’d gone to his house, ready to fight him about it—honestly looking forward to the screaming match and whatever would come after it—he’d refused to engage. At all.


That's when I thought of the scene from Death in Paradise and especially the line: "Sir, someone like Camille doesn't need help, she needs support."


Later on, Zane and Caroline are stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash. I won't go into the details (spoilers), but, under EMT Caroline's guidance, Zane has put Caroline's dislocated shoulder into place. The mutual attraction will not be denied, and they begin to make love. But, once again, Zane is hesitant and careful. Caroline will have none of it.


“You can’t treat me like I’m fragile, Zane. Everyone else still does. Like I’m going to crack at any moment. I’m not. I’m strong. That’s part of the reason I was hiking out here. To prove I was okay.”
“Everyone knows you’re strong.”
“Do you? Do you really, Zane?”


I've often complained that women protagonists are too often described as strong in romances, when that should be clear from the story. Crouch, and Caroline, attack this head on:


“You’ve got to prove it.”
“Prove that I want you?” His hands gripped her hips and pulled her down harder against him. “I don’t think there can be any doubt of that.”
“Prove that you really think I’m strong. That you’re not afraid I’ll break at the least little thing.”
“I know you won’t.”
“Prove it, Zane. Prove that you can still get lost in me. That we can get lost in each other.”


And trust and communication is the bedrock of a relationship:


“And if anything else starts to bother you, darkness starts to creep in, anything gets too overwhelming, you have to tell me.”
“I thought that you believed I was strong enough to handle it.”
“I do. But part of that strength is being willing to speak up if it’s too much. You want me to let go? Fine. You’re not fragile and I’m not going to treat you like you are. But I have to know, hell, Caro, you have to know that at any point a single phrase can stop this.”
“Like a safe word?”
“I don’t care what you call it, but we’ve both got to know you’ve got the means to stop this at any time necessary.”
He was right. It was what they should’ve done years ago. What they should’ve worked through together from the beginning, but they’d been too stubborn and stupid.


Zane needs healing, too, from the guilt that has wracked him for "not being there" for Caroline. Of course, they work through it. That isn't a spoiler :)


The suspenseful plot is very well done. Master villain Damien Freihof is back pulling the strings behind the scenes, as he's been doing throughout the main Omega Sector series and this mini-series.


Crouch is a joy to read.