In Wild, the 5th novel and the 7th story in the romantic suspense series Aftershock, Jill Sorenson returns to the day an earthquake devastated the San Diego area. Helena Fjord is an experienced animal keeper at the San Diego’s Wildlife Park. The quake damages the zoo, endangering the lives of her colleagues and putting the whole city in danger when many predators escape their enclosures. As the most senior staff member on site, she and Josh Garrison, the zoo’s deceptively charming and easy-going Chief of Security must do what they can to secure the Zoo.
Although extremely popular with the staff, Helena has always dismissed Josh as an un-serious surfer man-child and is forced to re-examine her opinion of him, and learn to respect his knowledge and judgment. A former Navy Seal, Josh might take many things lightly, but not his job. Their working relationship has been civil, distant and somewhat strained since the day Josh asked her out, unaware she had a live-in-boyfriend, and was coldly turned down, much to the amusement of their co-workers. Sure he asked her as joke, she has avoided close contact with him ever since. Although Helena appears to others to be coolly confident and remote, her detachment is protective response to years of childhood teasing and loss. Josh is aware that she avoids him but continues to nurse an interest in Helena, whose Amazonian figure and demeanor he hasn’t stopped admiring. Before the earthquake, with Helena’s long-time boyfriend recently relocated out of town and their relationship in flux, Josh had hope he could finally breakthrough and make a positive impression on Helena. After the earthquake, Helena and Josh come to learn how wrong they have been about each other and how much they must depend on each other to survive. The close quarters and deeply terrifying experiences have them responding to each other physically and which only complicates the hot-cold dynamic of their relationship. Their reactions to each other are messy and occasionally very ugly, but grow naturally from their fraught relationship.
A secondary storyline follows Josh’s younger sister Chloe, her toddler daughter and Mateo the young Panamanian soccer player that rescues them from the Coronado Bridge. They must make their way through the ruined coastline to the evacuation site while dodging looters and other dangers.
I enjoyed returning to the day of the earthquake, and seeing how the rest of the city was fared while many of the characters in the first Aftershock novel were trapped under a collapsed overpass. I continue to appreciate how Sorenson allows her strong male and female characters to experience weakness and failure. They don’t save everyone, they make stupid mistakes, they get hurt and ache. I was particularly impressed that she had Helena confront the consequences of becoming involved with Josh before ending her relationship with Mitch. Having her face up to the hurt she caused Mitch (her long-distance boyfriend) and acknowledge that she underestimated his feelings for her and accept how much of the breakdown of their relationship stemmed from her having stopped communicating with him in order to avoid conflict, is not something you usually see a hero or heroine in a romance do.
I still have a hard time with how much time Sorenson’s characters spend in their own heads. It works well with some of her characters including reserved and introspective Helena, but less so with more impulsive and emotional Chloe.
A review copy of Wild was provided by the author, Jill Sorenson.
Publication date is November 3, 2014, and is available for pre-order at all the usual places.