Thursday, March 3, 2011

He May Have Been A Schmuck But He Didn't Deserve To Die: "Friendly Fire" by Megan Hart

After Agent Kendall Frasier's partner is shot in "friendly fire" during a drug bust, she agrees to take a week's vacation on a tropical island as part of her psychiatric evaluation. Sand, sun, sea--what could be better to help her work through her guilt? Even if the preseence of the man responsible for the shooting, Agent Zane Vincent, seems counterproductive to her mental health.

As kendall gets to know Zane, and realizes he feels worse about what happened than she does, it becomes impossible to hate him. And their mutual attraction becomes impossible to deny.

Kendal and Zane soon agree to put the event that brought them together in the past--and spend the present exploring their most erotic desires. Do they have a future in the real world when their week in paradise is over?

This is a short story that was originally released in 2003 and has now been newly revised by the author and re-released by Carina Press in 2011. It is quintessential Megan Hart writing, with an efficiency in the telling and an economy of words that characterizes her writing style. It is a compelling glimpse at the pressure under which DEA agents must work, and the collateral damage that occurs when one of their own is taken down, most especially in an accidental way by one's one co-workers.

Kendall is a woman who has worked hard to get where she is in law enforcement. Like so many women who seek to excell in a male-dominated porfession, it has not been easy and she has the bruises to prove it. Not the least of these is the misery of working with a partner who disrespects her, who harrasses her continually, who belittles her as a female unworthy or without the necessary brains or brawn to do a difficult job. Now that partner is dead, and while she is well-aware that Dan's disregard of her abilities and his arrogance in blowing off her warning that caused his death, she still feels that inevitable guilt that as his partner, she could possibly have prevented the accident.

Zane Vincent is a highly successful DEA agent who has infiltrated several very dangerous organizations in order to capsize their drug business. Now he, too, is riddled with guilt, knowing that the shooting death of one of his colleagues was an accident, knowing that he has been cleared after an exhaustive investigation, yet also replaying the event numerous times in the hope that somehow it can all be undone.

Initially Kendall holds Zane up for disdain and is angry that he was responsible for Dan's death, even though down deep she is relieved that she doesn't have to work with him anymore. Perhaps that is more the source of her guilt than anything else. Yet in spite of her anger at Zane, she begins to get to know him just a little and realizes that he is a man of great depth and genuine values, that he is incredibly sexy, and that she is attracted to him--like iron to a magnet. Neither wants a "one night stand" and so they begin what well may be an affair of only a few days.\, in an island paradise previously owned by a drug lord.

While this story is way too short for my taste, there is still lots going on here. As Kendall and Zane have to work through their guilt over Dan's death and their part in it, they discover not only a great deal about themselves but about each other. They also recognize that there may be some not-so-healthy reasons why they are "acting out" in an erotic way, but there is also a quality that they find in each other that smacks of normalcy in a professional world that is anything but normal. These are also two individuals who are willing to take risks, not only in their professional assignments but also in their personal relationships. They know there may be negative repercussions to their affair down the road, yet they are willing to risk those in the hope that something beautiful and permanent will grow from this vacation encounter.

I like Megan Hart's writing a lot, and I have read a number of her stories. I don't like short stories as I think, especially in this case where the characters are so intense and multi-dimensional, that such a brief literary form is inadequate to do more than just catch a glimpse of their lives in a single setting, when there is so much more to them as people. I am sure that is Hart's goal in this--just a single encounter with these people who live dangerous and complicated lives. But as a reader it is frustrating to no end. Having said that, I must acknowledge that Hart is one of those writers that can pack an unbelievable amount of information, emotion, and action in so few pages. And because of her expertise in crafting this story, it was a brief but very satisfying read. Hart fans will like this one, I think. I give it rating of 3.75 out of 5, not because of any factor other than its brevity.

This short story was released in February 2011.

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