Recommended Read, Review

Review: Every Last Breath by Juno Rushdan (2019)

Final Hour Series, Book 1

Erin’s review of the Final Hour Prequel Novella

Heat Factor: I’m just gonna go grab that fan over there…

Character Chemistry: They’re so angsty about each other! SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE AAARGH!

Plot: “I’ve got to stop a bioweapon from being unleashed and, what do you know, I need to use the ex-fiancé I thought was dead in order to do it!”

Overall: This book is what romantic suspense should always be.


Maddox Kinkade is a badass field operative at the black ops, so-secret-it’s-only-whispered-about Gray Box. The Gray Box can operate on US or foreign soil because no one knows it exists, and it does the tough jobs that save us from disaster, but that we’ll never know about while we live our significantly less exciting lives. Maddox’s current mission is to bring in asset Cole Matthews and prevent an imminent bioterror attack.

Wouldn’t you know it? Cole Matthews is an alias for Nikolai Reznikov. The Nikolai Reznikov that Maddox had been practically engaged to before he died nine years ago. Or “died,” I should say. 

Awkward. 

So Maddox and Cole have to work through a number of unresolved issues while they deal with this extremely tense bioterror situation. Conveniently, the bad guys provide enough life-threatening drama to help Maddox and Cole cut the crap and get it together. 

Because part of the fun of suspense is that it’s suspenseful, and because spoilers can be a real drag when we’re trying to keep up the suspense, I’ll limit the discussion of the suspense plot to this: It was dramatic and moved quickly and made enough sense that I didn’t have to stop and scratch my head about why they were doing what they were doing. The setting is the DC metro area, where I live, and I didn’t even have to stop for a moment to say, “That’s not right.” Because Rushdan’s attention to detail is really good. For example, there’s a chase scene in the Metro subway system, and the characters go sliding down between the escalators (see picture), and I’m like, “But how did they do that on those bumpy things?” And Rushdan’s like:

Not every Metro in DC had bumpers. The puck-sized discs didn’t stop a fall, only turned a person into tenderized meat by the time they reached the bottom. He was grateful not to face any here.

So I’m like, “OH. Okay.” And I can continue on with the story without that nagging sense of wrong in the back of my head. In short, it was a good thriller-type story. 

This is a romance blog, and this is a romance, so I’m going to talk about that more, but I do want to make clear that the romance is not outsize compared to the suspense. 

So let’s talk about that romance. As I have mentioned, we are dealing with a second chance romance. I had already decided to read this book when I swore off second chance romance, so that’s unfortunate, but Rushdan’s approach didn’t make me rage or fill me with disgust for these protagonists, so we’ll call that a win. When I approach second chance stories, I ask three questions:

  1. Was the reason these two split up because they’re stupid and can’t communicate?
  2. Was the reason these two split up so serious that, um, duh, that relationship really should be over?
  3. Is it reasonable for these two to patch things up and move forward?

So examining those questions here:

  1. No, not really. Maddox made a mistake that she didn’t really realize she was making, one thing led to another, and Cole’s dad ended up dead.
  2. Maddox spilling information is definitely a trust problem situation, but as I mentioned, she didn’t have the full picture when she did it. Cole didn’t wait around for much explanation, but he was also being hunted by the Russian mob. Basically the situation was messy, but it didn’t directly relate to specific problems in their relationship.
  3. I didn’t think it was unreasonable. Being open and honest can solve many problems. But in two days? You’ll have to suspend disbelief a little bit there, I think.

Another interesting thing that Rushdan did with this story was to begin with Cole being the wronged party and Maddox feeling guilt, since Maddox spilling a secret was the reason Cole “died,” but then when Maddox fully explained what happened, it reversed to Cole being the party who abandoned Maddox for nine years, leaving her thinking he was dead. There’s also a late-term miscarriage that he didn’t know anything about, just to add to the emotional stress of everything they have in their past. None of this is withheld from the reader for very long in the story, so it shouldn’t be spoilery, don’t worry. Once again, there’s a lot going on between them, but it’s not really specific relationship issues, so it’s easy enough to feel that if they work through it, it would be reasonable for them to get back together.

EXCEPT. Maddox also pulls that whole, “I’m going to treat you like an asset or like just another guy I like having sex with because I can’t jeopardize my heart” nonsense, which puts an added wrench in their communication and reconciliation. It’s not unreasonable on her part, since Cole begins with, “I’m going to do this thing and then LEAVE YOU” before he gets back to “wait, you’re my forever, and I will NEVER leave you again.” So as with the Metro bumpers, it seems that Rushdan is thinking of everything and asking all the difficult “BUT WHY?” questions. Nothing either Maddox or Cole does is particularly unreasonable, especially if we consider that humans are messy, emotional creatures. If every second chance were written like this one, I probably wouldn’t have sworn off the trope. 

She also sets up the next book very well, so I’m going to hop right over there and devour that one right now. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.


Buy Now: Amazon


Looking for something similar?

Other smut set in DC. It’s not even all politicians and spies!

Let’s apply Erin’s rubric to other second chance romances!

I am on the edge of my seat here.

2 thoughts on “Review: Every Last Breath by Juno Rushdan (2019)”

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