Killed in Action—the most dreaded words imaginable for a soldier’s wife. Jess Albert has been living with them for four years, since the death of her husband in Afghanistan. Finding blessed numbness in routine, she doesn’t dare to look ahead, any more than she can bear to look back. Then Tyler Brown, a former special-ops warrior, shows up at her small general store in Minnesota North Woods, jarring her back to life. Jess knows better than to fall in love with another man who places duty to his country before love of his wife—but there’s no denying the longing and the hope for a future that Ty makes her feel. A world away, a lost American soldier clings to life and sanity in a lantern-lit cave. At his side is a dark-haired and dark-eyed woman whose touch is caring, despite the resentment he hears in her voice and sees on her face. But is it honor igniting her compassion for her enemy, or is it something more? A heartwarming, richly emotional, action-packed story about homecomings, The Way Home follows two women on opposite sides of the world. While they both walk a dangerous path between betrayal and honor, they each must find for themselves where to draw the line between duty and love.
Jess Albert has spent the last four years believing her husband was killed in action in Afghanistan. She's since buried herself in work as the owner and operator of a small general store in Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota. Just as she feels like she's starting to settle halfway comfortably into widowhood, back into her life walks someone else from her past -- Tyler Brown, a former special ops officer who met Jess when she assisted with a mission some years ago. Tyler was quite taken with her then, promised to look her up one day but never came back... until now. While Jess does feel an intense pull toward Tyler, she still has some unresolved feelings about her husband. Tyler approaches the tricky situation with patience and gentleness, eventually getting Jess to warm up to him. It then doesn't take too long for things between them to progress significantly, and just when they start throwing around the idea of marriage, that's just when news arrives that Jess's husband might not be dead after all.
The novel for the most part is split in two parts. That of Jess trying to re-start her life in MN, soon getting involved with Tyler, and then the story of Jess's husband, J.R., in Afghanistan. The US military officially but mistakenly declared J.R. dead. In fact, he was still very much alive, taken as a POW but finding enough strength to escape captivity. But now he finds himself falling in and out of consciousness, being nursed back to health by a Muslim woman, Rabia, and her father, who have been hiding J.R. in a cave. As J.R.'s basic health starts to return to him, he finds he has no memory of anything prior to his mission in Afghanistan -- no memories of Jess, his childhood, nothing. What he clings to is the affection that he starts to feel for the quiet, mysterious Rabia, whom he realizes has risked her life and the life of her father to keep J.R. safe. But why, he wonders?
To be honest, I was pulled into this book mostly by the cover, thinking it'd be a heartwarming story about a military man making it home for the holidays. Turns out this is actually Book 2 in Cindy Gerard's One-Eyed Jack series and the holiday season, while present at one point, actually doesn't play a big role in the plot here.
I haven't read anything else in the One-Eyed Jack series but had no issues enjoying this book as a standalone work. I've seen a mountain of 4 and 5 star reviews for this book, so I guess I'm going to have to be in the minority but I just found it a decent 3 star read. It had its moments I liked but mostly I found the writing to be largely generic in terms of romance, underdeveloped plot and over-the-top characters who were laughably superhero level perfect. Except that I will give props to Gerard for actually writing a romance around a guy that's not necessarily built like a super huge linebacker! While there are plenty of passages describing how hot Tyler is, I did catch something that puts his height in the 5'8-5'9 range. Me personally, I'm one of those ones who likes trees to climb, but I liked that the under 6ft boys got some representation :-)
I also liked the comedic lightness Jess's friend / employee Kayla brought to the plot, even if she sometimes made me cringe-laugh with her cutesy nicknames she would use to reference Tyler, like "Commando Cutie".
I think I would have gotten bored with the Jess / Tyler story pretty quickly had it not been for Gerard mixing things up and periodically taking the reader over to Afghanistan to look in on J.R. and Rabia. While I wasn't all that impressed with J.R. as a character (particularly after some of his backstory gets revealed), I did find Rabia's story as a whole having its compelling moments, I was just bummed she was not given more time in the plot. Getting to know her world a bit better could've led to opportunity for a pretty moving reading experience, but most of her screen time seemed to be dedicated to stripping down under the stars with J.R. Once or twice, okay, but over and over and over again with nearly the same conversation afterward each time? Yawn.