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  • Writer's pictureSara Bond

Pairings Project: AGENT ZERO by Janet Walden-West

After reading SALT+STILETTOS, the contemporary romance by Janet Walden-West, I knew instantly that I’d read anything else she wrote. When I found that her next project was a steamy paranormal romance, you better believe I jumped on board. I received an early ARC from Walden-West, and quickly devoured it. I’m in the middle of moving my family across the country, so I needed some heavy-level escapism, and boy did this deliver.

AGENT ZERO is the first book in the new REGION TWO paranormal romance series by Janet Walden-West. It’s about a bad boy chef who is as abrasive as he is good at his job and a special ops monster hunter who is by turns dangerous, naive, and obsessed with pop culture. Chef Bruce has just stormed out of his newest restaurant, quitting on the spot with an impressive array of expletives only to find himself the almost snack of a rare cryptid, a monster that most people would dismiss as a myth. Agent Veronica Ramirez, or Vee, just happens to be in the right place at the right time to save him from a messy end. Then, because the monster has marked Bruce, Vee must do what she does better than just about anyone else: protect the civilian, even if he’s a pain in the ass.

Inevitably, because this is a romance, sparks fly. Bruce is struck by how assured Vee is, how passionate, how capable, and how incredibly bad ass; Vee loves how dynamic, how compelling, how fiery and how nurturing he is. Bruce quickly takes on the caretaker role for Vee and her team, making sure everyone eats well, gets rest, and tends to their wounds in good time.

There are tropes aplenty, but in Walden West’s hands, they’re joyfully subverted. Bruce is the damsel in distress when Vee swoops in to rescue him, then keeps him safely ensconced in a tower/desert compound. Opposites attract and banter flies, but the chemistry is real and hot.

One of my favorite things about the book is Vee’s innocence and vulnerability. As strong and assured as she is in her world of military action and bad-ass monster hunting, she is surprisingly untested when it comes to the rest of the world. She’s spent so much of her life in training and in the field, that she is both fascinated and wildly innocent of everyday civilian life. It is part of what attracts her to Bruce, a brash and indulgent civilian; he is someone who throws himself into his work, bouncing from city to city, but always maintaining connection with his community, his world, and the people in it. Her curiosity about pop culture and the mundane lives of the people she protects is equally as attractive to him.

Walden-West does an amazing job of creating these complicated characters who feel almost too real. These are people who live so intensely, experiencing their world so fully and excelling in their lust for life (and yes, lust for sex and each other, too), even as they struggle with normal things like falling in love, having a simple hookup, and dealing with the fallout of all of the above.

I loved the book, and devoured it in just a few settings, so if you’re looking for a great romance with plenty of action and heat, AGENT ZERO delivers.

TLDR; a great romance with plenty of monsters, action, and heat.

Cocktail Pairing: COMPANY COMFORT

For this book, I wanted something unique, something that spoke to the complex relationship between Bruce and Vee. It had to be assertive, as neither of these characters are in any way timid. It had to be strong, as they are both leaders and no-nonsense people in their respective fields. And it had to have an undercurrent of sweetness. As the relationship between Bruce and Vee progresses through initial attraction to butted heads and finally mutual understanding and respect, there’s a pronounced sweetness between them that is protective, admiring, and surprisingly vulnerable. Neither of these incredible people wants to hurt or be hurt, but their admiration for each other allows them to both be vulnerable.

So I went for a bourbon drink, one of my go-to choices for strong characters. I used a Kentucky Flyer as a starting point and played with the proportions and added something extra. The maraschino liqueur adds sweetness, while the lemon balances it out. I threw in some cherry bitters for a more aromatic sweetness without affecting the taste too much. It’s a classic with a twist.

The name comes from Vee's loyalty to the Company that she works for, as well as her team's tendency to turn inwards to each other and a round of drinks for comfort.

Company Comfort

2 oz bourbon or rye

0.5 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)

0.5 oz lemon juice

Dashes of cherry bitters

Garnish with cherry

In a shaker filled with ice, add all ingredients except the garnish. Shake well until cold. Strain into martini glass. Add a cherry (or two) for garnish.

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