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As an investigative journalist, I’ve always based my romantic suspense novels — the books of the I-Team series — on investigations that I’ve done over my 20-year career. More often than not, the topics I’ve touched on revolve around issues we see on the news — sex trafficking, corporate crime, violence against women.
But with Breaking Point, my fifth I-Team novel and my 10th book, the way real life mirrored fiction was almost eerie.
Breaking Point tells the story of Natalie Benoit, an investigative journalist and survivor of Hurricane Katrina, and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Zach McBride, a former Navy SEAL whose combat experience in Afghanistan has left him physically and emotionally scarred. They meet in the most desperate circumstances of their lives — both are unwilling guests of Los Zetas, a notoriously brutal Mexican drug cartel. The story follows them as they work together to escape and make a desperate run for the U.S. border, falling in love along the way.
The seed for this story came from an article I’d done about the femicides in Ciudad Juárez, where more than 400 women have been murdered and more than 1,000 are still missing. I was astonished to think such a thing could happen anywhere in this world, must less just across the border from the United States.
I did research about border violence and the situation in Juárez, which inspired me to focus on a drug cartel. Prior to this, I hadn’t heard of Los Zetas. But during the time I wrote the story, the cartel was making headlines almost every day. Chances are if you’ve read an article about cartel murders in the past year, it involved Los Zetas. They’ve murdered journalists, decapitated rivals, and committed homicides so macabre that they defied belief.
I posted links to the breaking news stories on my Facebook page. Soon, my friends and readers were sending me links, too. A U.S. border patrol agent killed by bajadores — border bandits. An American journalist disappearing while on assignment. Mass graves unearthed to reveal more victims of Los Zetas. A massive bust of drug smugglers on Indian land.
Like I said — it was eerie.
But these events also reminded me that I needed to treat the topic of my story with respect. Natalie and Zach were caught up in this horror, but they were fictional characters. The people in those mass graves were not.
Happily for Natalie and Zach, the nightmare they survive is the beginning of healing for both of them — and for a deep and enduring love that is strong enough not only to bring them together, but also to defeat the evil that pursues them. Those who do wrong pay the price, while those who risk their lives for the sake of love and friendship — all of the I-Team heroes are involved in this story — are rewarded.
Yes, the grit of real life is always the grist for my novels, but perhaps because I see and write about these terrible things during my workday at the newspaper, what I love most of all is a happy ending. And Zach and Natalie definitely get theirs.
- Pamela Clare
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