This had a good villain and enjoyable characters. The romance happened fast, but this was a shorter book.
My review and an extended sample of the audiobook are posted at Hotlistens.com.
I read the rest of this series a while ago. I started with book three, Into the Shadows, because that was the review that really peaked my interest in this author and series. I can’t for the life of me remember who it was that recommended this series to me. I finished the series off, bet for some reason, never got back to book one in the series. So, I picked up this book when it was a free Kindle purchase and then added the audible narration for for an additional $2.99 (always check for those Whispersync deals).
I really loved getting back into the world of the Associates. They are a group of people who work in deep cover to take down some pretty horrible people. Some of the guys have to do some not so great things to keep their cover, but it is for the greater good in the long run. It just may not seem that way to the women in their lives at the time. In this story, our heroine isn’t very clean herself. She has quite the past as a jewel thief, however she’s gone clean until her team really need her help to save a family member.
Angel Ramirez is one of only a handful of people who can break into a Fenton Furst safe. The problem is that she has retired from the thief life. She is now just an interior designer. That is until her old team asks for a favor to help save a family member, one who was like family to Angel too. She has no choice but to break into this safe at Walter Borgola’s mansion, who is quite the notorious crime boss. She is quickly spotted by one of the members of Borgola’s security team, a guy named Cole.
Cole Hawkins is quite the geek, but is in deep cover as security for Borgola. If his cover is blown he will not only die, but he will die slowly and painfully. He feels that the risk is worth it. Borgola has a ship of children coming from outside the country that he plans to use for his snuff films. Cole needs to find Borgola’s plans to find the ship before it makes landfall or he will never find all of these kids. When Angel and her team breaks into get the diamonds, he makes plans to recover the diamonds and use the diamonds to track to the even more secluded safe. He also give Angel an offer she can’t refuse to help him get the information he needs to save the kids.
I really enjoyed listening to this story. Cole was so calculating in persona to keep his cover. The ways he used his intelligence to keep the rest of the security team and Borgola from learning about the real Cole was fun to watch. Angel was another fun one. She wanted so badly not to get back into to the thief life, but at the same time she missed it so much. She missed her friends who had not left the life. She missed the thrill of the heist. But she didn’t want the rejection of her family for being a criminal. Not to mention the relationship between Cole and Angel was hot. Some of it starts of as a ruse to keep their cover for Borgola, but they love every minute of it in the end. If you’re looking for a fun romantic suspense series, this is great one where people are quite what they seem on the surface.
Romy Nordlinger is a narrator that has grown on me the more I’ve listen to her. The first book that I listened to from her, I wasn’t a huge fan, but the more I listened, the more I got to where I liked her narration. I don’t think I will ever have her listed as a top narrator on my list, but I think she does an okay job. I never had a hard time understanding anything she said. She voices the different characters well, both male and female. I think she does a good job with her inflection, especially when you consider she has to voice some pretty horrible people in this series. This is the only series that I’ve listened to her narrate. I am sad to see that the four and final book in this series isn’t available on audio. I still need to read it, and I will tackle it, but I’m sad that I can’t tackle via audio.
Thorne McKelvie has meticulously and ruthlessly worked his way through the ranks of criminal organisation the Hangmen, a group that doesn't shy away from human trafficking in sweat shops, drug or arms smuggling. The leader of the Hangmen is suspicious of Thorne, however, and worried that he is gunning for his spot next, taking over the whole organisation. So after a series of unexpected attacks on the gang and their allies' warehouses, he sees an opportunity to have Thorne framed and removed as a threat. Thorne needs to prove that he's not responsible for the raids, and to do so, he needs to raid the mansion of his former employer, and face the only woman he ever had feelings for.
Nadia Volkov used to be known as "the Party Princess", obliviously spending her father's money and partying with his many henchmen and bodyguards, without really caring what her father actually did for a living or where the money fuelling her extravagant lifestyle came from. Two years ago, she had an affair with Thorne, her father's most dangerous henchman, which ended when he cruelly cast her aside. When Thorne unexpectedly turns up at the house where Nadia is living with her sister, one of her father's former bodyguards, and her young son, she's terrified that Thorne will discover he's a father and that their child will be in danger once his crew mates realise that there is a toddler that can be used as leverage against him. She also hopes Thorne doesn't discover that she, along with some hired goons, are responsible for the warehouse raids he's investigating. After her father's death, she was appalled when she discovered what he'd been responsible for. Having discovered that her mother is probably alive, in one of the sweatshops now run by the gangs who divided her father's assets after his death, she's systematically raiding each one, freeing the enslaved women in order to locate and liberate her mother.
Thorne believes that Nadia just used him for sex, having overheard a conversation where Nadia discussed him with her sister and offered to "share". Filled with self-loathing and with no illusions about his ruthlessness and inability to feel any sort of softer feelings since his sister was brutally killed when they were teenagers and swore revenge, Thorne and Nadia's former relationship was an extended role play on "the princess and the thug". Nadia actually had feelings for Thorne though, and was uncomfortable with the dirty names he wanted her to call him. She never had second thoughts about keeping his child when discovering she was pregnant. When they reunite, the sparks fly once more, but can they have any sort of future, with Nadia responsible for the crimes Thorne is being accused of? He needs to locate and present the individuals responsible to his boss, or be killed.
Nadia also doesn't realise that Thorne worked as a henchman for her father and moved on to the Hangmen as part of a complicated revenge plot. Having been left to die in the desert, surrounded by scorpions, after his sister was murdered, Thorne swore revenge and has been working methodically to wipe out all the men responsible for his sister's death. Working so deep cover for the covert Associates that only the leaders of these secret agents know he's not the hardened criminal he poses as, he only has one man left until his revenge is complete - Jerrod, the leader of the Hangmen.
Due to his past, Thorne is scarred, literally and figuratively. What happened to him and his sister was dreadful, and the flashbacks to his past made me deeply uncomfortable. To escape his chains in the desert, he needed to push himself to the edge of human endurance and he's spent his entire adult life systematically hunting down every man who was present when his sister was murdered, whether they actually took part in the killing or not. Thanks to Dax, the leader of the Associates, Thorne was able to position himself closer to several of the people responsible. Through their alliance, Dax gets access to invaluable intel about a number of criminal organisations, while Thorne was able to get close to the last man on his hit list.
In order to rise to the top of the Hangmen, Thorne has done any number of terrible things. He's a ruthless and hard man. Nonetheless, he's tired of his revenge quests and longs to be done. His feelings for Nadia are complicated. Just when he was ready to acknowledge to himself that he loved her, he overheard her conversation with her sister (which was not at all what it seemed), making him believe she felt nothing for him, means he now thinks of her with what he terms "love-hate". He dumped her before she could dump him, not realising that the evening he coldly rejected her, she was actually about to tell him about being pregnant. Even before the events that set him on his path to vengeance, Thorne never had a good family life and struggles with any human interactions that don't involve dominance and power play.
While Nadia used to find the role playing and abusive language quite exciting, now it makes her sad and uncomfortable, and when they are reunited,and she's unable to deny that her feelings for him are as strong as ever, she tries to express to Thorne that she only ever called him names because he seemed to get off on it. It doesn't take long before the two are growing close again, despite the dangers facing both of them. Jerrod wants Thorne gone, and when he discovers that Thorne and Nadia have a shared past, he has the weapon he needs to bring his second in command down.
As with Carolyn Crane's previous two books in the series, Into the Shadows is full of action, suspense, complicated and wounded people who need each other to try to make sense of the world. There is a emotionally struggling hero seeking revenge and justice, and a capable and determined heroine. The villain is once again truly despicable, making it abundantly clear that while Thorne isn't a boy scout by any stretch of the imagination, he's in the right in taking Jerrod down. I really liked most things about this book, however, I would have liked even more present interaction between Nadia and Thorne, rather than so many flashbacks. I also found some of the internal machinations of the Hangmen a bit tiresome. It was a fun, suspenseful, sexy read, though. The book is nominated for a RITA in the Romantic Suspense Category, and it is a well deserved nomination. Ms. Crane also self-publishes her very entertaining Associates novels, so consider buying a copy so she can afford to keep writing.
Laney Lancaster has been on the run from her monstrous ex-husband for the past two years. While he's in jail (because of Laney), she knows that there is no way he'd let his many efficient and ruthless henchmen stop looking for her. Hiding as a lounge singer in a hotel in Bangkok, Laney is aware that the brothers of her friend Rajini may be involved with organised crime, but they have also been keeping her safe, with a job and a place to stay. She would love to have other options, but her husbands criminal contact network runs far and wide, and she's terrified of falling back into his clutches. She's deeply cautious and barely ever even leaves the hotel grounds, but makes an exception to celebrate her birthday.
Peter Macmillan is an Associate, one of many undercover operatives working where other law enforcement agencies can't always operate. He used to be a linguistics professor at the top of his field, until he lost all he held dear in a tragic accident and became obsessed with revenge. Using his unique skills of determining minute dialect and speech markers to track those responsible for the accident, he nearly got himself killed, but also caught the attention of the leaders of the Associates and offered a new chance to make a difference. Now he tracks down criminals, terrorists and arms dealers, able to track and identify them from the way they speak and their vocabulary choices. There's going to be an auction for a devastating new weapon in Bangkok, and Peter needs to track down the arms dealer, based only on the vocabulary quirks caught in the encrypted messages announcing the auction. When he realises that Laney sings in the hotel every night and records herself and everyone surrounding the stage, he realises that this is his best chance to identify the arms dealer. He just needs to get close enough to copy her recordings.
Because it's her birthday, Laney lets herself be charmed by the beautiful stranger who seems to have such insight into her song lyrics. After a very steamy encounter, she leaves him alone in her room for a few minutes, and returns to discover him searching her computer. She's convinced he must be working for her ex-husband, and within minutes, Rajini's brothers and their thugs have Peter hauled away, promising to get to find out why he was snooping in her private files. The day after, talking to some of the hotel staff, she realises that the stories she's been told by Rajini and her brothers don't entirely add up, and start investigating the fate of her lover herself. When she discovers that he's chained in the basement of the hotel, having been badly beaten, she questions him about his connection to her ex and discovers that he knows nothing of the man. She frees him, and hopes he can forgive her for landing him in trouble.
Peter, however, has discovered that the Shinsurin brothers record most of the prominent guests in the hotel, probably for possible blackmail purposes, and eyes a golden chance to get the voice recordings he needs to identify their terrorist arms dealer. Of course, in order to get access to the footage, he needs to make the Shinsurins believe he is still their helpless prisoner. After arranging with his fellow Associates in Bangkok to get the guards sedated at a set time, he locks himself back up in the cell, so they don't suspect him of being more than an overly curious admirer, waiting for his chance to use the hotel monitoring equipment to catch his mark.
While Laney may seem unbearably naive, hiding in plain sight as a nightclub singer in a Bangkok hotel, taking the shelter offered by Thai criminals without questioning their actions too much, she clearly did not have a lot of options to get away from her sociopathic and brutal ex-husband. That she should probably question the fact that they keep finding excuses for getting her a new fake passport and finding compelling reasons for why she must never leave the hotel seems obvious to me, but then I've really never been in a domestic abuse scenario of the level that Laney is running from.
Peter hides a wealth of deep pain and is trying desperately not to face the memories of his lost loved ones. For years, his missions for the Associates have been everything he needs, but he's clearly ready for something more, and when he makes an unexpected connection with Laney, he's scared. Not proud of the many dark things he's done while working undercover, he tries to drive her away by being brutally honest with her, but Laney's been around dangerous men before, and while Peter may have killed, he's a man with ethics and a moral code. The two join forces to track down the terrorist arms dealer that Peter needs to stop. With Laney suddenly insisting on leaving the safety of the hotel where she's been hiding, she'll become a lot more visible. Can they complete the mission before Laney's creepy ex catches up with her again?
I liked Against the Dark, but it was little more than a long novella, having the characters meet and fall for each other very quickly, without too much backstory being developed for either of them. In this, Carolyn Crane has time to establish each of the characters more, and spends more time developing the plot. I'm a sucker for an intelligent hero, and Peter's linguistic abilities were fascinating to me. It wouldn't surprise me if there were people out there in real life with precise enough skills to unfailingly identify where a person was from the way Peter can do, but if there isn't, she created a believable enough skill set for him. This is another action-packed and suspenseful read, with a compelling central couple, and interesting supporting characters, several of whom I'm sure I'll meet in later books in the series.