You Only Love Twice (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #3) by Bec McMaster

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With the clock ticking down, the Company of Rogues must find a deadly killer and stop them from assassinating the Queen… before London burns.

First rule of espionage: don’t ever fall in love with your target.

Five years ago, Gemma Townsend learned the hard way what happens when you break this rule. She lost everything. Her mentor’s trust. The man she loved. And almost her life. Love is a weakness she can never afford again.

When offered a chance at redemption, the seductive spy is determined to complete her assigned task: to track down a dangerous assassin known as the Chameleon, a mysterious killer sent after the queen, whose identity seems to constantly change.

But as her investigation leads Gemma into a trap, she’s rescued by a shadowy figure she thought was dead—the double agent who once stole her heart.

A man with few memories, all Obsidian knows is Gemma betrayed him, and he wants revenge. But one kiss ignites the unextinguished passion between them, and he can’t bring himself to kill her.

Can Obsidian ever trust her again? Or is history doomed to repeat itself? Because it soon becomes clear the Chameleon might be closer than either of them realized… and this time Gemma is in the line of fire.

Rating: A-

The third book in Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series, You Only Love Twice boasts an engrossing, intricately-woven and high-stakes suspense plot woven through a steamy second-chance romance and I was glued to it from pretty much start to finish. We’ve reached the middle of a five-book series, and the author provides some compelling plot developments, drawing together threads from the first two books to reveal the terrifying nature of the threat faced by this version of Victorian London, and who is behind it. This instalment also ends on rather a massive cliffhanger – but fortunately, Ms. McMaster isn’t going to make readers wait too long to find out what happens next as book four, To Catch a Rogue, is coming out in October .

Be warned –there are spoilers in this review, so if you’re planning to read the series and haven’t yet, proceed with caution.

In case I haven’t made it clear, the novels in the Blue Blood Conspiracy series need to be read in order. Each book focuses on a particular romantic pairing and has a self-contained plotline, but there are also overarching storylines that run throughout, so I would advise going back to book one, Mission Improper, in order to fully appreciate the intricacies of the stories and of the richly detailed world that the author has created.

I don’t have space in this review to delve too far back into the on-going storyline, so I’m going to assume anyone reading this is familiar with the London Steampunk world of these books, and knows what the Echelon is, what blue bloods, vampires, dhampir and mechs are, and is aware of the basic conflict that has featured thoughout; namely, the overthrow of the corrupt and degenerate ruling class (the Echelon) by an alliance of more progressive blue-bloods, mechs and humans in the original series, and in this one, the unrest that continues to plague London as everyone struggles to settle into the new order… a new order that someone is intent on destroying.

A highly trained spy and deadly assassin, Gemma Townsend is one of the Company of Rogues’ most valuable operatives. Five years earlier, she’d been on a mission in Russia, working with the Duke of Malloryn (leader of the CoR) to undermine the creation of an alliance between the Russian Blood Court and the Echelon, when she’d met and fallen for Dmitri Zhukov, who was working for their opponents and in favour of the treaty. The pair fell in love against the odds and their better judgements, but in a heartbreaking betrayal, Gemma was shot by her lover and left for dead. She survived thanks to some quick thinking on Malloryn’s part, and believes Dmitri died in St. Petersburg… until a recent attempt on her life was thwarted through the actions of someone she could almost swear was him.

Following Gemma’s shattering betrayal in Russia, Dmitri – now a powerful dhampir known as Obsidian – wanted nothing more than to forget her, and thanks to a combination of technology and conditioning, has been able to do exactly that.  He no longer has any memory of those events and doesn’t want to remember them; he’s learned to hate Gemma, but when the leader of the dhampir orders her death, he finds there’s something in him that won’t allow him – or anyone else – to kill her.  He doesn’t understand why  – she used him and betrayed him and he wants revenge – but instead of carrying out his orders, he kidnaps her in order to keep her safe.  He knows that he’s likely signing his death-warrant, but whatever is driving him to protect Gemma is stronger than his fear of retribution.

The scenes between the couple are electric and filled with intense emotion and chemistry that five years have done nothing to quell.  At first they’re both furious, each believing themselves betrayed by the other, and it becomes clear to the reader – and to Gemma – that Obsidian’s recollections have been altered somehow.  The more time he spends around her, the more he begins to question everything he’s been told and everything he thought he believed in, which gives Gemma hope that he may be amenable to helping the CoR … and that perhaps they can have another chance at a future together.

The author splits the narrative very skilfully between the romance and the overarching plot, which certainly thickens in this instalment. The murder of a former serial killer sets off a train of events that lead Malloryn to the realisation that the threat London faces is far greater than previously imagined; an old adversary is out to cause chaos, foster anarchy and overthrow the queen, and he won’t rest until he’s destroyed Malloryn in spirit, mind and body.

Bec McMaster is a fantastic storyteller, and I was on the edge of my seat several times, particularly in the last section of the book which is full of brilliant, shocking twists and turns.  I love second-chance romances, so Gemma and Obsidian’s storyline was one I was really looking forward to, and the author definitely doesn’t disappoint on that score.  Gemma is a terrific heroine – lethal in a fight, but possessed of a big, loving heart, she’s quick-witted and fiercely loyal; and while Obsidian is slightly less well-defined, it makes sense that he would be so given that he’s suppressed his memories for years and is only just coming to know himself once more.  The strength of their connection just leaps off the page, and the depth of their feelings – the hurt, the desire and the love – is evident in every moment they spend together. The sex scenes are earthy and passionate, the action is fast-paced, and the cliffhanger ending has me looking anxiously at the calendar and thinking October can’t come too soon!

I loved the affectionate banter and close-knit relationships the author has drawn between the rest of the Rogues, and watching the way they accept Obsidian for Gemma’s sake and then for his own. I was also really pleased to get  to know a bit more about Malloryn, who has been a strong, somewhat enigmatic presence in the series so far –  I’m now even more excited than ever to read his story in the final book.

If you’re already hooked on this series, then you probably need no urging from me to go out and grabYou Only Love Twice; if you have yet to try a book by Bec McMaster and you’re a fan of steampunk/paranormal historical romance then I have no hesitation in recommending the London Steampunk and Blue Blood Conspiracy series most strongly.

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