The Negotiator (Games People Play #2.5) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

Rating: C+

In HelenKay Dimon’s Games People Play series, the heroes are all men who bonded in their youth when they were taken under the wing of someone named Quint, who saved them from the downward spirals they were in, helped all of them learn to utilise their unique skill-sets and set them on the straight and narrow.

Years later, the ‘Quint Five’ are all well-placed and powerful individuals who are often called upon by government departments and law enforcement to undertake missions and cases that they can’t touch.  In book one, The Fixer, we met Wren – an enigmatic man whose speciality is making problems go away – and his second-in-command, former Black Ops, professional negotiator, Garrett McGrath.

In The Enforcer (book two) Garrett was sent along to ride shotgun on the mission undertaken by Matthias Clarke, another of the five, whose private security firm is often used by Wren in the course of his business.  Garrett immediately captured my attention; his gregarious, wise-cracking ways were such a contrast to the gruff, taciturn Matthias (I do love a smart-mouthed charmer!) and so many tough-guy heroes are dark, brooding and almost miserable that it was a refreshing change to come across one who knew how to lighten up.   I’ve been looking forward to his book, but I confess that I’d hoped for a full-length novel rather than a novella.  I’m not the greatest fan of novellas anyway (few authors really know how to get them right) and Garrett is such a great character that he deserved more page time.

The Negotiator picks up a few months after the events of The Enforcer, which took place in the small, seafront town in Annapolis where Matthias was searching for a woman named Kayla Roy who was suspected of murder.   One of the secondary characters in the book was Kayla’s friend, Lauren Gallagher, who runs a pleasure boat and fishing tour business; and for the past few months, a rather smitten Garrett has travelled regularly to Annapolis to spend time with Lauren, who adamantly refuses to go on a date with him.  She tries to tell him it’s because she’s older than he is (by five years) or because she was a mess and … he could do better.  But Garrett is a shrewd man and knows there’s more to it than that – and he has his theories as to what that ‘more’ is.  Still, the one thing Lauren hasn’t said is that she’s not interested, so he continues to hope that she will eventually open up and let him in.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the Cities #3) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met – and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now – his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive – or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B+

K.J. Charles brings her wonderful Victorian-set romantic/gothic/mystery Sins of the Cities trilogy to a most satisfying conclusion with An Unsuitable Heir, in which missing heirs are found, peril is encountered, murder is a distinct possibility and love grows in the unlikeliest of places. I’ve found the trilogy utterly captivating and entirely delightful; the characters, the setting and the plotting are extremely strong throughout and given that I’m a fan of the sort of Victorian sensation novel which Ms. Charles has taken as her inspiration, I’ve relished the way she has incorporated key elements of the genre into the trilogy. While An Unsuitable Heir isn’t my favourite book of the three (that’s An Unnatural Vice), it’s nonetheless an exciting and fitting end to the series; and another excellent, vibrant performance from Matthew Lloyd Davies makes it a terrific listen.

As I’ve covered the individual plots of the other books in my reviews (linked below), I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive rehash here. I’ll just say that if you’re thinking of listening to this audiobook without reference to the others, I wouldn’t recommend it; the series really does need to be listened to in order. The romances are played out in each, but the overarching plotline of the search for the missing heir to the Moreton earldom runs through all three novels – and because of this, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Lady and Mr. Jones (A Spy in the Ton #4) by Alyssa Alexander

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Born in the rookeries, the hard life is something Jones is all too familiar with. Saved as a young boy, he was trained to be a spy, one of the best–elite, in fact. He now spends his days serving His Majesty in espionage, hunting rogue spies.His latest assignment, though, has him tracking a fellow spy…

Cat Ashdown is a baroness. Nothing is more important than protecting five hundred years of heritage. She knows every detail of every estate that commands the largest income in Britain— yet her father placed her inheritance in trust to her uncle who is forcing her to marry a man she has no desire for. The baroness’s battle against law and convention leads her to Jones and results that are surprising … and possibly unwanted.

Rating: B

The Lady and Mr. Jones, the fourth and final (I think?) book in Alyssa Alexander’s A Spy in the Ton series turns the spotlight on the eponymous Jones, a secondary character in previous books and a member of the elite spy ring that includes Shadow, Angel and the Flower.  Picking up some of the threads laid out in the previous book, A Dance with Seduction, Ms. Alexander has crafted a tender cross-class romance which plays out alongside an engaging suspense plot which sets spy against spy in a perilous, high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse.  I enjoyed the book and the characters, although the ending is a little weak and brought my final grade down a notch.

Jones – who doesn’t appear to have any other names – is a lad from the streets; an orphan from the rookeries who was plucked from poverty and trained by the best of the best in the art of spycraft.  Deeply loyal and honourable to a fault, Jones is so discreet, skilful and efficient that he is the man his superiors turn to when they need to keep an eye on one of their own.  In A Dance with Seduction, we met the Flower and her handler, Henry, Lord Wycombe, another member of Britain’s intricate network of spies and informants.  As the story progressed, it became clear that Wycombe was involved with something underhand and that his position had become compromised in some way – and now, Jones is assigned to keep watch on him and discover the truth about his activities and allegiances.

Lady Mary Elizabeth Frances Catherine Ashdown, the Baroness Worthington, is one of the richest women in England – or she would be if her late father hadn’t tied up her money in such a way that she is dependent on her guardian – her uncle, Viscount Wycombe – until she marries or reaches her thirty-fifth birthday.  Cat is one of the few women in England to bear a title in her own right (the barony is over five hundred years old, and as is the case with some of the oldest titles, can be held by a female) and she takes her responsibilities to her title and those who depend on her very seriously.  But her requests for funds to make improvements and repairs to the estate at Ashdown Abbey are continually blocked by her uncle and trustees and she is increasingly suspicious of Wycombe’s motives. She’s also furious, but her uncle is a dangerous and unpleasant man and she knows better than to reveal her feelings; instead she decides to pay for the repairs to her tenants’ cottages using her allowance.  Well aware that not all the servants at Worthington House are loyal to her, Cat slips from the house in order to post her letter of instruction to her steward – but on the way back, is accosted by a ruffian who tries to abduct her.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

Cold Evidence (Evidence #6) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The only thing Navy underwater archaeologist Undine Gray fears more than facing former SEAL Luke Sevick is never scuba diving again. But when a dive on a Cold War-era US Navy submarine ends with an accidental explosion, she’s terrified of going into the deep, forcing her to beg the most experienced diver she knows to take her back to the bottom of the cold Salish Sea.

Luke wants nothing to do with the woman who destroyed his career a dozen years ago but finds it impossible to turn his back on her plea. Caught off guard by an attraction he doesn’t want to feel, he’s eager to be done with this mission of mercy. But when they dive on the wreck, he only gets sucked in deeper. Someone has been digging on the Navy sub…and it appears the explosion that almost killed Undine was no accident.

To find the truth, Undine must navigate murky waters and the unexpectedly hot undercurrents swirling between her and Luke. Worse, divers are searching for something lost in US waters during the Cold War, and they’ll do anything to keep Luke and Undine from finding it first.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Cold Evidence is number six in Rachel Grant’s seven-book (so far) Evidence series of romantic suspense novels. I’ve yet to read or listen to every instalment, but those I’ve got to so far have proved to be immensely enjoyable, complex and action-packed stories featuring hot-as-hell heroes and feisty (in a good way) heroines who don’t take any crap. The romances are nicely steamy and well integrated into the main storylines, and for me, the balance between romance and suspense is just about perfect. Cold Evidence does feature some recurring characters but like all the books in the series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone – although there is a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end which leads into the next book, Poison Evidence. Don’t worry though, it’s more by way of a teaser; the suspense storyline and HEA are happily resolved, so you can safely listen to this without fear of frustration!

Underwater archaeologist Undine Gray is working on a project to salvage the USS Wrasse, an old US submarine that sank off the coast of Seattle during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking a number of its former crewmembers with it; men who had served aboard her in World War Two and who had volunteered to take her to her final resting place, not knowing it would become theirs, too.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Catalyst (Flashpoint #2) by Rachel Grant

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a food storage depot in famine-struck South Sudan is torched, American aid worker Brie Stewart flees, only to land in a market where she’s the next item up for auction. Is the attack on the aid facility another assault upon the war-torn fledgling democracy, or has her family set her up as a pawn in their quest for oil rights?

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford crossed paths with Brie years ago when she was a shill for her family’s company, pushing a pipeline that threatened his tribe’s land. Determined to lead the rescue operation to save her, he won’t let her abduction—or the attraction that flares between them—get in the way of settling their unfinished business.

The Green Beret’s skills are put to the test in the flooded grasslands of South Sudan, where they must battle nature and dangerous factions who are after more than oil. Bastian and Brie put their hearts on the line as they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that extends beyond country and continent. Together they must douse the spark before it reaches the flashpoint and engulfs everything they hold dear.

Rating: B+

I’ve become a huge fan of Rachel Grant’s particular blend of complex, steamy and intricately plotted romantic suspense novels over the past year or so, and have been eagerly awaiting the release of Catalyst, the second book in her Flashpoint series. Like the previous book, Tinderbox, Catalyst is set in a real-life flashpoint, this time in South Sudan, a young nation embroiled in an ongoing civil war, and features characters based at the (fictional) US military outpost of Camp Citron in Djibouti. There are some things in this book that may be difficult to read about – in particular the buying and selling of women and children – and the way that the plight of so many people in desperate need is thrust aside in favour of big business and political expediency made my blood boil on more than one occasion. Ms. Grant tells a gripping, well-paced and impeccably researched story that pulled me in from the start and kept me transfixed until the nail-biting conclusion.

Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford is surprised to recognise a familiar face one night in the bar at the camp – Gabriella Prime, the daughter of Jeffrey Prime Sr., owner of one of the world’s largest energy corporations. The last time Bastian saw her, she was in full ball-buster ‘Princess Prime’ mode – designer clothes, killer heels, full make-up – in her role as Prime Energy’s PR executive, defending the company’s plan to screw over the native American tribes of East Washington by building an oil pipeline that would ignore even the most basic environmental rules. The woman in front of him now, a decade later, is different, though. The outward trappings of the corporate shill and billionaire boss’s daughter are gone; over the last decade, Gabriella Prime has cleaned up, grown a conscience and left her old life behind her. She deliberately sabotaged PE’s plans for the Northwest oil pipeline, cut all ties with her father and brothers, legally changed her last name to Stewart (her mother’s name) and for the past five years has lived and worked under the radar for USAID in South Sudan. Bastian is rather stunned to discover that Brie Stewart is an aid-worker who lives from pay-day to pay-day like everyone else – and maybe a little suspicious that such a ruthless leopard could have changed its spots, but he has to admit to a reluctant admiration for the guts it must have taken to thwart her father’s plans and then to re-invent herself. But that doesn’t tell him what he really wants to know – which is what she’s doing in Djibouti hanging out with the camp ‘spook’, the enigmatic CIA operative, Savannah James.

One month later, the aid station Brie works at is attacked and she and her three co-workers are forced to flee for their lives. Brie manages to evade capture for a couple of days, but her luck runs out and she is taken to the very slave market she had been summoned to Camp Citron to talk to Savannah James about.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Tequila Sunrise (Agents Irish and Whiskey #3.5) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Former FBI agent Melissa “Mel” Cruz spent years skirting the line between life and death, knowing the next assignment might be her last. Back from overseas and eager to enjoy life outside the Bureau, she’s ready to give Danny Talley a Christmas Eve he’ll never forget.

A proven asset in high-stakes missions, Danny’s known for having the skill and brains to get the job done. When the Talley flagship is hijacked during the company holiday party, he’ll do anything to save his family, his love and everything they’ve all worked so hard to build. But their enemies have a secondary protocol—leave no survivors—and that plan is already in play.

Navigating through a tangled web of lies and betrayal, Mel and Danny race against the clock to retake the ship before their future goes up in flames. As the seconds tick down, they’re forced to face their greatest fear—losing each other.

Rating: B-

Tequila Sunrise is the final book in Layla Reyne’s fabulous Agents Irish and Whiskey series, and takes place a few months after the events of Barrel Proof. It’s also a neat bridge between this series and her next romantic suspense project which is going to feature Nic Price and Cam Byrne, who both appeared as important secondary characters in the earlier novels, and who both have key roles to play in this story. Tequila Sunrise is a quick, action-packed read in which Melissa Cruz, our favourite, kick-ass, ball-busting (ex)FBI agent, gets to shine in all her Ramboesque glory. Or maybe I should call her Jane McClane… *wink*

Not long after recovering from near fatal injuries inflicted by an explosion at the end of Barrel Proof, Special Agent in Charge Melissa Cruz of the San Francisco FBI decided to make a career change, and is now dividing her time between private investigative work (as a bounty-hunter of sorts) and head of security for Talley Enterprises, the shipping company run by her lover, Daniel Talley. Danny is the younger brother of Aidan (Irish) and has a reputation as a bit of a lothario; he and Mel began a relationship which ran in the background of the trilogy and by the end of the final book, they are well-and-truly an item.

The story opens on Christmas Eve as Mel is coming home from a job, wanting nothing more than to get back to Danny and for them to spend some time together. When she is held up the airport, and then finds out that Aidan, who is also on his way back to San Francisco, has been delayed, her instincts tell her something isn’t right.

The Talley family is hosting a massive holiday party that evening, to celebrate Christmas, John Talley’s upcoming retirement and the commissioning of Talley Enterprises’ newest ship, the Ellen, named after the Talley matriarch, Aidan and Danny’s mother. All the Talley ships are named for the Talley women and this, the final ship built by John Talley before he hands the company over to Danny, is the finest ship in their fleet and the envy of their competitors. With a large gathering of employees, family, investors and media on board, it’s an extremely high-profile event – and when Danny learns of the simultaneous delays that have affected both Mel and Aidan, he can’t help but be concerned.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Lullaby Girl (Angie Pallorino #2) by Loreth Anne White

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Detective Angie Pallorino took down a serial killer permanently and, according to her superiors, with excessive force. Benched on a desk assignment for twelve months, Angie struggles to maintain her sense of identity—if she’s not a detective, who is she? Then a decades-old cold case washes ashore, pulling her into an investigation she recognizes as deeply personal.

Angie’s lover and partner, James Maddocks, sees it, too. But spearheading an ongoing probe into a sex-trafficking ring while keeping Angie’s increasing obsession with her case in check is taking its toll. As startling connections between the parallel investigations emerge, Maddocks realizes he has even more than Angie’s emotional state to worry about.

Driven and desperate to solve her case, Angie goes rogue, risking her relationship, career, and very life in pursuit of answers. She’ll learn that some truths are too painful to bear, and some sacrifices include collateral damage.

But Angie Pallorino won’t let it go. She can’t. It’s not in her blood.

Rating: A-

I have been eagerly awaiting the next release in Loreth Anne White’s new Angie Pallorino series ever since I finished the first book, The Drowned Girls. Not only did that book contain an extremely compelling and densely plotted mystery surrounding a serial killer nicknamed ‘The Baptist’ and an international sex-trafficking ring, but it also introduced us to the eponymous heroine, a dedicated, hard-working cop in the Metro Victoria PD sex-crimes unit whose ball-busting, lone-wolf ways have never made her popular with her male colleagues and upon whom the six years she has spent delving into the minds and activities of some seriously sick individuals has started to take its toll. She’s been in something of a downward spiral for the last couple of years and in the grip of what seems to be an ever strengthening self-destructive streak; the death of her partner and of the child they were trying to save some months earlier has thrown her even more off balance, and on top of all that, a complicated family situation had spawned doubts about her origins and caused Angie to start to question everything she has ever known about herself.

The Drowned Girls ended with a mystery solved and a group of bad guys taken down, but with Angie uncertain about her future, both personally and professionally. The story of her search for the truth about her past really gains momentum in The Lullaby Girl, but if you haven’t read the previous book, a lot of what’s happening here is unlikely to make sense; these books need to be read in order, and because I’ll be referring to some plot points from the first book, there are spoilers for it in this review.

Angie is on suspension from duty following her take-down of The Baptist. He had kidnapped and intended to murder the teenaged daughter of Angie’s lover, Detective James Maddocks, and although Angie had saved both their lives by killing Spencer Addams – the man behind the nickname – she has been accused of using excessive force in order to do so, having shot the man eight times over. At the time, Angie had been gripped by a troubling vision of a little girl in a pink dress, a vision that had been haunting her for some time and which she now strongly suspects is related to long-suppressed memories.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.