This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by JayneH. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romantic Suspense category.
Secrets and seduction make for an explosive combination in HelenKay Dimon’s edgy, thrilling new series, which kicks off with a novel about two men who can handle any threat—except the one posed by desire.
Fisher Braun knows how to keep a secret. As a covert paramilitary operative, his job—and his life—depends on it. He’s at the top of his game, ready for action and always in control. No enemy has ever brought him to his knees, but one lover has: Zachary Allen, the man currently sharing his bed. The perfect package of brains and brawn, Zach is someone worth coming home to, and Fisher hates keeping him in the dark about what he does. But the lies keep Zach safe. Until the day Fisher loses everything. . . .
Zachary Allen is no innocent civilian. Although he plays the tech geek, in reality he’s deep undercover for the CIA. In a horrible twist of fate, the criminal enterprise he’s infiltrated has set its sights on the man whose touch drives him wild. Zach would do anything for Fisher—except blow his own cover. Now, in order to save him, Zach must betray him first. And he needs Fisher to trust him with all his heart if they want to make it out alive.
Here is JayneH’s review:
I don’t read much M/M romance. However, when HelenKay Dimon announced this series, I knew that I trusted her enough as an author to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed.
The action is fast, often reading like an action adventure movie, men in suits with guns chasing after bad guys & girls.
It should be noted I’m half-watching Skyfall as I write this review, so I’m channeling a Daniel Craig style Bond vibe for this re-read. With this book being set in the UK and the high level of snark between the main characters, it all fits.
Fisher Braun is our main hero, a CIA Operative in the Special Activities Division (SAD), Nathan March is his working Partner. In the opening chapter we get two reveals: Fisher’s sexuality, which he has kept from his team, and the kidnapping of Zach, Fisher’s secret boyfriend from his secret apartment. Fisher has kept his job secret from Zach, spinning a yarn about being an engineer. Secrets, secrets, secrets all around.
Of course Nathan disabuses Fisher of the notion that his sexuality is a secret, from him at least, pretty swiftly, flexing his “It’s my job to read people” muscles.
As they begin the job of finding Zach and his kidnappers, Fisher is terrified that this will mean the end of his relationship with Zach. After all, once his job and his lies are exposed, how will Zach want to remain with Fisher. Why would Fisher want to ever have Zach put in that position again? Won’t Zach blame Fisher for the trauma and probable torture that he’ll undoubtedly experience? Once they find him, Fisher will have to let him go for both of their sakes. Fisher is steeling himself for heartbreak.
Following the clue given as to Zach’s location, Fisher and Nathan find themselves subsequently captured, at which point we have our first dilemma. Zach is less a prisoner and more probably one of the Bad Guys.
Pentasus are the bad guys. It’s an international kidnapping ring run by a wealthy and very connected family. They make their living trading intel and delivering bodies (dead or alive as needed). For some reason not everyone in the CIA believes in Pentasus’ existence, but here we are dealing with them in the flesh.
As this is the first in a 3 book series (all M/M, all interlinked with a long story arc threaded through regarding Pentasus) there’s some world building to do.
I’ve found that it’s really, really hard to write a review of any form of suspense book without giving the plot away. For me the thrill of these books is figuring it all out, the reveals, the twists – it’s like watching magic and I don’t want to spoil how the rabbit comes out of the hat. So instead I’m gonna go with what I loved and what I didn’t.
I LOVED the banter between these characters, all of them, not just the two main heroes, Fisher and Zach. As they are covert operatives, they have to have a deep trust and respect for each other as their lives are literally in each other’s hands all the time. They’ve found a way to cut the bullshit, but have a humorous edge, almost like siblings and the way they fight. They trade words like jabs with each other like a verbal boxing match
Fisher went with blurting it out. “Okay, fine. I’m gay.” He threw his arms out to the sides. “Happy?”
A stark silence cut through the chaos. Another twenty seconds passed before Nathan talked again. “Not especially.”
Fisher hadn’t expected that…or maybe some part of him had, and that’s why his secret stayed a secret for so long.
“Sorry for not fucking who you want me to fuck.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Nathan looked ready to throw a punch. “As if I care. As if I didn’t know.”
“You actually think I didn’t figure this out before now? That anything matters to me except for the part where you never told me?”
Fisher froze. Even the frustration inside him stopped spinning. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“It seemed strange for me to tell you that you’re gay.”
I loved the way the scenes played out where Fisher discovers Zach lied to him, the angst, the soul wrenching in discovering the one person, the ONE person he thought he could try to be himself with turned out to be the worst kind of liar.
Fisher let his head fall back against the wall.
“Don’t give me the standard CIA PR speech.” So much for truth.
“It’s my job, Fisher.”
“Like I was your job?” Zach walked over to him.
Closed in, careful to keep enough space between them for Fisher to run. Zach half expected him to.
“I’d point out neither one of us were being honest about who we were over the last few months.”
“Neither? Do you really think what you did and what I did were the same thing?”
Zach rested a hand against the wall, right by Fisher’s shoulder. “You’re not actually an engineer, are you?”
“I didn’t pick you up in a bar as part of a job.” Fisher tapped the side of his closed fist against Zach’s chest. “I was attracted to this guy.” The thuds fell harder. “Wanted to live with this guy.” He dropped his hand to his side again. “Now I know you manufactured what I felt. With the help of Helena and Stacia, and who knows who else, you made me a job.”
The words crashed through Zach, breaking and shattering everything in their path. “That’s not true. We were real.”
I loved the push-pull of Fisher and Zach’s relationship as it progressed through the story. Given that they are constantly in intense situations due to the nature of their work, there feels like an emotional depth that I don’t always get in Romantic Suspense. No one’s being rescued, neither of them are victims, there’s an equitability I don’t always get in M/F Romantic Suspense, because usually the heroine is being rescued or is in a sorta “subservient” role. So, if you like M.L Buchmann, or HelenKay’s other books, I think you’d like this series.
This is a situation where ultimately there is work based trust, because they have Skills damnit!, but the emotional trust has to be rebuilt. Fisher isn’t certain it’s achievable, but Zach wants it so desperately, again, more push-pull and angst.
The sex is hot and there’s always lube!! M/M sex needs lube and spit doesn’t cut it!!
What was mildly problematic: this story happens in a little over 48 hours, it never felt rushed, but at 210 pages, it could have been longer. Maybe that’s just me wanting more because I enjoyed this world and this team.
I would have liked to have seen more of Zach & Fisher’s relationship pre-Chapter One. For as much as Dimon did a great job with the heartbreak/betrayal, the knife could have been dug in deeper if I were a smidge more invested. Maybe I’m just greedy 😀
The set up in this book is great for the rest of the series, and should be read in order to get the complete Pentasus story arc. Solid B+ from me.
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