This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Malin. 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 Malin‘s review:
This is the first book I’ve ever read by HelenKay Dimon, so I can’t tell you if it’s a typical book for her, or some new and exciting direction she’s taking her fiction in. A quick glance at Goodreads shows me that she has written quite a lot of books that all seem to be romantic suspense, some with a m/f and others with m/m focus. In this series, Tough Love, we are introduced to a team of CIA agents, who have clearly worked together for many times on various paramilitary missions all over the globe. They’re a tight-knit and experienced unit, who clearly know each other very well, but Fisher has been hiding the fact that he’s gay, and that has had a boyfriend hidden away in an apartment for the last few months, from the rest of the group. He’s been lying to his boyfriend, claiming to be an engineer, making up excuses every time he gets shipped off to do something insanely dangerous to keep the world safe.
Now his boyfriend appears to have been kidnapped, and Fisher is absolutely frantic. He believes his boyfriend Zach to be a nerdy computer technician and has always feared that his life of spying and covert ops will endanger Zach in some way. Finding him snatched from their home pretty much confirms this. Fisher’s CIA partner, Nathan, is rather amused at Fisher’s admission that he’s gay, as it seems to have been blatantly obvious to the entire team that Fisher had no interest in the ladies. He’s more curious as to why Fisher’s been lying both about where he’s been living for the last three months, and whom he’s been living with. He insists on coming with Fisher to confront the kidnappers, who turn out to be a pretty nasty bunch of individuals, and while captive with that organisation, they discover that Zach isn’t so much a kidnapping victim as someone who’s job it was to hit on Fisher and insinuate himself into his life so he could spy on him for the group.
Fisher is absolutely gutted, and it takes both Fisher and Nathan a long time to believe that Zach is telling the truth about being an undercover CIA agent tasked to infiltrate these high-level kidnappers. Even after Zach’s identity has been verified both by the Fisher and Zach’s respective supervisors, Fisher feels incredibly betrayed. He believed Zach to be an innocent civilian, and now can’t trust anything they had together. Having already dealt with his fair share of betrayal and rejection when he came out to his family, Fisher has always kept himself slightly apart from others, not really daring to trust. Although he’s not ready to admit it to himself, he’s clearly fallen pretty hard for Zach (everyone else around him can see it) and now he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
When helping Fisher and Nathan escape, Zach knows that he most likely broke his cover, but the ruthless organisation he’s been infiltrating still needs to be stopped, and he has to return to them, even if it means risking his own life. While Fisher is furious with him, and claims he doesn’t care what happens to Zach, he’s clearly in denial and needs to be convinced that his superiors, and Zach, know what they’re doing.
We are thrown straight into the action in this book, and it very rarely lets up at any point. I suppose in a book of just two hundred pages, you don’t really have a lot of pages to spend on slowly building exposition, but it felt a bit jarring occasionally to have everything revealed in little flashbacks while the main story was going ahead at full tilt. I didn’t really feel like I was able to get invested in Fisher and Zach’s relationship before it was in danger of crumbling. Even with the tight plotting and low page count, Dimon manages to spend some time introducing sequel-bait, a German secret agent also working undercover with the kidnappers and the youngest, apparently less-criminally inclined than his siblings brother of the criminal enterprise. In many ways, their pairing seemed more interesting to me, so Ms. Dimon’s tactics clearly worked. I’m very likely to track down the next book in the series as well.
All in all, I would have preferred a few more quiet scenes and a bit more exposition, where I felt like I really got to know Fisher and Zach and therefore could care more about their relationship. I also found at least one of the sex scenes in the book somewhat implausible, considering both the anger and trust issues on either side and the time constraints with regards to the guys’ mission, but what do I know? It seemed like at least one of the scenes was in there so the readers got enough smexy times, without it really feeling organic to the plot.
This hasn’t exactly been my favourite read of the season, but I am a fan of action movies, and they’re not always very big on character development either. So since this is like a big budget action movie in romance form, I guess I can’t be too picky. Several of Fisher’s team members provide excellent comic relief as supporting characters, and as I said, I am very intrigued by the pairing set up for the sequel, so this will clearly not be the last HelenKay Dimon book I read. If you like romantic suspense, and don’t really want anything too time-consuming to read, I suspect this will do you nicely.
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