Reviewed by Mandi
I love, love, love this action-packed romantic suspense series. This one is a little darker and I liked it a lot.
Zelda is a former CIA agent who now helps run The Associates, another secret organization who takes down bad guys. When she learns her identical twin sister (who is involved in drugs and prostitution) is going to be loaned to a cartel group, Zelda decides it’s time to re-enter the field as an agent and pose as her sister. Six years ago, she was captured and tortured and broke – giving up a name of her colleague who was then killed. Zelda has carried this guilt with her and can’t let it go. She now prefers working behind a desk, but she will do anything to keep her sister safe. But once Zelda gets to the bad guy’s house, she is traded to a different bad guy (omg so many bad guys!) and things go south very quickly.
But don’t fear Zelda! Besides being a super bad ass yourself, help is on the way. Sorta kinda. Hugo lives on the top of a remote mountain overlooking fields of the precious Savinca crop. The farmers in his town grow this rare crop, but the cartel wants their fields to grow drugs. (ugh! say no to drugs!) Hugo live like a recluse now along with a twelve year old boy who he rescued after being orphaned in a horrible drug war, but Hugo is not who he seems to be. He is a legend known as Kabakas. A man who wears a mask and is feared by many.
Kabakas was a near-mythical assassin who’d burst out of nowhere at the height of the Valencian Civil War, though assassin was barely even accurate; Kabakas had been more like a super-mercenary, capable of taking on armies singlehandedly. He’d become famous across Valencia in a matter of months, the subject of tales large and tall.
And Kabakas is mighty pissed the drug cartel is threatening his town and his people.
Because this was his goddamn village. Nobody fucked with his village.
You tell ’em Hugo.
So Hugo goes out and slaughters the bad guys holding Zelda (it’s an awesome scene),and then he decides to be a bit cave-man and keep Zelda as his employee to cook, clean and tutor the boy. Zelda THINKS Hugo is Kabakas, as she has hunted him and investigated him for years – but she also is pretty sure he died some time ago so she isn’t sure if he is the real Kabakas. A dark and deep romance develops between these two as they figure out if they can trust the other and if they are on the same side of the fight.
While it may seem on the surface that Hugo and Zelda are very different people, deep down they have a lot of similarities. They are both very loyal, stubborn people. Zelda is loyal to the Associates and was loyal to her CIA team. So loyal, she can barely survive with the guilt of giving up the name of her fellow agent. Hugo is loyal to the people in his town and keeping the innocent safe. He kills – he kills a lot – but Carolyn Crane can write a killer-hero and make him work. She doesn’t sugar coat his actions. She doesn’t try to redeem him or make him someone he isn’t. He kills, and Zelda falls in love with him. I love that she doesn’t shy away from his true nature. I like how the author compares the instincts of a killer with those of a lover too:
Sometimes his instincts as a killer doubled as instincts as a lover, like the instinct to chase down pretty when it darted away. He did that now. He went after her. They’d connected for a moment, and he couldn’t stand to lose that. He could not let her go.
Besides the running from bad guys, and not trusting each other and the really hot sex (verra dirty/intense sex) Zelda teaches Hugo how to be a better caregiver to the boy he has taken in. She teaches him how to be a little more gentle, and kind. Hugo is so set on not making the boy a cold-blooded killer like himself, that he forgets he is just a boy. This storyline is a big one, but doesn’t overpower the action and romance.
We also get some small glimpses into Dax, the founder of the Associates and a man who intrigues me more every time I read one of these books.
This series is so much fun. Each one so far has been different but consistent with great action and dirty sex. Highly recommend this series.