Wednesday 29 April 2015

#CBR7 Book 47: "Against the Dark" by Carolyn Crane

Page count: 203 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Five years ago, Angel Ramirez gave up safe-cracking and stealing and swore to mend her ways, sick of hurting and using people. She's been working hard to stay on the straight and narrow, making a living as an interior decorator, trying to earn the forgiveness of her disappointed family members. When the woman Angel considers as close as a real aunt is kidnapped, and the ransom demanded is the hoard of diamonds belonging to notorious gangster Walter Borgola, Angel has no choice but to reunite with her girl gang for one last heist. With the amount of planning and research Angel and her friends put in, it should have been a quick and easy job, if it hadn't been for the presence of Cole Hawkins.

A highly trained operative in a secret intelligence organisation, having established himself over the course of months deep undercover in Borgola's crew, Cole Hawkins knows he is running out of time. He needs to figure out the location of Borgola's private safe and get his hands on some encrypted shipping documents, in order to save a boatload of teenagers on their way to sexual slavery and most likely grisly death in Borgola's torture porn and snuff films. Having slowly worked himself up in the ranks, he only has a matter of days left before the ship docks. When Borgola's diamonds are stolen from his bedroom safe, believed to be nearly impossible to crack, Cole sees an opportunity to finally reach his goal. He blackmails Angel. In return for her posing as his lover at Borgola's compound, aiding him in tracking down and breaking into the private safe, he won't turn her and her partners in to the authorities and in addition he'll make sure that Angel's aunt is rescued from her kidnappers.

Drawn to Cole, despite her disgust that he is blackmailing her (he can't tell her why he needs to break into Borgola's private safe, as that information is classified), Angel soon discovers that pretending to be his girlfriend won't require much faking, as the chemistry between them is sizzling. Of course, whether they have a future together as a real couple very much depends on whether they survive breaking into a ruthless sociopath's high security vaults and getting away without him catching them...

In November last year, I fairly quickly devoured Carolyn Crane's Disillusionists trilogy, after the first book was the monthly pick in Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy book club. So when I discovered the first three books in her new romantic suspense series, the Associates, in an e-book sale earlier this year, I figured they were worth checking out, and then, as far too often happens, I forgot all about them for a while. Then I read a blog discussion about this book over on All About Romance, where all three participants were highly complimentary, which spurred me to pick it up.

It's not a very long book, and the action takes place over a very short space of time. I tend to find insta-love stories a bit annoying, but in Cole and Angel's case it's more a case of insta-lust and as their personal chemistry is off the charts and they're thrown together under very tense and extraordinary circumstances, I can see why their feelings develop very quickly. I really liked both protagonists a lot, as well as the friends they had supporting them on either side. I'm assuming that some of the Associates mentioned are going to show up in future books, but I would also be happy to see Angel's friends show up as well. Her gang was pretty cool, although the nickname "White Jenny" for one of women got on my nerves.

Borgola is a truly skeevy and reprehensible villain and you understand why Cole is willing to risk his own safety and use every underhanded trick in the book to rescue the teenagers on their way to be exploited, abused and eventually probably murdered. Not really a brawny action type, more a highly trained nerd with an obsession for logistics, Cole was an intriguing action hero. I always find intelligence much more attractive than just muscles. If that intelligence is combined with deadly skill, so much the better.

Angel is a great heroine, honourable and loyal to a fault. Having come to regret her previous life of crime, she works so hard to prove she's reformed to her disapproving parents. While she clearly has a genuine gift for helping others design and decorate their dream homes, she doesn't really take any pleasure from her new life, clearly missing the adrenaline rush provided from her former safe-cracking escapades. Cole and his Associates may provide a way for her to combine her two different skill sets and open up for a more satisfying and challenging future for her.

As well as some truly nail-bitingly tense bits, there are also some very steamy sex scenes in this book, one memorable one which is just Cole suggesting to Amber what took place on their first date, when they're trying to rehearse their cover story about being lovers before going to dinner at Borgola's. Let's just say he paints quite the graphic word picture. My figurative stays most certainly needed loosening. Online reviews suggest that the sequels to this are even more enjoyable, so I'm looking forward to reading them in the coming months.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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