Against the Dark was a very fun entry to a series I plan on finishing. Thank you to Malin and Sophia for the recommendation!
Angel Rodriguez is a retired safecracker who is pulled into one last mission with her old gang, because the life of a loved one is on the line and she is the only one who can crack a certain make of safes, due to an apprenticeship with their inventor. The burglary job targets Walter Borgola, one of the most slimy and reprehensible villains I’ve ever encountered in a romance. He’s a first-rate misogynist who also specializes in human trafficking of underage victims, and snuff films. Gross supervillain type stuff. Anyway, their heist mostly goes off without a hitch, except despite being 99% careful, a tiny bit of Angel’s blood is left behind after she cuts herself on broken glass.
That sample is found by Cole Hawkins, who is an undercover operative for the Association, currently posing as a member of Borgola’s security team. He is trying to stop the importing of Borgola’s latest crop of victims, so he needs to get into a secret safe hidden somewhere he is still trying to locate. Rather than turning Angel into his boss, he sees an opportunity to use her skills to locate and get into the secret safe.
This is a short, insta-lust story that is made believable by the adrenaline and emotions running high that are par for the course when engaged in a high-stakes caper. I generally don’t have a problem with insta-lust (in fact I welcome it, since it makes for steamy stories) though I would like a little more of a transition between that and the other four letter L-word than we get here. As a hero, I liked Cole’s off-brand masculinity: he’s lithe and sexy in a geeky way, but still assertive. Angel is a pretty good heroine, though I repeated references to her father’s disapproving voice in her head a little tiresome. It was a bit nonsensical the way that played out as well — Angel’s hangup is based on this aphorism her father used to tell her about being a good person, something to the effect of “Beauty is only skin deep but ugly cuts to the bone,” and she sees herself as an ugly person because of how she turned to a life of crime and disappointed her family. But a manifestation of this is that [SPOILER]
Angel can’t look at herself in a mirror, because she sees her ugliness on the surface. So, in the inevitable scene where Cole tries to “fix” her, he doesn’t necessarily reassure her that she’s not just her criminal past, she’s a good person, he tries to get her to look in the mirror and see that she’s beautiful.
[END SPOILER] It’s just a weird interpretation of the message she’s internalized.
All in all, though, I liked the story. It was good romantic suspense, well balanced between romance and suspense, and it has me motivated to check out more of Carolyn Crane’s stuff. It’s also free on Kindle right now, so there’s no reason to not try it!