Have I mentioned that I love this romantic suspense series? Carolyn Crane writes quirky and intelligent characters that I just find fascinating. The last book in the series, Into the Shadows, was on my 2014 favorites list so, of course, I was all grabby hands when the advance copy for this book landed in my inbox. It’s dark, moody and filled with tension and I was immediately pulled in. This can be read as a standalone but the reader will find greater understanding by reading previous books.
Zelda was one of the CIA’s best field operatives until a mission gone wrong broke her physically and mentally. Since then, she has been the shadow partner to Dax in managing The Associates, a smaller and more focused spy group. When she finds out her twin sister was traded to a nefarious drug kingpin, Zelda decides to go undercover once again. Unfortunately for Zelda, this mission goes awry, as she finds herself in the middle of a shootout and at the mercy of a man she believes might be the assassin she used to hunt.
Hugo has long since retired his near-mythical persona of the assassin, Kabakas. He keeps to himself on his mountain retreat with Paolo, a young boy he rescued from his last battle. They live a simple life of farming a unique plant. The solitude is broken when El Gorrion began to violently target their town to coerce the farmers into growing his drugs. Reluctantly, Hugo, once again, dons the mask of Kabakas to let El Gorrion know who he’s up against. At the end of the firefight, Hugo is left with El Gorrion’s cast off whore. He decides to use her as his cook and a tutor for Paolo.
The firefight was the first instance where Zelda got the inkling that Hugo might be Kabakas. Then, when she became a part of their household, little things started adding up. Zelda had been obsessed with finding Kabakas as an agent, wanting him punished for the slaughter of an entire town. However, as she gets to know Hugo, she can’t believe that he could really be the same person. Then, if she does confirm they are the same, can she turn him over?
Hugo and Zelda are both people battling dark demons. Zelda can’t let go of the guilt and shame she felt over breaking under torture that resulted in another agent’s death. She writhes in self-loathing to the point of exhaustion. Hugo suffers from the guilt of his mother’s death and has shut himself off from the world. The once legendary fighter lived a terrible life full of hate and violence that even though he saved this little boy, he didn’t know how to show him any affection.
Hugo and Zelda pace around each other like stalking cats that constantly are sizing up their opponent. The sexual tension is so palpable and when they finally get around to the dirty stuff, it is explosive. What was even better was the struggle of these two to discover that they are worthy of love despite their pasts and their respective journeys to forgiveness. In many ways, it’s a bit of a somber and reflective book.
Yet, in no way did those quiet moments take away from the action of the book. Hugo and Zelda work as partners to bring down El Gorrion while working to save the town’s unique crop (Savinca Verde – which I found was fictional). Action moved along at a clip and brought in some new Associates. There also was a good deal of time spent with Dax , I’m assuming because the next book has to be his (that man has some demons).
I highly recommend this book (and the entire series) for those who want an intense page turning romantic suspense with a whip smart ex-agent who falls for the quiet brooding former assassin she once hunted.
*ARC provided by author
Click to purchase: Amazon
Behind the Mask
by Caroline Crane
Release Date: May 19, 2015