Skin Game by Ava Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ever watch a movie and wonder, 'What if the villain ran off with the femme fatale?' Then you might like this book. I sure did. I love dark romance. Sometimes I ask myself why I enjoy seeing the dark side of this genre, not depravity and kinky deeds, cheating heroes, and bickering, but heroes and heroines who are more like antiheroes and villains, who find love and their happy ever after. I think it's my unassailable belief that love does conquer all. Like Fox Murder, I really want to believe.
Ava Gray has written an excellent offering for those of us with a taste for the noir. In this book, we have a heroine who lives for the next con, moving from town to town, and relieving fools of their money, feeling no remorse about it. But, at least she only takes money from those she thinks deserves it. On her tail is a hero who kills people for a living. Yes, an assassin. Like Kyra, he plys his trade on those who he feels deserves killing. Now, to like this story you have to be willing to read about people who are morally flexible, or at least, those have a different view of morality than the norm. I think that Ms. Gray brought these characters to life in such a manner that I could feel enough respect and empathy for them that their dark ways didn't offend me. I admit, I don't like the idea of stealing for a living. But, Kyra managed to be a heroine that I could like, although I didn't always agree with the choices she made. She had her own sense of honor, which endeared her to me.
I freely admit that I am intrigued by the idea of an assassin hero or heroine. Don't ask me why. It's morbid, but there is an appeal to seeing what motivates them to do what they do. Reyes is probably one of my favorite assassin heroes so far. He truly believes that he does a service to the world. The only reason he took Kyra's contract was because he was decieved into believing she was a bad person who needed killing. Fairly soon after he takes up with her as her apprentice in the con game world, he comes to realize that she's not the person he'd been led to believe she was.
Both Kyra and Reyes struck me as intensely lonely and somewhat sad characters. After Kyra's father was murdered, she had no one (other than her friend Mia), and lived a lonely life, seeking only the sexual satisfaction of one night stands as she travels. Although she's suspicious of Reyes at first, she ends up taking him into her solitary world, and falling for him.
Their first intimate encounter is all about lust, but Ms. Gray turns things around, allowing us to see a somewhat slow-building, and in some ways, innocent courtship between these two lonely people. They both start to hope that they have found someone who they can possibly love. However, Reyes knows he's on borrowed time. He has a job to perform. His reputation is built on always completing his kills. He doesn't want to kill Kyra, but he doesn't see a way around it. I found this a little disturbing that even halfway through the book, Reyes was still contemplating killing Kyra. I think that was a brave move on Ms. Gray's part. I held my breath, hoping that Reyes would realize that he couldn't hurt Kyra, because he loved her. Soon, this dangerous man turns his formidable skills to protecting the woman he has been hired to kill.
Skin Game is more suspense than action. I liked the fact that we were able to see the viewpoints of various characters: Kyra and Reyes; the fascinating Addison Foster, who is the security head for the man who wants Kyra dead; Mia, Kyra's friend; and Serrano, the man that Kyra used, humilated, and stole millions of dollars from, who will stop at nothing to see her dead to save his face. It gave a greater depth to this dark story, turning this book into noir romance for the thinking woman.
Skin Game is as gritty as it gets. It has some moments that made me wince a few times, as Kyra and Reyes have to deal with some enemies they make along the way. The love scenes are hot and earthy, and the love between Kyra and Reyes was believable and deep. I truly enjoyed reading this story. I was sucked into this dark tale with a silver lining. I wouldn't want to live the kinds of lives that Kyra and Reyes lead, but I liked the fact that they were able to find each other and hope for the future. They didn't really get the best hands in the poker game of life, but they managed to play a killer game with the ones they are dealt. I like the idea that even in the dark, there are those who do have motivations that show some degree of honor. Skin Game couldn't have been an easy book to write, but Ms. Gray did it very well. This one goes on my keeper shelf.
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