Tobias Faraday is the head of old, powerful, secretive and family-run Faraday Industries. Faraday Industries is huge power in military and intelligence circles, leveraging their inventions and innovations into political power and access for over 200 years.
But that power and access made one of their own a target. After Tobias's sister Beth was taken and tortured in Blamed in retribution for her involvement in assassination attempt gone wrong, he concentrates all his efforts into rescuing her and destroying those who hurt her.
Chandler McCallister knew too much and said too little. Trapped in a brutal undercover assignment, she didn't intervene and in fact assisted those who targeted Beth. The information she provided the Faradays almost came too late. Her career at MI6 is in tatters, and her life might soon be over.
Her only play is to help Tobias infiltrate the inner circles of Kedrov's organization so that he might exact his revenge. She trades her cooperation in what is likely a suicide mission for the chance to stand by her sister Pippa's side on her wedding weekend to ensure lurid secrets from their family's past don't derail the wedding.
Harris played with some of my favorite tropes, enemies to lovers & pretend relationship, when Tobias chooses to pose as Chandler's plus one at Pippa's wedding. Pretending to be lovers soon proves a dangerous temptation that has them both dangerously off balance.
I quite liked this book. The action was very intense but not as triggers as in Blamed, the connection, attraction and trust between Tobias and Chandler was fast but still believable. They are both professionally cold for a living, protective of their siblings and isolated. I loved how themes of atonement, forgiveness and sacrifice, some of my favorites, kept resurfacing in their relationship. However, this is only the second of an interconnected multi-book series, and there is a lot of time spent introducing secondary characters, and seeding future plots that are likely to bear fruit as the series progresses. While the characters are intriguing, some of the introductory scenes with these secondary characters bogged down the narrative.
A review copy of Ripped was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley.
Beyond Innocence is the 6th full-length book in Kit Rocha's fantastic dystopian erotic romance series (there have also been 3 fantastic novellas). In this dark future, Eden is one of the few cities to survived a cataclysmic event. It is a oasis of wealth and luxury but personal freedom is scarce as city is run by a cabal of religious politicians who use strict morality rules to control the population in collusion with the military. Outside the closely monitored walls of Eden are the sectors, loosely governed regions that compete to supply and trade with Eden.
The O'Kanes run a Sector 4. Originally, the O'Kanes were a brawling & sexing bootlegging operation that controlled trade and provided security for Sector 4 merchants. They have become increasingly interested and involved in inter-sector politics and diplomacy due to increasing incursions and interference by opportunistic parties in Eden and rival sectors. As the series has progressed the O'Kanes have become more sophisticated and politically savvy and more of threat to those in power in Eden. More than ever the O'Kanes need information and intelligence rather than relying on their brawn to save the day. Beyond Innocence is a romance between two new and non-traditional O'Kane allies during a dangerous and pivotal moment for the O'Kanes.
Bree Bridges and Donna Herren (who jointly write as Kit Rocha) jokingly refer Beyond Innocence as their Duke/Spy book. Jared, the hero of Beyond Innocence is in some ways that archetype, wealthy, immaculately dressed, a huge contrast to the rough, scarred and tattooed O'Kane heroes that have dominated the series. But Jared gained all that wealth and access to highest echelons of Eden by working as whore, rising from a childhood on the streets to wealth and luxury by providing the repressed women of Eden a romantic fantasy and multiple orgasms at very high price. He has agreed to spy for the O'Kanes for a multitude of complicated reasons, but due to the covert nature of his work, he is still an outsider in the cozy O'Kane community.
Lili Fleming is a stranger in O'Kane lands, waking up from a long drug-numbed life. The daughter and wife of two recently deceased former sector leaders and O'Kane enemies, she fled her home in a bloody nightgown and a fur coat with pockets stuffed with pills. The O'Kanes have given her sanctuary and time to recover but the pills have finally run out and she now has to face the alarming landscape of Sector four and the O'Kane Compound without their numbing.
Lili was raised to be an ideal domestic trophy wife who served the needs of her powerful husband: decorating his arm, bearing his children, keeping his house and enduring any physical and emotional abuse with the aids of pills. Only knowing sex to be a scary obligation and relationships only a tool of control and abuse, she can't make sense or believe in the joy and pleasure the women of the O'Kane compound celebrate. In that sea of sex and leather she seeks out the familiar, the one un-inked painfully handsome man in a crisp dress shirt, Jared.
Jared and Lili's love story grows out their outsider-status. They are trying to sort out what it means to belong to the O'Kane. Neither of them have much experience belonging to someone else, or in trust others with their well-being. They are both remaking their life, finding ways to put old skills to new use. Like recognizes Like, and they see past well practiced public masks they wear. While there is plenty of sex in this story, their connection and intimacy is slowly developed, an innocent friendship to form first. The trust they build with each other, makes their sexual exploration incredibly meaningful. I just loved the moment when Jared makes sure they use condoms the first time they have PIV sex. In the Beyond world, condom sex is pretty rare since most people need fertility drugs to procreate and STD's are not a thing. But Jared knows enough about Lili to care about how she might be at risk of pregnancy, and how that would complicate things dramatically for them. Jared is similarly careful and considerate with delicate Lili through out their relationship even as he exposes to more and more O'Kane wantonness to that she might learn her own desires. In his relationship with Lili, serving as sexual tutor, he reclaims a part of his life that he had become alienated from, because he do it while being his genuine self.
The dynamic shifts in the second half of the book when Lili is the one who is reclaiming the skills that defined her as trophy wife. She is able to reclaim and re-purpose her love of cooking as way to contribute in the O'Kane camp, and connect with Jared. She ends up using all relationships skills she honed as trophy to do what no other O'Kane is able to do when it matters most. In the end their relationship matures to a true partnership, that makes them both stronger instead of diminishing them.
There is wonderful balance between the over-arching plots and romantic relationship development time, even as new characters are introduced and we check in with prior couples. There is a wonderful pay off in having journeyed this far into series and it was fun to see the O'Kane world through the eyes of outsiders who question and doubt the world they see.
I am always eager for more stories from Sector 4.
A review copy of Beyond Innocence was provided by the authors