Note: Skin Game is by Ava Gray (AKA Ann Aguirre) and is the first of a new paranormal/suspense romance series.
When a book starts off with the heroine holding a guy’s crown jewels literally in her hands — and not the way that you are all probably thinking — I knew I would be in for a real memorable treat of a read. And throughout my marathon reading session, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Kyra Beckwith is a con woman and is on the run after publicly fleecing and conning a dangerous mobster, Gerard Serrano, in Las Vegas. Kyra acted in revenge for her father’s murder, which Serrano was responsible, and for the thrill of it. Kyra also has an ability which helps her gain an advantage in her con tricks. Each time she touches someone she gains their leading talent or ability which can be useful to turn against a prospective con victim. But her ability comes with a cost; it leaves her weak, as well as suffering from painful headaches. And if she is touched upon by more than one person, Kyra is overwhelmed and incapacitated. So because of this, she rarely touches anyone or has close relationships due to the painful physical and mental psychic feedback from her touch talent.
However, Serrano does not let Kyra get away with his public humiliation. He hires Reyes, a hitman, to kill her and to retrieve his money. Kyra is hard to trace but when Reyes finally catches up with her, he finds it difficult to fulfil his orders to kill. This becomes more difficult as he starts to discover that there is more to Kyra than he was initially told about. As he gets to know her, he realizes that this contract may not be as clear cut as it seems.
Skin Game is a multi-layered tale of cat and mouse between Kyra and Reyes, who immediately ignite sparks off of each other. Kyra, who is unaware of his true agenda, shares a steamy one night stand with Reyes but manages to slip away unnoticed. Although Kyra slips away, Reyes tracks her down and they both agree to become partners when a con Kyra instigates goes awry, and both of them go on the road to do small time hustles. The battle of wits and wills between Reyes and Kyra was fantastic to see as it really added to to the sexual and emotional tension between them. I loved how disconcerted Reyes became, especially since he was initially cold and detached yet had a charming persona. But his interactions with Kyra cracks his defensive shell and he finds that he is showing her his true self, which affects his mission to kill her.
I really loved how both characters, who had strong emotional and psychological defences against the world, and themselves, were able to connect with each other. That definitely added a much needed vulnerable layer to the romance, since both characters do not fit the typical hero/heroine. Kyra initially appeared unlike-able because she is a con-artist, in addition to having a devil-may-care attitude, and Reyes as a hitman, but Ava Gray has created two characters who are multidimensional and very likeable who have issues and experiences that adds to their characterizations. This makes them feel more real and relatable, and I was fully engrossed with their romance. I was especially a little in love with Reyes – who I think is one of the best intriguing heroes I have read in a while and is very reminiscent of a Linda Howard hero: Dangerous memorable and sexy.
Another stand out character was Foster, who is central to the suspense, twists and turns in the plot. He is very mysterious and from the little tidbits that I gleaned from the book has become one of the most unique characters I have come across. If I thought Reyes was dark and dangerous, I have a feeling he has nothing on Foster – who I think will become a very popular character. I cannot wait for his book: Skin Tight, which comes out later next year, to see how his romance with Mia (Kyra’s best friend who is also introduced in this book) pans out.
Like all of Ann Aguirre’s books; this was a very gritty, realistic and fast paced read which is fast becoming her trademark. I loved how she conveyed the extraordinary as real and believable as possible – which is similar in feel to her Corine Soloman series. Skin Game is a clever build up of suspense, and tension with memorable well drawn out characters. And it was one of those books you close with a sigh and a smile (and if my ARC had the cover: Strokable). If you are not a fan of Contemporary suspense, I would highly recommend you pick this up because I really think this book will be a breakout hit this year, and will definitely become a fan favourite.
I give Skin Game 5 out of 5 (I would add more if I could! Loved it!)