Desert Isle Keeper
Single Malt is Ms. Reyne’s début novel and the first in her new Agents Irish and Whiskey series of romantic suspense novels. Lucky us! Both author and series show great promise and I enjoyed the book a lot, so much so that as soon as I’d finished reading it, I checked to see when the next one is coming out; I’ll save you some time and just tell you it’s May. For me, that’s not a moment too soon as I can’t wait to catch up with my new favorite crime solving duo. Before I go on, however, here’s a note of caution for cliffhanger haters: Single Malt features a pair (Aidan Talley, ‘Irish’, and Jameson (Jamie) Walker, ‘Whiskey’) whose relationship evolves over the three book series. There’s also a big case introduced that relates to Aiden’s past which unfolds over the course of all three novels, and isn’t resolved until the last book. So Single Malt is mostly focused on the evolving partnership/relationship between Irish and Whiskey, and the first case they solve together. It’s a fast paced suspense thriller that satisfied both my need for closure and desire for more.
FBI agent Aidan Talley is ready to get back to work eight months after losing both his husband and his FBI partner in a horrific car crash. The lone survivor, he’s convinced the crash was no accident and is intent on finding the evidence to prove it. Crushed with survivor’s guilt and fueled by his suspicions, Aidan is determined to move on and move forward. A concerned visit from his FBI boss – who also happens to be his dead husband’s sister – wherein she provides additional evidence to support his theory about the crash, and reminds him he can take more time if he needs it, only intensifies his desire to get back to solving cases. When Single Malt begins, it’s Aidan’s first day back at work and his focus is on a new case and new partner, Jameson Walker.
Walker left behind a promising NBA career and long-term partner to join the FBIUnwilling, as a professional athlete, to expose his private life to the public, or to find himself in a situation where his sexuality was an issue, he used his college computer science degree to become an expert in cyber crime. Though he’s spent most of his career hidden away in the FBI technology cave, he’s eager to prove himself in the field. When his boss, Special Agent in charge of the San Francisco FBI office, Melissa Cruz, informs Jamie his new partner is top San Francisco agent Aidan Talley (her brother-in-law), the man he’s lusted for for three years, he’s excited but nervous. In a surprise move, she also brings up Aidan’s history and her suspicions about the accident that killed Gabe and Aidan’s partner. Melissa asks Jamie to take another look at the evidence, but keep it from Aidan. Jamie’s willing and agrees, but he’s wary of keeping secrets from his new partner.
Aidan isn’t prepared for his instant attraction to his smart, handsome and younger (by twelve years) new partner, but even if he wanted to do something about it, he won’t. They’re partners – which makes Jamie off-limits. And anyway, even if he feels a spark every time they’re together, Jamie’s not even gay (He’s pretty sure. Ahem. Nice detective work). In dual PoVs, readers discover how intensely both men react to this first meeting, and how committed they both are to not doing anything about it. Yep. Sure. Anyway, it’s not long before the two men hit the ground running on their first case together – an investigation into a hacking attempt on a high-security biocontainment facility in Galveston, Texas. After working the case from San Francisco, it becomes clear they need to be on-site. They opt to stay together in a condo (yes!) that rather fortuitously is owned by Aidan’s family. Jamie’s cyber skills are put to good use as they race to solve the case and stop the hacker, and Aidan is kept busy interviewing and short listing their suspect list. When they link the hacks to a possible terrorist attack, it’s a race against the clock to stop the hacker and determine just who and why is targeting the facility.
The case Irish and Whiskey are tasked with solving is interesting (if a bit confusing), and Ms. Reyne masterfully drops little crumbs that eventually come together to reveal the master plan. The suspect list is complex, and the local FBI agents assigned to help them – one of whom has his eye on Jamie – only seem to complicate the case further. When they discover the hacking is linked to a terrorist Aidan has tracked in the past, and Jamie uncovers new information about Gabe, the car crash and it’s intended target(s) that he can’t share with Aidan, Ms. Reyne deftly wraps up one case and sets the stage for what’s to come. There are red herrings, explosions, mixed martial arts… it all works.
But you want to know about the romance don’t you? IT’S DELICIOUS and intense and the chemistry between Irish and Whiskey is off the charts hot. It’s also super frustrating. Aidan loved Gabe and being married, and after the accident, he’s vowed to keep all future relationships casual in order to protect himself. Afraid to fall in love again, and filled with guilt about his attraction to Jamie, he does everything and anything he can to maintain a purely professional relationship with his partner. Lucky for us, Jamie wants Aidan from the start. He’s sensitive to his partner’s past and knows Aidan’s fears (especially given their jobs), but he wants Aidan to admit there’s something special between them. The first half of the book is a s-l-o-w burn as they struggle to keep their distance except… Aidan can’t control his jealousy whenever Oscar (Jamie’s cyber counterpart in TX) flirts with his partner.
The tension is thick, and readers, it’s so hard to wait for Aidan to accept Jamie’s tender affection and desire. I found myself sneaking away to read because I just knew when they got together, it would be explosive. It was. It is. Ms. Reyne delivers on all that suppressed lust in a scorching (but tender – you’ll see) love scene. In fact, though I loved the casework and the relationship building, Ms. Reyne’s writing absolutely shines in these physical expressions of Aidan and Jamie’s feelings for each other. Irish and Whiskey are my new favorite romantic pair – and I loved how their career relationship mirrors and overlaps their personal one. They’re both so protective and intensely aware of their partner/lover/friend, it’s brilliant.
Single Malt concludes with Irish and Whiskey solving the Galveston case (after a nice frenzied last few chapters), but Ms. Reyne leaves us with a terrorist plot cliffhanger that has personal and professional ties to Aidan’s past. Jamie is still secretly investigating the car crash, and new discoveries threaten his relationship with Aidan. Aidan and Jamie are lovers, but have very different feelings about what their relationship looks like moving forward.
This is a tremendous debut from Ms. Reyne. I can’t wait for book two, Cask Strength.