The Enforcer is the second book in HelenKay Dimon’s Games People Play series of romantic suspense novels, which feature heroes who supply skills and services that are perhaps not available from typical law-enforcement organisations; finding people who don’t want to be found, obtaining and using sensitive information and providing security and protection to those who are unable – or don’t want – to go through normal channels. As such, they often operate in that shady area outside the law, doing what needs to be done even though they might need to cross lines in order to do it.
In The Fixer, book one in the series, we met the enigmatic Wren, head of a company specialising in intelligence and information gathering, and who, years earlier, was one of a group of young men who looked to be headed in completely the wrong direction until they were ‘rescued’ by a man named Quint who insisted they accomplish something with their lives. In the course of his business, Wren often has occasion to call upon the services provided by Quint Enterprises, the security firm run by the gruff, taciturn Matthias Clarke. The men are friends – as far as men like them can ever be friends – and more importantly, Wren is one of the very few people that Matthias trusts absolutely.
Matthias had a troubled childhood, growing up in a series of foster homes which ranged from okay to terrible. He’s a loner, and his work is his life; he does his job, eats when he’s hungry, has sex when he has the urge – and he’s content with that. But some months earlier, and completely out of the blue, he was contacted by the birth mother who abandoned him, Mary Patterson, who also told him that he’d had a younger half-brother, Nick, who had been murdered seven years earlier and the case has never been solved. While Matthias is fully aware of Mary’s attempt to manipulate him by trying to send him on a guilt-trip, he nonetheless feels some sort of responsibility to the brother he never knew, and agrees to see what he can find out.
Seven years earlier, Kayla Roy was the sole survivor of a brutal multiple murder. She became a prime suspect in the killings in the early stages of the investigation, but in the absence of any real evidence, she was never charged. Still, she disappeared not long afterwards and has spent the last seven years on the run, never putting down roots or staying too long in any one place. Now, however, she is the closest thing to settled she’s been in all that time, in the small, seafront town of Annapolis, where she waits tables at the local café.
When a man she later describes as “the walking definition of tall, dark and smoldering” enters her café and calmly orders lunch, Kayla’s instinct is to run. But even though she’s suspicious of his motives, there’s something oddly charming and reassuring about the guy, and she can’t deny that she finds him very attractive.
To start with, Matthias suspects that Kayla may have been responsible for the murders and is determined to secure some sort of justice for his brother. But as the days pass and they get to know each other a little more, he revises his opinion, realising that although there is something haunting her, it’s not the guilt of a killer.
Ms. Dimon crafts an intriguing plot that unfolds at a pace that satisfies the reader’s need for forward motion while allowing time for the romance between Matthias and Kayla to develop and also for some insight into the relationships between Matthias, Wren and Garrett, Wren’s right-hand man, who has been detailed to provide help and back-up on this job. The banter between them is fabulous; Wren and Matthias are obviously men who are naturally tight-lipped and very literal, whereas Garrett is chatty and funny, taking the opportunities afforded him to poke affectionate fun at them both. It’s obvious though, that they’d do anything for each other, and the good-natured grousing and teasing between Garrett and Matthias especially, is a highlight of the book.
I liked the way that both Matthias and Kayla have to learn how to be part of a couple. Kayla doesn’t do relationships given her need for privacy and her reluctance to put down roots, so she is naturally wary of the strength of the attraction she feels towards Matthias. Like Wren in the previous book, Matthias is rather lacking in people skills; he’s blunt to the point of abrasiveness, a master of evasion when it comes to questions he doesn’t want to answer and doesn’t do small talk. People consider him a straight shooter, and he’s proud of that; he’s good at his job and so far that’s been the most important thing in his adult life. But with Kayla he finds he actually wants to be part of something else, although he has no idea to go about it and not being in complete control of the situation is something he finds difficult to deal with.
And he is keeping a long-buried secret of his own, one that Kayla’s situation brings to the surface in a way that eventually makes it impossible to ignore any longer. With both Matthias and Kayla somehow sensing the other is keeping secrets, their relationship is a continual push-pull as they take a step closer emotionally only for something to happen that causes them to step back.
This is the first time I’ve read a book by HelenKay Dimon, and I definitely enjoyed The Enforcer enough to want to read more of her work. The balance between thriller and romance is just about right, and while there were moments I wanted to tell Kayla, Matthias or both of them to “just talk about it already!” those moments were few and far between and their reticence does generally make sense in terms of their characters as established. The romance is sexy and rather sweet, and the verbal back-and-forth between Matthias and Kayla is laden with wry humour and affection, with plenty of sparks flying between them.
Although this is the second book in a series, it works perfectly well as a standalone and I will definitely be looking out for future instalments.