I’ve read and enjoyed a handful of HelenKay Dimon’s romantic suspense novels, some of them m/f, and some m/m, so I know pretty much what to expect from her; a fast-paced, energetic and steamy story that is perhaps longer on action than it is on romance – which is exactly what I got. Dirty Games is the second book in her current Dirty series of m/m novels, and like the others in this series, it reads like the written-down version of an action movie or TV show; the leads are gorgeous, the action is almost non-stop, the scene changes are snappy, and there’s little time for introspection – and I suspect the degree to which you enjoy it will depend largely on what your expectations are at the outset.
Justin Miller is in charge of the on-the-ground operations of one of the charitable organisations run by Drummond Enterprises, the multi-billion dollar agricultural business run by Alec Drummond and his brothers, Griff and Finn. Justin, a former soldier, is ferociously driven and dedicated – nothing goes on at Drummond Charities’ Morocco camp without his knowledge, and he has recently noticed a series of irregularities in shipments in and out which have become a major source of concern. He has his suspicions as to what might be going on, but it’s not something he can – or should – deal with alone, so he has asked Alec to travel to Morocco from his base in Germany so they can work out how to tackle the issue. Unfortunately for Justin, however, it’s the wrong Drummond brother who steps out of the black sedan that arrives at the camp. Alec has sent his youngest brother, Finn, in his stead, and that’s something Justin is most definitely not prepared for.
Ever since he first set eyes on Finn Drummond six years earlier, Justin has been unable to get him out of his mind. Good-looking, sexy, funny and warm, Finn is six foot one of walking sex – except that he’s straight, and in spite of that one brief time years earlier when Justin wondered if Finn was flirting with him, Justin knows nothing can happen between them. Even so, having the object of his deepest desires and oldest fantasies within touching distance is likely to drive Justin up the wall and distract him from the big picture – trying to get to the bottom of the missing shipments, incorrect manifests and incomplete deliveries of food and supplies.
Finn – who is actually bisexual – hasn’t exactly been unaware of Justin over the past few years either, but the guy radiates such dislike whenever they’ve met that Finn has kind of consigned his attraction to the other man to the ‘never gonna happen’ pile. Still, it’s not long before Finn realises that at least part of Justin’s antagonistic behaviour towards him is due to his attempts to mask an attraction Finn is only too happy to reciprocate and act upon.
I love a good enemies-to-lovers story and this certainly had the potential to be a good one, but while Ms. Dimon has crafted an intriguing and suspenseful plot, the romance is less successful. The author has chosen an interesting setting for her story; the small strip of land close to the border between Morocco and Spain is rife with political and humanitarian problems and Justin has to walk an often precarious line to maintain the status quo. So when it becomes apparent that the missing shipments are most likely being sold/exchanged for arms, there’s a danger that the whole operation could be asked to leave the country. Justin and Finn are desperate to prevent that – so many people in the area need help and have nowhere else to go – so they must work together to find out who is behind the scheme. And with Finn being targeted by those running the arms trafficking ring, time isn’t on their side.
With Justin and Finn thrown so much together, it gives them time and opportunity to indulge in plenty of steamy sex (although they have to be careful as they’re in a country where committing homosexual acts carries a heavy penalty), but while Finn is ready to let Justin into his life and commit, Justin is carrying a chip on his shoulder the size of Wales, and instead picks fights with Finn at almost every available opportunity. Whenever it seems as though a conversation he doesn’t want to have is approaching, Justin retreats behind his emotional shields and throws Finn’s privileged upbringing and status as a member of one of the world’s wealthiest families in his face – and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed Finn for telling Justin where he could stick it.
The suspense plot is the most successful part of the book – it’s interesting and fast-paced (although I did have to ask myself how many times Finn could be attacked and injured and still keep walking!) but unfortunately the romance is not well developed and I found it really hard to believe their relationship went any deeper than the physical. Justin’s pissy attitude continues until almost the very end of the book when he finally, FINALLY realises he’s been an arsehole, apologies to Finn and asks for another chance. Lucky for him Finn is such a great guy, but Finn’s warmth and generosity are such a contrast to Justin’s bad-temper and tendency to lash out when his emotions threaten to become involved that it’s difficult to believe their relationship will go the distance.
I did enjoy reading Dirty Games and it delivered what I expected for the most part; a suspenseful plot, action and steam – but it didn’t convince in the romance department. If you’re following the series, you might want to pick it up, but the lack of a believable romance means I can’t quite recommend it to romantic suspense fans in general.