Kaylea Cross is a popular and prolific author of romantic suspense novels, and I’ve read (and listened to) a few of her books with varying degrees of success – some have worked for me and some haven’t; and unfortunately, her latest release, Lethal Temptation (book two in her Montana-set Rifle Creek series) falls into the latter category.
After a painful divorce, Detective Avery Dahl has pretty much buried herself in her work and vowed never to risk her heart on another man. Her ex is now married again – to a much younger woman – with a baby on the way, and the way he withdrew from Avery emotionally not long after they tied the knot, and his obvious disapproval of her job really put her through the wringer. She’s contentedly single and intends to remain so, in spite of the fact that her new lodger is hot as hell and clearly interested in her.
Avery’s former tenant Nina moved out of the basement apartment and in with her boyfriend, Avery’s work-partner, Tate Baldwin, and Tate’s best friend and soon-to-be business partner Mason Gallant has become Avery’s new downstairs neighbour. Mason alternately irritates her and turns her on, so she tries to have as little to do with him as possible, but his relationship with Tate means they cross paths fairly often. When Tate – who had agreed to accompany Avery to a family wedding at the weekend – admits to a snafu with the dates, he suggests Mason could go in his stead, but Avery flat out rejects the idea. Mason is far too appealing for her peace of mind. But… she’s so tired of the whispers and the pity, which is bound to be worse as her ex will be at the wedding with his pregnant wife, and when Mason quietly intimates that he understands some of how she feels and that he’d like to be there to have her back… she relents and takes him up on his offer.
Mason served in the elite division of the Canadian army until a horrific accident ended his career and left him with PTSD. He’s struggling to adjust to civilian life, but thanks to Tate and their friend Brax (who I assume is the hero of the next book), he’s starting to find his way and the three of them are about to open a business in Rifle Creek. Mason has been attracted to Avery since the moment he laid eyes on her, but doesn’t understand why she’s so stand-offish towards him; he really does want to help her out by acting as her fake-boyfriend, but he can’t deny that he hopes that spending time together might give him a chance to work his way through her defences… and maybe into her bed.
Mason is the perfect gentleman and the perfect boyfriend. His obvious affection for Avery convinces everyone they’re a couple and his desire – both for Avery and to be there for her – are powerfully attractive. Avery finds that she doesn’t want to fight their intense mutual desire any more, and after the wedding (and following a sexy interlude in a supply closet!) they head back to their cabin in the grounds of the hotel – only to find that the place has been completely trashed and most of Avery’s belongings burning in the fire. Mason’s stuff, however, is untouched, indicating that whoever is responsible has some sort of personal grudge against Avery. But she has absolutely no idea who it could be.
I like the fake-relationship trope in general, and here it’s used to good effect to kick start the suspense side of the story. We know the identity of the villain and their motivations right off the bat, so this isn’t a who-or-whydunnit, it’s more a cat-and-mouse game where Avery and Mason have practically nothing to go on while the antagonist stalks Avery, leaving threatening messages and perpetrating acts of vandalism and violence that escalate in severity.
I liked the premise, but not so much the execution. Avery having no clue as to who was targeting her or why made for a tense situation, but things fell into place fairly easily and Avery – a highly experienced detective – fails to make a really simple connection heading into the denouement that had me shaking my head at such contrivance. And not only that, but the chapter that follows is devoted entirely to setting up the romance in the next book! The cynic in me imagines the placement of this chapter was designed to heighten the tension while readers wait for Avery to continue with her investigation, but it interrupted the flow of the story, screwed up the pacing and annoyed the crap outta me.
While I’ve read books in which I’ve known who the baddie is and enjoyed following the clues alongside the characters, that just didn’t work for me here. The plot is so simplistic and the villain’s motivations so over the top that knowing from the start who was responsible made the whole thing fall flat. There’s not much tension and no real sense of peril (until the very end) and while I liked that the central couple here are older (he’s late thirties, she’s early forties) and the way Mason’s PTSD is handled (he has a wonderful therapy dog called Ric) the relationship itself is very insta-love and the characterisation is fairly superficial. Avery is a badass but other than knowing about her job and that her ex did a number on her, I came away knowing very little about her. Mason starts out as your stereotypical alpha male – highly protective, massively libidinous and out to claim his woman – although he does end up being a more rounded character once we learn more about his backstory. I didn’t dislike either of them, but I didn’t feel connected or invested in them either.
Lethal Temptation isn’t devoid of good points, but there aren’t really enough of them for me to able to give it a strong recommendation. I will say however, that it’s entirely possible that my steady diet of clever, complex mysteries and slow-burn romance à la Gregory Ashe has ruined me for all other writers of romantic suspense (!); I see from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, that this book has worked a lot better for many of those readers than it did for me.