Desert Isle Keeper
M.A. Grant has been on my radar for a while, but I haven’t yet managed to get around to reading any of her books, so when I saw she was starting a new series, it seemed the perfect time to jump in. Rare Vigilance is book one in her Whitethorn Agency trilogy and the well-paced, wonderfully balanced combination of action, paranormal suspense and slow-burn romance had me captivated from start to finish.
Note: This is a trilogy with an overarching plot and this book ends on a cliffhanger, so don’t go into it expecting an HEA or a firm conclusion.
Former marine Atlas Kinkaid returned from his military service in Eastern Europe with scars both inside and out, the result of an attack on his unit from which he emerged the sole survivor. He has PTSD and lingering health issues – sensory sensibilities and debilitating migranes which can affect his balance and vision – so finding work hasn’t been easy, but his half-sister Bea, the owner of the successful and rapidly growing Whitethorn security agency, has been able to offer him enough work to enable him to keep body and soul together. Her biggest client is Decebal Vladislavic – the businessman and investor who is almost single-handedly revitalising the small previously industrial town of Scarsdale, and who has business interests in pretty much everything in town, from medical facilities, to housing to entertainment. Recently, Decebal has experienced “complications” with some of his business deals, and he wants an agent to provide security at home. He’s asked Bea to provide someone who is happy working night shifts – which is perfect for Atlas, who agrees to take the job.
Arrived at Decebal’s impressive home on the outskirts of town, Atlas is waiting to meet his new employer for the first time, and hears the unmistakable sound of an argument – not in English – coming from the office he’s waiting to enter. The raised voices quickly stop and then a strikingly handsome young man emerges, muttering under his breath and clearly annoyed – until he notices he’s not alone and his whole demeanour changes. Suddenly all effortless poise and charm, the rudeness with which he treats Atlas is clearly designed to make him re-think his desire to work there. Atlas is, however, undaunted and refuses to be put off; and it’s just as well, because of course this man is to be his new charge – Cristian Slava, Decebal’s son and the heir to his business empire.
Rare Vigilance starts out as a regular-enough bodyguard romance in which the protectee is convinced they don’t need protecting and takes every opportunity to be rude and to give their minder the slip. Cristian clearly expects Atlas to quit just as his other bodyguards have, but when Atlas proves himself to be surprisingly tenacious and impervious to Cristian’s attempts to drive him away, Cristian starts to gain a reluctant respect for him. And as Cristian begins to accept Atlas isn’t going anywhere, Atlas gets intriguing glimpses of a different side of Cristian, seeing a quieter, more thoughtful and capable man behind the charming party-boy image – and starts to actually like him a little.
After a few weeks, they’ve reached a détente and have settled into a routine of sorts, but there’s a seismic shift in their relationship – and the direction taken by the story – when Atlas takes Cristian to what is supposed to be a business meeting, but which instead sees them being attacked by – well, I’ve seen other reviews mention it, but I’m not going to because it’s a neat plot twist the author has been carefully seeding all along – and if you’re been paying close attention you’ve probably figured it out by now anyway.
What follows is a gripping, tightly-plotted story in which a dangerous family feud threatens to explode into all-out war and Atlas comes face to face with his worst nightmare – which turns out not to be a nightmare at all, but something very real and utterly lethal. Secrets, lies, betrayals of the worst kind, mysterious night time deliveries and unexplained animal-like attacks all combine to make Rare Vigilance a real page-turner, and I raced through it in a couple of sittings, unwilling to put it down.
While all this is going on, Atlas and Cristian are growing closer and the author does a really good job with their slow-burn romance. They have terrific chemistry and there’s lots of lovely UST along the way as the attraction that sparks between them at their first meeting starts to grow into a bond that transcends their status as employer and employee, and Atlas’ competence and protectiveness slowly win Cristian’s trust. I liked them both; even when Cristian is at his most brattish, there are hints that his brash, cocky persona is an act to prevent people getting close, and there are hidden vulnerabilities beneath Atlas’ stoic, take-no-crap exterior that soften his hard edges and make him rather endearing. We don’t know much about either character right now, but I’m hoping that will change as the series progresses; what we do get is a good start and a pretty solid foundation in terms of their characterisation and relationship, and I’m eager to find out where things are going to go.
Having Atlas as the sole PoV character means that the reader finds things out at the same time he does, and that works really well here, especially in the early stages of the story were the author creates a real sense of edginess and of something being not quite as it seems. The only negative comments I can really make are that there’s one aspect of the world-building that could have used a bit more detail, and WTF is with that cover? but neither spoiled my enjoyment in any way, and I guess the world-building issue may be addressed in a future book.
Rare Vigilance is a terrific read and a superb start to this new series. The cliffhanger ending has me chomping at the bit for more, and I’ll be pouncing on book two, Crooked Shadows as soon as it appears.