Pamela Clare was on my autobuy list for a few years and then suddenly there was nothing to buy. I did a little research and found out she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and I and the romance community was devastated for her. But she is obviously a survivor as well as a wonderful author. Seduction Game is an I-Team novel she began before her diagnosis and the first one out since she is writing again and her fans are thrilled she is back in the game. Other than a few little quibbles at the beginning, this is an excellent road romance with enough suspense to keep the reader questioning. This latest book in the I-Team series can be read as a standalone.
Holly Bradshaw is an entertainment writer for the Denver Independent News and good friends with the other members of the I-Team. While she is a good friend to her fellow writers, they lament her bad taste in men and her tendency toward being a bit shallow. She thinks nothing of dropping $3000 on a pair of shoes and her closet is filled with them. But there is much more to Holly than the superficial face she presents to the world and even her friends do not realize the depth to this woman.
Nick Andris works for the CIA. A former security specialist in the military, he was recruited for the CIA for the same type work, only covert. His last mission went to hell when someone tipped off Georgian arms smugglers they were investigating and his fiancée was killed in the process. Since that fiasco, members of his team have been dying under mysterious circumstances. Bauer, his superior at Langley sends him to Denver to start surveillance on Holly Bradshaw, girlfriend to one suspected Georgian arms dealer Sasha Dudaev who has reinvented himself as an art dealer. Langley suspects she might be a courier for arms dealer and thinks she may be the key to taking him down. Nick is also out for revenge. He wants to take down the man responsible for the murder of his fiancée.
Nick moves in to the apartment next to Holly and for weeks cannot find anything that shows she is more than what she seems, a shallow, flighty entertainment writer, but he keeps up the surveillance because that is his job. After attending an art show where Holly enters on Dudaev’s arm, Nick follows them back to Dudaev’s hotel room. His job is to recover a flash drive with classified information on it. One thing leads to another and Nick is forced to kill Dudaev right next to a nearly naked and drugged Holly. Unfortunately someone got to the flash drive before Nick and it is gone, though a password protected laptop remains. Nick reports to his superiors and thinks the job is done since Dudaev is now dead, but Bauer wants him to keep up his surveillance of Holly. Nick doesn’t have a good feeling about this, but he again does his job. He trusts his superior. Nick then escalates the situation with Holly by pretending to be interested in her romantically so he might catch her if she slips up. The problem is, he is very much attracted to her and is having a difficult time separating his feelings from his duty. When Nick discovers that Holly’s shoe purchases are a means of communication with someone who knows who he really is, he kidnaps Holly so he can “question” her.
Holly is a great character and for readers who are familiar with the I-Team series, her depth will come as a surprise. I do not want to give too much away, but Holly has been living a double life for a very long time. She is also a character who is very much in charge of her life and her own sexuality. I loved that she was never meek or mild, but gave as good as she got. She has risen above her dysfunctional childhood and made something meaningful out of her life. While her character is a kick-ass one, she never veers into a caricature and this would be so easy to do with this strong of a heroine. She also knows and respects her limitations.
Nick is a little more complicated. Once the masks come off, some things happen that Nick will come to regret and this plot device will haunt him once he figures out that he and Holly are on the same side. It takes most of the book for true trust to form, but there was sufficient groveling to forgive him. While he is a protective alpha male, he also does not underestimate Holly and respects her intelligence and inner strength. He even admits that her intelligence exceeds his own and rather than resent her for it, understands he needs her mind to succeed. Holly and Nick are truly equals and I love how Pamela Clare refrains from using any latent misogyny to characterize Nick, but pits his alpha male against her alpha female for a partnership made in heaven.
The only things that kept this book from DIK status for me was first, Holly’s relationship with her parents either needed to be delved into more fully or just remained a small part of her backstory. Their presence at the end of the book seemed almost superficial. The other very small thing was at the beginning of the book, every single previous I-Team hero and heroine and their backstories were introduced all at once. While that is great for people who have not read the previous books, I just think it would have been better to introduce them singly as they appeared in Holly’s story and not en masse. Those are very small quibbles though and I am thrilled that Pamela Clare is back writing and publishing and I look forward to reading her next book.