N.R. Walker’s The Kite is a fast-paced action flick in book form in which the world’s two deadliest assassins find themselves forced to work together when they discover they’ve been marked for death themselves. I admit, I was expecting the romance in this one to be a tough sell – these are two lone wolves who don’t trust easily (if at all), have never been in a relationship or had anything resembling a ‘normal’ life, and I thought perhaps there might not be time in a single story to make a believable transition from walled-off tough guy to man-in-love. But while the progression from lust to love is perhaps a little fast, the chemistry is terrific and the strong emotional connection the author creates was enough to convince me that they were in it for the long haul by the end.
It’s been years since Tim Harrigan – known as Harry – has set foot on Australian soil; so long that he’s almost forgotten what home feels like. A highly trained operative for the Australian Specialist Response Group, Harry has been running covert ops for years, single-handedly eliminating terrorists and threats to national security on behalf of the Australian government, no questions asked. The whys and wherefores are none of his business. He’s in Madrid following his most recent mission when he realises he’s being followed – and if someone’s after him, it can only mean one thing. He’s the mark. Shit.
Trying to evade his pursuers, Harry enters a building at the end of an alley, runs up the stairs and along at roof level before jumping down onto a balcony – when he’s grabbed and pinned against a wall in a darkened hall, a hand covering his mouth. Instinctively, Harry puts his gun to his assailant’s head, even as he registers the cool metal pressed against his own temple. It’s only a few seconds before the “I’ve lost him” and sound of fading footsteps outside mean Harry can take a breath – which is when he realises just who got the drop on him. It’s Asher Garin – the only other man on the planet good enough to take Harry out. So… why didn’t he?
“You and me; double hit. They want us dead. You’re a kite, and your government just cut you loose.”
Asher shows Harry the assignment details on his phone screen; locations, dates, names, photographs, just like any of the thousands Harry has received over the years. Except the photos are of him and Asher. But who put out the hit and why? Who has Harry really been working for all these years? And will Harry and Asher be able trust each other enough to find out the truth – or will they kill each other first?
You’ll have to suspend your disbelief a bit – although probably no more than with Bond, Bourne or Ethan Hunt – as Harry and Asher race across countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East trying to work out who wants to get rid of them while staying one step ahead of them. The pacing is fast and the stakes are high, and fortunately, they’re not completely alone; while Harry has always worked for his government, Asher has been a gun for hire to whoever could afford it, working through a handler he refers to only as “Four” a reclusive genius who works behind the scenes to help them however he can.
Harry and Asher are a classic grumpy/sunshine pairing – although that doesn’t mean that the sunshine-y one is any less deadly! Asher is all smart-mouth and snarky flirtatiousness, he’s charming, talkative and knows just how to push Harry’s buttons and drive him round the bend. But behind all that is a very lonely man who has never known what it is to belong anywhere or with anyone, and his backstory is truly heartbreaiking. Like Harry, Asher has never believed he could ever have a ‘normal’ life, or that he would ever want such a thing, but lately, he’s been thinking about it more and more – what it might look like and how he might achieve it. Harry is Asher’s opposite in many ways – physically imposing and wearing a permanent scowl, he, too, is trying to find his way after his world is upended. For the past few years, Harry realises, he’s been working for the bad guys, helping them to make shady deals to line their own pockets and taking out the competition. It’s a lot to take in, but the more he learns the more there’s no denying that what Asher is telling him is true – and that his last three three targets were not who he’d been led to believe they were.
N.R. Walker is an author whose work I generally enjoy, but her last couple of contemporary romances haven’t really worked for me, so the change of direction in The Kite was a welcome and successful one. I liked Harry and Asher’s dynamic, Asher’s ability to see past Harry’s defences, the way Harry tries so hard not to like him but can’t help doing so, and the trust that develops between them. Their relationship starts out as an uneasy alliance born of expediency, and Harry is determined to ignore the attraction that sparks between them and to resist Asher’s flirting and obvious overtures – but of course, he can’t. The attraction is very much mutual and when the inveitable happens, the sex is pretty explosive – Asher likes it rough and views arguments as foreplay – and of course both men are convinced it’s nothing more than convenient stress relief. The way they progress from fuck-buddies to lovers is nicely done, with neither of them really noticing it until it’s too late and they’re all in.
I really enjoyed The Kite and could quite happily read more books about Harry and Asher, although there are a couple of things that caused me to lower my final grade a little. The first time the men have penetrative sex is a result of Asher goading Harry to such an extent that it feels as though Harry has been forced into giving Asher what he wants (plus, dry anal is not sexy!) Then there’s the mysterious Four, who is something of a deus ex machina character, an incredibly wealthy computer whizz who can do pretty much anything from his hideaway island in the Pacific. His presence in the story doesn’t take anything away from the tension or the dangers Harry and Asher face, but I can’t deny that sometimes, he’s just a bit too… convenient.
The Kite is one of those books you can just swtich off and kick back with, an action-packed, faintly ridiculous adventure about two hot assassins that’s funny and sexy with a great grumpy/sunshine dynamic, excellent banter, a well-executed adventure plot and a very satisfying HEA. I had a great time reading it and am happy to recommend it.