HelenKay Dimon has made a name for herself writing romantic suspense stories with male/female and male/male couples. I’ve read a handful from a few different series and they’ve all been exciting, sexy and entertaining romances. In The Pretender, the third book of the Games People Play series, a murder mystery plot keeps the reader guessing right until the dramatic conclusion. It also serves up the romance of two people with plenty of secrets of their own.
Harrison Tate used to be an art thief. Now he helps track down stolen works of art, while also getting his thrills in a less legitimate way by ‘liberating’ goods that have ended up in the wrong hands. On one such case, a painting in an estate on an island is his target. After spending several weeks casing the place, he makes his move. But in a cruel twist of fate, he stumbles upon a dying woman in the library that holds the painting. There for her last breath, he can do no more than watch in horror as she bleeds out on the carpet. It’s imperative that he make a quick escape lest he be blamed for the murder, but in doing so, he leaves the sister of the dead woman, who finds the body after him, under suspicion. He knows she’s not the killer but to reveal that he’d been there when victim died would invite too many questions. When the opportunity arises to return to the island under the guise of an estate appraisal, he takes the chance to see if he can help unravel the mystery and find the real killer.
Gabrielle Wright may have been estranged from her family but she loved her sister. As an older teenager she had endured a kidnapping that her parents thought she’d planned, resulting in the loss of their trust and support. Then they’d died in a plane crash, leaving Gabby and her sister alone except for an uncle, who believes Gabby murdered her sister. He’s hired a series of investigators to look for clues to prove that Gabby is guilty, and the latest includes a man who says he’s there to value the art on the estate – but who clearly has another agenda.
Harris and Gabby have the same goal – to prove Gabby is innocent – even if Gabby doesn’t know it. And Gabby’s behavior and actions lead Harris to believe that even if she isn’t guilty of murder she’s clearly hiding something. It doesn’t stop them from being attracted to each other though. For a few stolen moments they can forget the reason they are on the island and indulge in some passionate and steamy sex. But will the secrets they hold ruin any chance of a happy ending?
From the start this story is pretty intense! Harris discovers the dying woman and hears Gabby’s cries during his frantic escape from the island, scenes that set the tone for the rest of the novel. Fourteen months elapse between that time and Harris’ return in his new guise. It’s also a return for Gabby to the scene of the crime, though we quickly find out she has another reason for being on the island. The story has an abundance of twists and turns with a small cast of characters, so you know that one of them must be the guilty party. The author does a great job of providing some red herrings and making the ultimate reveal an exciting one.
The romance between Harris and Gabby proceeds fairly quickly on a physical level, but slower on an emotional one. It’s not a surprise, since are both keeping some pretty serious secrets from each other, not least of which is the fact that Harris was there when Gabby’s sister died, a secret that eats away at his conscience as he falls for this spirited woman who has dealt with so much tragedy in her life. He can offer her a physical shoulder for support but knows it’s pointless to expect anything real with her unless he tells her the truth. The sex scenes add a touch of more lightheartedness to an overall serious story, as do their banter and conversations.
The same can be said for Harris’s friendship with Damon, the investigator hired by Gabby’s uncle who belongs to a small group of longtime friends under the leadership of Wren, known as the Fixer (and hero of book one of the series). It was Wren who had helped Harris escape from the island and cover his tracks, inadvertently destroying some of the evidence that would prove Gabby’s innocence. I’m partial to scenes of true friendship between men and/or women and it’s clear that Wren, Damon and Harris have a strong bond that they will protect with their lives.
The Pretender starts with an interesting and unique premise and then adds in enough other mysteries to keep the reader turning the pages until the final scene. Along the way, Harris and Gabby find in each other kindred spirits who’ve got an abundance of baggage – and a partner willing to carry the weight. It’s a sexy and intense romance, and I’ve already put the rest of the series on my to-read shelf.