Under the Surface
Grade : A-

Under the Surface is an apt title for this suspenseful, dramatic, and sexy romance seething with emotional undercurrents. It's part of the Alpha Ops series, though the first full length novel. The previous three were novellas featuring Navy SEALs, and the third one, The SEAL's Second Chance introduced the character of Eve, a young woman who struggled long and hard to make the dream of running her own business a reality.. She's the heroine of this story, and is in a spot of trouble.

Her bar, Eye Candy, is her pride and joy but it borders on the wrong side of the tracks. As the name suggests, there’s plenty of eye candy at the bar, in this case in the form of male bartenders and bouncers. It's not a strip club, just a fun place for women to come and hang out, for bachelorette parties, and for your typical bar hookups. When Lyle, an old friend, asks if he can use her club as a money drop for his drug dealing, Eve plays along. But the East Side of Lancaster is her home and she's tired of seeing it overrun by dealers and pimps. She wants the streets cleaned up, so she approaches another friend, Lieutenant Ian Hawthorn of the Lancaster police, who suggests she string Lyle along while they gather enough evidence to arrest him. Unbeknownst to Eve though, Ian puts one of his trusted men undercover in her bar. Matt plays the role of Chad, a bartender looking for a new gig. Eve has just fired one of her bartenders and Chad's quiet confidence nets him the job. Matt takes his undercover role seriously, but it's not long before it all blows up, his identity revealed just as 'Chad' and Eve are becoming more than friends. Eve has no choice but to continue working with him, the operation more important than her personal feelings. Falling for Chad was easy but he wasn't real. And for Matt, there's no choice but to play the role he's been given, even if it means the one woman who might have loved him could slip through his fingers.

I have high expectations for Anne Calhoun stories. The first erotic romance I read was Liberating Lacey, and Hunter became my enduring book boyfriend (coincidentally, he’s also a police officer). Since then I've eagerly devoured her new releases and I have read all the earlier novellas in this series. I was ready for things to be brought up a notch with a full length novel. Her stories are a well written blend of strong characters, heartfelt emotions and very sexy encounters. She puts the same care into her work whether she is writing short stories or longer ones, and it shows.

Matt and Eve have the same agenda - to get drug runner Lyle off the streets. Matt is dedicated to his job, good at it and he'll do whatever it takes in his work as an undercover officer. I really like how he’s portrayed in this story, in particular the way he struggles with his attraction to Eve. As bartender Chad, he has the job of getting close to her and protecting her without her knowledge. That he's insanely attracted to her is a hindrance to doing his job, but one he can't help. When Eve makes it clear that she's more than willing to have an affair with him, the knowledge that it's Chad she's propositioning and not the real him fills Matt with a sort of despair, because Eve is the woman he can see himself having a future with. But he knows that once she finds out that he was lying to her from the beginning, she'll want nothing to do with him. To that end he desperately tries to keep their physical interactions from going too far. Torn between duty and desire, the decision is wrenched from him when his identity is revealed unexpectedly and the stakes in their game with Lyle turn deadly.

Eve is a strong, attractive, competent businesswoman and is tired of seeing her neighborhood run down and passed over. She works hard to support the community by hiring local people, giving second chances to those who made poor life choices in the past. In Eye Candy, she sells a fantasy, that any woman no matter how they look, can come in and flirt with a handsome hunk behind the bar. Her relationship with her religious parents is sometimes strained as they disapprove of her business. The extra money she could make from Lyle’s proposition would make it easier for her move forward with her expansion plans, but she has to walk a fine line between pretending to be thinking about Lyle's offer without giving away that she's already gone to the cops. With all this on her mind, she wants to forget it for just a few hours; and while she wouldn’t normally consider having an affair with one of her staff, something about Chad draws her, and she decides going to bed with him will give her the respite she needs. But he keeps putting the brakes on when things start to heat up between them and she can’t figure out why. When the circumstances change, and Matt’s real identity is revealed, Eve is angry and hurt. Yet as Matt continues to protect her, she discovers that there were facets of their relationship that were real. He shared some of his real life with her even knowing he shouldn't while undercover. It's not long before their close proximity leads to more, as Matt is free to be himself and show Eve the depth of his attraction to her. As expected, the sex scenes are super steamy and full of emotion. Anne Calhoun is a master of creating sexual tension in her stories, and it’s excellently built here, firstly as she shows Matt/Chad struggling with his conscience and then later, after he’s able to reveal his true self. Through it all Eve is the same woman, falling in love with a complicated man.

The second half of the story ramps up the tension as Lyle puts pressure on Eve to make a decision. Matt continues his undercover work at the bar, playing Eve's new boytoy in public, forcing Lyle's hand. There is lots of action in this second half, and it becomes a real nail biter as it nears its exciting conclusion. There are several secondary characters of note, all of whom are well fleshed out, interesting and important to the story.

Matt has definitely found himself a place on my book boyfriends shelf, right up there with Hunter. Under the Surface is a taut, exciting, sexy romance and is definitely worth the read.

Reviewed by Maria Rose
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 1, 2016

Publication Date: 06/2016

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Maria Rose

I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.
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