There is always a little nervousness when you are given what sounds like a terrific galley to review, only to discover it’s part of a series. Immediately, you are bombarded by the abject fear that you will be subjected to hoards of previous characters and in-jokes that will allow for only a peripheral submersion in the plot. After being intrigued by NetGalley‘s description, I asked to take a look at suspense author Shannon McKenna‘s latest novel, One Wrong Move, knowing I had never tried anything by this author.
But I had heard good things about McKenna. Compared regularly by Goodreads reviewers to Lori Foster (who I enjoy), McKenna purportedly crafts books with cranky, over the top alpha males and feisty heroines trapped in seriously heinous situations which lead to rapid emotional progression and some fabulous erotic “we could die so let’s seize the moment” sex.
This combination totally works for me. If I know ahead of time that the hero is going to be a major asshole, at least in the beginning, I can brace myself to discover, along with the heroine, what redeeming inner qualities he has. And wow, does McKenna know how to do this.
Our hero, Alex Aaro, had me blinking with some of the unbelievably rude and outrageous things he was comfortable saying to the heroine, Nina Christie. Nina has had a crappy 24 hours. Walking home from her social work at a women’s shelter, she is accosted by a screaming woman speaking a foreign language, who jabs her with a hypodermic needle. Realizing as she’s losing consciousness that this haggard woman is an old friend of Nina’s deceased mother who she hasn’t seen in years, she’s baffled as to what has happened. Nina left her phone on in the middle of the 911 call for help so she has the entire rant from her attacker recorded and it’s in some kind of Russian. The hallucinations and people after her in the hospital only ramp up her fear, causing her to turn to her old friend, Lily Parr, especially since Lily now has a hunky fiancee (and father of her soon-to-born baby), Bruno, who is associated with a top of the line security company who can help.
Bruno realizes that one of his firm’s associates, Alex Aaro, is touching down in NYC on personal business and can be called in for the assist. Aaro has the added benefit of knowing a few languages, with Ukranian – the language of Nina’s attacker – as the first one he spoke as a child. But Aaro wants nothing to do with the situation. This friend of Lily’s can get an interpreter because he has bigger fish to fry. Alex Aaro is the assumed name he’s lived under for years to avoid his father, who is Vor, or deadly Russian mafia. Aaro wanted none of that legacy so he started over, now a respected cybersecurity expert who knows his way around a variety of weapons, to boot. He’s back in New York to visit his dying Aunt Tonya, the only person who ever cared about him, but he needs to get in and out as soon as possible.
Well, the road to good intentions, and all that. After telling Nina over the phone he won’t help her – and her reaming him out about it – she manages to escape a strange group of people in the hospital who seem to be getting inside her mind. She shuts them out and gets away, scuttling to try and find the driver who helped her the night before, but she’s realizing that she can hear people’s thoughts on the subway. Worried she’s having some bizarre side effects from whatever she was injected with, she discovers that her good samaritan has been tortured and murdered. This confirms that the weirdness is not just coming from her mystery drug and she scuttles home only to have her home broken into. Hiding in the hidden panel of her closet, Nina gets a frantic text to Lily with the situation and her friend calls in the calvalry, Aaro.
The moment when Aaro holds the naked Nina in his arms, he realizes that something in his life has altered in a big way, and it’s not the two guys he murdered downstairs. The two of them take off on the run, initially trying to figure out this strange drug cartel who manufactures some kind of psychic enhancement drug (which only seems to help people with a strong predisposition for the talent) with the layer added later of vengeful Russian mafia types from Aaro’s past. Oh, and they have to get the second part of the drug so Nina won’t die in a few days. No pressure. Yikes! Like one of these wouldn’t be enough.
Nina is naturally freaked but she’s trying to marshal all her strength and reserves to deal with the situation. She’s a survivor who had to deal with a physically and sexually abusive stepfather and the suicide of her mother, but she’s used her past to motivate her to help people in need so there’s an element of triumph in her personal life. A holdover though is that she’s always been able to make herself, well, easy to overlook, and her bulky drab wardrobe, glasses and tight hairstyles only add to her invisibility.
Aaro got a good look at what’s under all that shielding and it’s not drab. He’s not one for deception so while he’s berating Nina for not telling him the whole truth of their perilous situation he’s also telling her, in explicit detail, what he wants to do to her. It’s a bit much for Nina, especially because his blunt statements combined with her current mental state are about as welcome as the bullets fired at them, but the strange thing is, she’s incredibly attracted to this lean killer, in a way that she’s never experienced before. She realizes that she’s not the only badly damaged one in this unlikely partnership. Maybe its the drug that’s changing her, but she is beginning to see behind Aaro’s shields to the lonely and terrified person who exists within.
While I expected the alpha to end all alpha behavior (and I had no problem with it – Aaro is totally honest and with his own code of honor, so McKenna does a terrific job of giving you a glimmer of the man behind the jackass which makes you stick for the long haul), I was surprised by the paranormal element regarding the psychic-enhancement of the drugs. There was both a delightfully creepy villain thing happening with the cartel, but at the same time, many people, like Aaro and his family members, had a natural ability for some of the psychic talents. Very cool and an interesting layer to the story.
I was impressed with McKenna’s writing ability. The sex scenes were hot and terrific, deepening and ramping up the connection between the hero and heroine, to the point where it was entirely feasible that these two people would realize that they were in love after only a few days. I love it when authors can pull this off and McKenna is a master. Her characters were exceptionally three dimensional – villians, heroes, and supporting characters alike – and this plot, which could have been a nightmare with all these competing elements, was tightly drawn but left a few threads that will clearly be picked up in a future book.
And that future book better star Miles. Miles – you sexy nerd beast – I adored you! A vital supporting character and member of the firm, Miles factors heavily into the denouement of Aaro and Nina’s story and clearly has a near obsession with Nina’s childhood friend, the missing Lila, who was captured by the drug cartel and held to manipulate her now-dead mother. The other characters hint at the content of the previous books and I’m absolutely going to end up reading this series backwards. I love it that McKenna manages to have those previous characters woven throughout the story but never in a way that makes the reader feel like there’s something they are missing. That takes skill and enhances the potential for a reader (like me) falling into the series and buying the backlog of books.
One Wrong Move is a terrific romantic suspense novel that reminds me not only of Lori Foster but of a personal favorite, Lisa Marie Rice, in its alpha males, great supporting characters, excellent suspense plot and erotic sexual content. I’m elated to have found a new suspense author with all the right moves. Thanks, Shannon McKenna!