Diane Alberts (aka Jen McLaughlin) is a contemporary romance author at the top of her game. Whether it’s her raw and emotional Take a Chance series, or her super hot contribution to the multi-author Wedding Dare series (*fans self*), this writer knows how to create vulnerable and appealing heroes and heroines who come together in a burst of heat under unusual circumstances only to find that the unlikely pairing is actually a perfect match.
When her first book in the Shillings Agency series, Temporarily Yours, came out this past winter, I was most definitely hooked with Cooper and Kayla’s story, and the latest installment, Stealing His Heart, has proved no exception. A testimony to Alberts’ talent is that I usually don’t have the time of day to give to “reunion” romances (it’s a personal mental block – they are great books), but when she writes one, all I can do is turn the pages faster!
Tara Harris isn’t a thief, she’s a “recovery consultant” who tracks down stolen items and then steals them back in order to return them to their rightful owners. Having seen the justice system fail both her and the people she loves means she doesn’t have a high opinion of the traditional route of turning to the authorities. Her genius IQ and the trust fund left to her by her parents’ untimely death mean no one considers that this unassuming and wealthy young woman is one of the premiere cat burglars stealing from mob bosses and seamy celebrities. But when what should have been an easy art theft has her caught red-handed, she’s shocked to discover that the man so effectively holding her still is none other than her former friend, partner and first love, Jake Forsythe.
Jake wishes he wasn’t enjoying keeping Tara pinned against the wall as much as he is. The two of them came together as kids with the common ground of her loss of her parents at the same time he lost his. The difference was while she went to a loving if prissy grandmother in a mansion, he went to an abusive foster home, separated from his sister, Christine. Thankfully his sister has found happiness with a doctor and she’s back in Jake’s life happy and content, but her bliss only emphasize how alone Jake is.
Years ago before the military, Tara was his lifeline – his partner in crime (literally) and the princess who was so irresistible to him. Their one night together had him satisfying her without taking the final step of taking her virginity, as he knew she deserved better than his dark desires. He ran off to join the military the next day and the years in his country’s service have taken their toll, mentally and physically. His leg is covered with scars and hardly fully functional, but it’s nothing compared to the emotional scars left from the IED explosion that killed most of his fellow soldiers on patrol. He knows he’s cold and alone but that’s what he has to be in order to do his duty for the Shillings Agency. After Tara got past their security and stole a vase from a client, they’ve needed her to show them how she bypassed their system, hence the sting that nabbed her.
Tara felt rejected twice being trapped by Jake – the first time when he left her high and dry after delivering more pleasure than her young self thought existed and now when it’s clear he’s been back stateside for a while and never looked up his former friend despite them having been so close. But the real sense of betrayal comes when he cooly informs her that she is going to have to show his security agency how she got past their system on her last job or they’ll use the footage from this break in to put her in jail. She’s not about to give up either her code knowledge or endanger her network of contacts who help her. However, she’s happy to play along since Jake’s body is clearly enthusiastic to see her even though his frowny face says otherwise and she wants to figure out what’s really going on in that gorgeous head of his.
What follows is an exercise in frustration – for both of them. The spark they knew as kids is a raging inferno now and while Jake makes clear that his need for being dominant in the bedroom should scare Tara away, she can’t wrap her head around submitting to anyone, although Jake makes the idea damn appealing. Her practical joker tendencies quickly crack Jake’s shell with her mouth and body widening the gap to his heart. Tara finds that Jake is exactly what she needs but since he’s about to land her in jail, they hardly have a future. With Jake torn between his duty and saving Tara, he knows he’s forced to betray her trust in a way that might have her cutting him out of her life. But now that he’s had a taste of what it means to feel again, he’s not about to let her get away.
There is no way to not love the isolated Jake who made the biggest mistake of his life not heading back to find Tara the instant he was stateside. That they are clearly exactly what each other needs is evident, but he is reluctant to let go of his mental image of her as a past princess who deserves the best. Diane Alberts writes the sexy times like nobody’s business, but it was the incredible moments of laughter that got to me. Because Tara knows Jake and all his buttons, her jokes were awesome, penetrating right through the drone shell he’d adopted to cope with his life. Cooper Shilling, Jake’s boss, was just as yummy as I remembered him from the first book in this series, Temporarily Yours, and I liked that, knowing his own personal happiness and what it gave him, he didn’t hesitate to kick Jake in the right direction when it came time for him to figure out the “grand gesture” that would bring Tara back to him. And what a gesture! I was tearing up in that final scene as Jake proved he knew the real Tara as much as she knew him.
Stealing His Heart is an excellent buy for $3.99 and I eagerly await the next book in the Shillings Agency series, which I hope will star Jake’s coworker and playboy, the tattooed Gordon and the cool blonde he was sent to investigate in this book.
Happy reading!! 🙂