Review: Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane

Format: E-bookbehindthemask
Read with: iBooks for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Series: The Associates, #4
Publisher: Self-Published
Hero: Hugo Martinez
Heroine: Zelda
Sensuality: 3.5
Date of Publication: May 18, 2015
Started On: October 01, 2015
Finished On: October 12, 2015

Ever since I saw a tweet from Carolyn Crane about the release of the 4th installment in The Associates series, I’d been hankering to read it. Behind the Mask is written using one of my favorite tropes, a hero who is dark and edgy, living in isolation and the heroine who comes along, understands him for all that he is & shakes up his life while she is at it. Carolyn Crane is not an author who writes fluffy romances, well at least the books in this series aren’t for the fainthearted. There is only so much of the lighthearted variety of romances that I can take. With the romance genre becoming increasingly filled with fluffy reads, an author like Carolyn Crane who can still stand firm in delivering a read of the sort is a heaven-send for a reader like myself.

Zelda the heroine is actually the silent founding partner of The Associates. A forensic botanist who had served in the CIA, Zelda had retired from the field given how her last mission had gone awry. She returns to the field by her own volition, given that it is her twin sister who would take the fall if otherwise. But things don’t go exactly according to plan and Zelda finds herself confronted with the image of the very man she had spent a better part of her career at CIA tracking down – the infamous Kabakas; a near mythical assassin whose prowess had been legendary.

Hugo Martinez lives up on the crumbling mountaintop villa with the beautiful blood red savinca flowers around his property, with the young boy Paolo that he’d rescued on a mission for companionship. Hugo is a hard man, driven to lead the life he lives after he had been “forced” into retirement. But Hugo is prepared to protect his precious mountaintop villa and surrounding village at any cost, even if it means the infamous Kabakas has to make a comeback.

Taking Zelda as the “captive” who would cook for them might not have been one of his brightest ideas, but then again, the way his soul recognized Zelda from the very first moment is one that he cannot turn away from. Zelda has her mission’s agenda which needs to be fulfilled, but the very thought of turning traitor to Hugo makes her want to hurt someone. The slow awakening of Zelda and Hugo’s awareness for one another, the events that propel Hugo to claim her – those were aspects of the novel that I absolutely could not get enough of.

Romance writing has become such a competitive genre that authors seldom write on those tropes that actually made readers like myself fall in love with the genre in the first place. Everyone wants something modern, something relevant to the current times, something with an edge to be the book they come out with. But there is nothing wrong with using a trope that droves of readers love and adding a twist to it that would make it relevant in today’s circles. In my opinion, the best of romances are those that are able to withstand the test of time. And I wish there were more authors who actually wrote romances as such.

Behind the Mask was a novel that I immensely enjoyed; if you can’t tell that already from the gushy bits and pieces you’ve already read from the review, I’m just putting it out there – I loved Behind the Mask! Carolyn Crane is an author who writes well. Her books are highly readable, her heroes are of the dark and tortured variety and her heroines are ones who can take all that darkness and then some. Hugo and Zelda’s journey towards the happily ever after was filled with dark and horrific moments that most readers might like to forget – but that is in essence what gives this book the edge that makes it the awesome read it is!

I loved, loved, loved Hugo. He is so lovingly crafted that it’s almost as if I could feel the proverbial key strokes that created and wrote him down for this book. Fanciful, I know. Yet, that’s how Hugo’s character came off to me. Beautiful. Lonely. Lost. Hungry. Lethal. And even all those words barely does him justice.

When Zelda was first introduced in the book, I thought that I wouldn’t like her overly much. I like strong heroines, but not the kind that tends to overshadow the hero in her attempt to appear as his equal or more. I was totally wrong in my line of thinking because Zelda turned out to be just perfect. In her vulnerabilities, the way she couldn’t help but be affected by Hugo, the way she actually wanted to and needed to make a difference in Hugo’s life. All that spoke to me on a level that had me rooting for her in a big way.

I simply love the fact that Carolyn’s books are dark. The dark of the variety that I adore. Loved the moments of cocooned intimacy between Hugo and Zelda, the time that gave them the opportunity to be drawn towards one another. Hugo’s bewilderment about feeling so deeply about her was adorable. The way he couldn’t keep his hands off of her just outright hot. And as the reader, I just couldn’t get enough.

To finish up, Dax seems like a fine piece of work to contend with. Can’t wait to see what Carolyn puts his dark and tormented soul through to give him a happily ever after!

Final Verdict: Beautifully savage in its rendition. Spoke right to my heart!

Favorite Quotes

“You’re okay,” she whispered, dipping two fingers into the cool salve. Gently she slicked it onto the pinkest, most inflamed-looking skin.
Much to her surprise, he allowed it. Maybe the pain outweighed everything else. He turned back to the fire, breath ragged, as she stroked the salve across his tormented flesh.
She’d thought of Kabakas as many things over the years, but never as a suffering being. Never as an old friend. So human, so compelling.
So fucking beautiful.

“Shhhh,” he said.
She gasped as he pushed his fingers inside her now, thumb stroking her taut nub. He would not take her; he would make her feel good. It was all he wanted now—just that.
He stroked her to a rhythm that matched her soft breath. He could always feel when a woman’s body became his, control switching over, pleasure building.
Mercilessly he drew his rough fingers through her tender folds. She felt like molten silk, and his touch was a tide, pulling her out to sea.

He grumbled about it being a long day, but seeing Paolo play in front of the fire, being a boy in a way that Hugo never had, it made him want to hold him, to care for him.
It was Paolo he wanted to hold, yes, but maybe, just a little bit, it was Hugo’s younger self.
Hugo left, holding his boy to his breaking heart. All these years. It would’ve been so easy to play with him.
So easy to call him by his name.

“He pumped into her slowly, breathing her secrets with his cock. “I’m here,” he whispered as he shoved into her, devouring her. She squeezed her pussy as he thrust, trying to make herself feel extra tight, trying to take over. But he wouldn’t go on autopilot. He wouldn’t get lost. He would stay with her. Keep her there, present and gasping.
“Corazón,” he groaned. He kissed her all over her face and neck as he fucked her.
He fucked her like he cared. Like he was fucking her instead of just fucking. Like a waterfall of dangerous feeling crashing right through her.

“Your hands. At the end.” She grabbed the back of his head and pulled him into a kiss.
Desire surged through him. He’d never wanted anybody more. He flattened her against the wall and kissed her, probing at the seam of her lips with his tongue, knife flat between them.
“Say it again,” she said.
“Zelda,” he grated out. “Zelda.”
He would say it forever, because she was no longer Liza. She was a warrior, his equal, and his enemy.
He kissed the side of her neck and pressed his killer’s body into her.
“Yes,” she said.
And he was lost.

This man, he was so beautiful. Her quarry for so long. “Kabakas,” she gasped, feeling the rising swell of pleasure.
With a wild, tortured look carved onto his harsh features, he pressed his thumbs into her windpipe, cutting off speech, breath. She tried to suck in a breath but it wouldn’t come. She coughed and fought, instinct taking over at last. He tightened his hold on her as he fucked her and choked her, thrusting on and on. The edges of her vision went hazy as she began to come. The orgasm swept through her like fire, filling her head with stars and shattering her mind. She was plummeting, spinning, dissolving into pure pleasure and darkness—perfectly blameless, perfectly free.

“Hugo—”
“Quiet, or I will gag you again. All day I have imagined taking you, making you come over and over and over.” Her blood raced as he pushed her head to the other side, working symmetrically. “When you sucked in my fingers, I imagined them inside you.”
He turned off the water and pulled her up by her hair.
She opened her eyes to see him behind her in the mirror, holding her wet hair, focused down on her with a level of intensity that felt frighteningly primal.
“And I imagined that I would make you come screaming. After that I would take you.” His words came out in gusts. “I can wait no longer.” The furrow between his eyes looked deeper, his cheekbones more sharp-cut, more ruthless somehow. Her killer, her lover.

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