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    Behind The Mask

    In Behind The Mask, Carolyn Crane takes us to South America with a unique plot. Behind The Mask is a fast moving, captivating book with powerful characters. Despite the past that haunts her and riddles her with guilt, I felt that Zelda was a strong character and remarkably fearless. It was interesting how she was able to push emotion out of the equation when her work required her to do things a lot of people would not be able to do. She is able to separate clearly, and her mind set around this is pretty fascinating, because I felt like hidden inside is actually a very passionate woman. Zelda's character is very dynamic! When she is captured by Hugo, she used it as an opportunity to further her cause...at first anyway, because the attraction between them is as unexpected as it is undeniable. Will she use it or embrace it though? I was very interested to watch the relationship between Zelda and Hugo unfold. Hugo is a great hero!! A legend, known as the dangerous and lethal Kabakas, he now lives quietly and unknown with a boy he's taken in in small town Beuna Vista. He doesn't know relationships or love...but when he 'captures' Zelda, she brings out more in him than he thought he had inside to give to anyone. But when danger threatens his town, the mask he'd put away for good might have to make another appearance to save good. He can't hide what's behind the mask to Zelda though, for she sees the heart hidden underneath his many layers. For two people who don't trust and with so much at stake, will they be able to trust each other? The connection they have is intense and the chemistry steaming, but will they take the chance? I really liked what Hugo and Zelda brought out in each other, and I felt that these characters were very deep, with so many issues impacting their lives. I liked reading from both Hugo and Zelda's POV's, I felt that this helped me understand and feel the characters well. The suspense part of the plot is woven in relevantly with the romance, they are all significant parts of the plot. This part of the book was somewhat vague and mystifying at times, in a way that kept me intrigued and wanting to know more. Behind The Mask is part of Carolyn Crane's Associates series, and I feel that while it can be read as a stand alone the reader will have a better understanding of The Associates if the whole series is read. The secondary characters are mostly new to Behind The Mask, and they are not always pleasant people to be around which made Behind The Mask more thrilling! Behind The Mask is well written and easy to follow, and I'd recommend it to romantic suspense readers looking for a unique plot line and steamy main characters!
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    action packed from start to finish!

    This suspenseful, nail biting, romantic thriller is the story of Zelda and Hugo. Zelda is a partner in the shadowy Association group that deals behind the scenes in places even the CIA won't go. When she goes undercover to help her prostitute twin sister Liza, she's both excited and terrified to be back in the field again. But it seems pretty cut and dried - replace her sister in the trade her drug dealing boyfriend made when he lost her in a bet to a Mexican drug lord, get some inside secrets of his realm, and get out. Only she doesn't expect that she's going to be traded down to another drug lord, El Gorrion, in South America, this one meaner, tougher and undoubtedly lethal for her. When she arrives at her destination, her situation is compounded by Hugo, a man who has come for vengeance against El Gorrion for attacking his mountainside village and gets it, including her - a man who resembles a nearly mythical assassin thought dead for the last 9 years. Though captive and captor, they recognize in each other kindred spirits and even while Zelda is making plans for her escape, she can't fight her increasing attraction to him. But if Zelda has secrets, so does Hugo and as those come barreling to the surface, choices must soon be made, choices that will either end in them becoming true partners, or betrayal and death. The story is told from Hugo and Zelda's points of view (with the occasional chapter by a secondary character). Zelda is a conflicted woman. Since a disastrous previous field experience that resulted in the death of her partner, she has experienced shame, guilt, and self-loathing such that she stayed out of the field for a long time, only coming back now to rescue her sister. But we see in her something different than how she sees herself - a strong, competent woman who can make quick decisions, who does what is necessary to survive, using her body and her mind to her advantage. Her attraction to Hugo is visceral, on a gut deep level, scary yet impossible to ignore. Hugo's POV was fascinating, totally believable as a hard ruthless man, haunted by his past but not regretful of it. He too does what is necessary to survive, willing to go to any lengths for those he has placed under his protection. He has the care and keeping of a young boy whom he rescued from a killing field, a boy he is determined to give a chance at a life with meaning. Though he comes across as cold and indifferent, it is indeed a mask that keeps his true emotions from coming to the surface, emotions that Zelda can see glittering in his eyes.Their love scenes are steamy and emotionally intense as words they cannot say are given truth in their actions, weaving an invisible tie around them that only tightens as outside forces work to pull them apart. As their passion heats up, so too does the action around them and just when you think you know where the story is going it takes an unexpected turn as Zelda and Hugo fight with all they have to maintain their fragile trust. This story is gritty and harsh, a romance where love is an emotion that can bring you power or destroy you. Don't expect to be able to put the book down by the time you get to the second half - you'll be fully invested in this unconventional couple as they fight to have a future together. 5 riveting stars.
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    Action-packed Romance

    The good news is that there is a new book in Carolyn Crane’s The Associates series and it is every bit as good as the previous three: a fabulous conflicted, complicated and powerful man, an equally conflicted and brilliant woman, really evil bad guys and action suspense in a well-written, character driven plot. The bad news is that once you begin reading you will not be able to put down Behind the Mask so make sure you have nothing to do for several hours or no reason that you need sleep more than you need to find out what happens next, because you will be driven to read until the end. I received this as an e-ARC but I would be buying it anyway. I discovered Carolyn Crane’s writing with her dystopian, alt-world fantasy series, The Disillusionists. I loved her writing style, her ability to pen believable, likeable, yet imperfect characters involved in a story that is both surprising and compelling. Of course I wanted to read everything else she has written. Romance novels are my guilty secret, a go-to quick read between hard-core science fiction or long, meandering fantasy sagas. I’ve read in the genre since I was a teen visiting my grandparents, steaming through a couple of 200 page romances a day in the summer. This series, The Associates, is romance on steroids, more action/suspense romance with an emphasis on character transformation through trials by fire. In Behind the Mask, Hugo, the dark hero, is a former assassin and legendary killer, a wounded hero with a strong sense of justice. Zelda is the Associate, a brilliant scientist, former field agent and co-director of the Associates who also has her inner demons that driver her actions. A former agent, guilt-ridden and shamed by her past, a former assassin whose feelings are walled off, spies on a mission to save the world, impending terrorist disaster, evil drug lords, and a satisfying and tricksy plot that gets where you want it to go in a surprising and satisfying manner. Behind the Mask is a great escape.
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    Consistent

    I was looking forward to this novel and I want disappointed. I think it is as good as the others in the series. Carolyn Crane is really good at creating a good atmosphere in her books.
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