Reading level: Adult
E-book: 100 pages
Genre: Paranormal romance
Release date: March 4, 2013
Series: Dark Mission #4.5
Source: E-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Reviewed by: Jenn
In this Dark Mission novella, Jonas Stone emerges from the shadows into his own story, and finally allows himself to have the same shot at love he’s given his friends.
Jonas Stone has been given his first independent operation: rescue the insurrection leader’s imprisoned grandson from the Mission. Getting the job done means more than getting Danny Granger out-it means staying with him while he heals. Staying too close, for way too long.
Danny is everything Jonas isn’t: confident, optimistic, honest--a man to be reckoned with. If only it didn’t mean going against everything Jonas has planned. He’s kept his secrets for years, hid behind a mask no one could see through...until now. Danny isn’t the kind of man Jonas deserves. But he might be exactly the man he needs...
The Dark Mission series is a recent discovery for me and it's one of those series that just keeps getting better and better with every installment. I enjoyed the first book, BLOOD OF THE WICKED, but my favourite is definitely the most recent novel, SACRIFICE THE WICKED, which is why I was so excited to read WICKED LIES. WICKED LIES is book #4.5 in the series and it picks up less than a week after the end of SACRIFICE THE WICKED. Needless to say, this novella is a trip through Spoilerville if you're not caught up on the series so you might want to read the DARK MISSION stories in order. But if you don't mind knowing spoilers, then you can probably jump right in since Karina Cooper has done a great job of explaining how the characters were left at the end of SACRIFICE THE WICKED, without the dreaded info dump. You'll settle in in no time. :)
Another reason I'm excited to talk about WICKED LIES is because it marks a special moment in Avon's publishing history. As you may have read in Karina Cooper's wonderful guest post, WICKED LIES features a male-male romance, making it the first LGBTQ story for this imprint. It's a big deal. And while I realize that the subject matter may not be for everyone, I love that Cooper and Avon are publishing this story because (a) I've been dying to know more about Jonas Stone and (b) well-written, sexy same sex romances aren't terribly common in the genre, especially from bigger publishers. (There are exceptions of course, like Harlequin, which has some great diversity, particularly in their Carina Press imprint, but that's a post for another day.)
Turning back to WICKED LIES, though, I want to give you some quick backstory, in case you're not familiar with the series. The Dark Mission books are set in a sort of post-apocalyptic Seattle, where you can mark time as pre- or post-earthquake. Before the earthquake, witches lived on the fringes, not hiding but not persecuted. But then there was an epic earthquake and they got the blame. Now, they are hunted by the Holy Order of St. Dominic. The Church's soldiers, called missionaries, are responsible for capturing and killing witches and have been for about fifty years, with the government's sanction. Basically, it's bad to be a witch and even worse to be a witch on the Mission's radar. Over the course of the series, we see a small band of rebels come together from unlikely places: some are witches, some are ex-missionaries, some are just regular people. In WICKED LIES, the focus is on Jonas, who's been helping these rebels, as he takes his first steps as an ex-Mission operator. His goal: to save Danny Granger from the torture he's enduring in the Mission Jonas used to work for.
I have to tell you, I loved this story. Loved, loved, loved it. Jonas has been a secondary character in the Dark Mission series since Book #1 and I was so happy to see him front and centre in WICKED LIES. He's always been a great supporting character but I've been dying to get into his head and boy, do we! I had no idea he was gay before this novella came out. What I did know: Jonas is a tech wizard who used to work for the New Seattle Mission. His legs are messed up thanks to a mission gone wrong but he doesn't let that stop him from contributing to his team's operations and he's actually one of the best techies out there. In WICKED LIES, we see just what makes him tick and now I want even more Jonas!
I wasn't as invested in Danny at first because he doesn't enter the series until the last third of SACRIFICE THE WICKED, the novel that precedes WICKED LIES. As such, we don't know much about him before WICKED LIES, other than the fact that he works for "the ghost", a hacker who's been causing trouble for the Mission. In WICKED LIES, Danny's strength of character is definitely revealed as he's horribly tortured by Mission agents. He's instantly drawn to Jonas after he hears Jonas over a comm, and his flirtations with the slightly older man, even when he's enduring torture and trying to escape, really throw Jonas for a loop. It was great fun for me because I've always viewed Jonas as rather unflappable and I'm a big fan of seeing generally solid characters get rattled, especially in the name of love.
I only have one complaint about WICKED LIES: it wasn't long enough. Watching Danny and Jonas fall for each other was beautiful and the sex scenes are rather steamy but the "L" word gets dropped far too quickly for my liking. If this had been a full-length novel, having the "I love you"s come out would have seemed more genuine but I didn't feel like Jonas and Danny really knew each other well enough for the words to have significance. I totally believed their attraction and feelings but I would have been happy just having them together and not talking about Love, since they're still in the getting-to-know-you phase. But maybe it's just me wanting to see more page time for this particular couple...
In any case, I feel confident when I tell you that Dark Mission fans are going to adore WICKED LIES. And if you haven't tried Cooper's writing before and are looking for a quick sample, this is a good one. You won't be as familiar with some of the faces that pop up in the novella but you'll see just how outstanding Cooper's writing, world building, and characterization are. So hop on over to your e-book seller of choice and invest in WICKED LIES!
For my Uncle Stephen. You were the first man in my life who bravely came out to me, and who paved the way for me to be myself. I loved you so much before, and I love you just as much now.
You are my inspiration.
And for every gay, lesbian, bi-, trans-, queer, and questioning youth out there. Life can be hard, sometimes it can get mean. There will be days when you feel like it’s impossible, but I want you to know that there are people like me out here who support you. I promise : it gets better.
A blue-white light flickered in the dark. Sparks glinted off the tool racks bolted to the wall across the shadowed room, reflected from the metal braces left leaning against the desk. As silence—mind-numbingly loud, thick as water, and twice as hard to breathe—filled the narrow room, that blue-white light caught in the circular lenses of a pair of glasses and threw a glare across the screen.
Jonas Stone stirred. “It has to be now,” he said, his voice too loud in the oppressive weight of the shadows behind him. He couldn’t look away from the feed spilling its incandescent glow over his desk, his keyboard.
Because the man framed in that digital feed—the kid strapped to the chair dead center of the surveillance footage—wasn’t the first suspected heretic to sit there. To sweat there.
“Be sure, Jonas. We get one shot at this.”
His brain wanted to look at the comm unit beside his left hand. His body refused to obey, every cell focused on the prisoner’s dark, drooping head. Scarred fingers twitched, knuckles whitening, and Jonas frowned as he realized his right hand had closed into a painful fist.
It had to be now. The kid wouldn’t last much longer.
“There’s no alternative,” he replied. “We’re not going to get another opening soon enough to.” He hesitated.
The voice over the comm link didn’t waver. Not even a fracture. “Soon enough to save him.”
Only through recent experience did Jonas know that the raspy, lifetime-pack-a-day voice coming out of the secure line belonged to a woman named May. Leader of a rebellion that had saved Jonas’s life, and the perpetrator behind a string of hacking jobs that left Jonas seriously reconsidering a career shift before the Church had made that choice for him.
The fact that she was very, very good was all that kept him from throwing in the towel now.
But he’d never met her in person. Hell, he’d never met the prisoner now struggling to raise his head in Jonas’s feed, either. Instead, all he had was a picture in a box, a hacked security feed, and too many hours spent staring at the incandescent screen until his eyeballs throbbed and the vicious curl of helplessness inside him turned to a spiraling ache.
That boy didn’t belong in that kind of interrogation room.
A single light, faded blue, gleamed over shoulders broader than Jonas’s, but not by much. The prisoner was athletically lean where Jonas was simply skinny. The narrowly defined muscles of his chest were outlined by the stained remains of a thin, long-sleeve shirt. Blood and sweat had turned it nearly brown. His slumped shoulders strained against the restraints confining him to the hard metal chair, a position not just awkward but painful as hell. Jonas hadn’t seen his face for over an hour.
He didn’t have to. He knew what he’d see when—if—the kid raised his chin again.
Blood caked into a ridged scab across the fine slash of his upper lip, under his broad nose and over a determinedly sculpted chin. He’d see the blackened stains of it dried into the man’s ears, blending into his dark brown hair. Even now, that greasy fringe flopped over his forehead, long since sweating off the gel that had held it into its fashionable spikes. The longest of the textured strands would slide into one swollen eye, if it ever opened again.
The prisoner had eyes the color of the computer-lit confines of the places Jonas preferred to inhabit. Almost black, even without pain stripping them to an endless void. When open, those eyes all but crackled with an intensity that could take a lesser man’s objectivity away in a single glance. Like a hungry kid or a kicked puppy.
Or a man on the edge of desperation.
Jonas’s chest kicked.
“Let me know when your people are ready.” He didn’t bother hiding the raw regret in his voice. He’d felt a lot of it, lately. After all, he used to be the man who helped put people into rooms just like that.
“Fine.” May’s voice cracked. Flattened. “I’m trusting you, Jonas.”
“I know.” They always did. “Let me try. I’m positive I can get him out. They won’t expect it this soon.”