Author: H.E. Kollef
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 4 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Will Mracek is forced to flee to Prague when he witnesses his boyfriend, powerful security magnate Jean Claude la Bête, commit murder. On the run, and with help from his cousin John, Will becomes an English teacher named Max Knight and does everything he can to blend in. Meeting Hadrian Walls, however, changes everything.
Max falls in love with the grumpy ex-RAF, now bartender, and Hadrian finds himself doing the same, despite not knowing the secrets of Max’s dangerous past.
But trouble has a way of coming home, and Max and Jean Claude will face each other one last time in a confrontation that sends both of them over the edge….
Review: The blurb for this book hooked me, as I do love a great cat and mouse story. This thriller by a new to me author proved to be just the ticket, delivering an edge of your seat read. The cast of characters was intriguing, the setting of Prague well featured, and the page turning action contained clever twists. I enjoyed the fact that the story is told from the POV of more than one character, as this technique collectively provided appreciated insight into their actions. A certain suspension of disbelief was needed to fully appreciate the Bond type levels of action, but all espionage/spy type aspects were plausibly presented within the frame of the story.
Will Mracek could be described as a mild mannered guy leading a solid life. He was happy with and proud of his career as a talented book restorer. He was also ecstatic to be moving in with his boyfriend, Jean Claude la Bete. That is, until he walked in on the guy unceremoniously executing a man by bullet. Will listened to his instinct to run, and run he did. Talk about starting a story with a bang, my heart was in my throat and I ended up reading this book in one sitting! The murder happens very early on in the book, so the only real peek the reader gets at the relationship between Will and Jean Claude is through Will’s reflections as the story progresses. I couldn’t help but feel a bit more time spent watching these two build as a couple would have lent more credibility to this key thread of the story.
Will and Jean Claude’s relationship was pretty new, but apparently quite intense. Will knew Jean Claude presided over a security firm, even dealt with some high level FBI related assignments, but he had never before seen a cold side to his demeanor. The man had always been charming, lavish and attentive. Alone, confused and afraid on the streets of New York after witnessing the shooting, Will realized he had someone he could count on – his cousin John, who ran a training program for English teachers in Prague.
Will made it to Prague (we find out how later), where he moved in with John and his partner, Karel. John is more than he seems on the surface. He has a checkered military past and lots of connections in the right shadowy places to help keep Will safe. Or so they thought. Through John’s intervention, Will changed his name to Max Knight, and enrolled in the program for English teachers, via which he hoped to eventually get a job and assimilate into life in Prague.
Will had a ton of heart. I liked him immensely and was hoping he’d be safe. After keeping his cool long enough to find his way to John, he was doing his best to keep his head down in Prague and start a new life as Max. Sure, he spent time kicking himself for not clueing in to any nefarious signs from Jean Claude, and he was constantly looking over his shoulder, but he was also making friends with his fellow teaching students, and learning to appreciate the history and beauty of Prague. The author has lived in Prague, and her love and knowledge of this brilliant city shines. The city felt like a character unto itself as I explored it alongside Max.
Max/Will soon appeared on the radar of one Hadrian Walls. Yep, I got that name correct, and isn’t it terrific?! A local barkeep, ex RAF Hadrian is nearly as big as a wall, and his personality is nearly as impenetrable. He’s a friend of John and Karel’s, and he’s pretty quiet about his dark past. Hadrian and Max got off on the wrong foot, but that changed as Hadrian felt a growing attraction toward Max, and oh yeah – he happened to save Max from a supposed mugger. The gruff yet endearing Hadrian was my favorite character in this book. He was a real stand up, still waters run deep kind of guy. He’d risk his own life to save the life of a loyal dog, yet he’d cut someone’s throat in a heartbeat if they had it coming. Once he had fallen for Max, he was all in.
Max felt a mutual attraction to Hadrian. He was so torn, and his frustration was palpable. He yearned for the normalcy of falling for someone, yet struggled with how he could drag an unknowing, innocent person into his life of secrecy and hiding. Before long, attraction won out. Hadrian and Max felt very right together, their lovemaking was revealing and vulnerable. These raw moments provided each man a clear window into the other’s soul, if not their absolute truths. Max was about to find out that he was not the only one living a life of deception and hiding. Sure enough, Jean Claude had found him.
The action really heats up from this point. Hadrian, John and Karel join forces with some completely unexpected allies. When face to face with Jean Claude once more, Max is forced to reach down inside himself for a reserve of strength he didn’t know he possessed. And he rocked it! Max’s ultimate will to live, in no small part due to his feelings for Hadrian, pushed him to desperate heights. One huge plot twist I did not see coming completely wowed me. It was awesome. I get so pumped when an author can pull off twists such as this one. All through the book, I was never quite able to guess what was going to happen next. It kept me on my toes so to speak, much the way Will/Max was feeling throughout the story.
There is an epic climax involving Jean Claude where all the best laid plans by John, Hadrian and crew pretty much get blown to hell, and nobody is going to come out of the chaos the same person they went in as.
I had a few niggles, such as wishing I’d seen more of Will with Jean Claude before the murder, and wondering why it took the connected Jean Claude so long to find Will. Those were minor though, as the compelling characters, budding romance, complex intrigue and nail biting action took a definite front seat.
There is still much to learn about the history of Hadrian, John, and Karel. Of course I also am eager to see where Will and Hadrian’s relationship leads them – in terms of love and adventures. Yes, there is loads of room here for a sequel, and I will happily be in line for it!