MERCENARY – Michele Mannon
Deadliest Lies
, Book 2
St. Martin's Press's Swerve
ISBN-13:  978-1-250-11044-2
September 2016
Digital Romantic Suspense

Oklahoma and San Diego, California – Present Day

Declan is a mercenary, but who cares if it's for a black ops group called TORC, maybe with the government, maybe not.  Declan feels no sympathy, has no conscience, is good at his job and takes his orders from his boss.  His best friend was just murdered, and they are sure it was by a fellow TORC operative, Kylie.  Now it is Declan's job to find her and eliminate her, even though she had been a co-worker.  Looking for Kylie leads Declan to a trailer park in Shelby, Oklahoma, and Kylie's sister Madelyn.  Despite wanting revenge for his murdered friend, he advises her to leave town before she is murdered.  Soon after their first meeting, Declan gives her a roofie in a bottle of water and drives her to San Diego and a college she just got a scholarship for to study marine biology.  Declan doesn't know why he did that, and even left her money and his cell phone number for emergencies.

Madelyn is on the brink of getting out of Shelby and going to college, but when her sister won't answer her calls and then finally tells her to leave, something is up.  There's a hard, cold, dangerous man sitting by her front door, but she is compelled to ask him in out of the rain and gives him cupcakes she made for her own birthday.  When Kylie tells her to go to a diner and wait for her, Kylie never shows, but who does she see as she starts to walk to the nearest bus station but Declan.  Why he drives her to San Diego after drugging her she doesn't know; but her new life is about to begin.  Months later on break with her roommate Luciana, she finds Luciana tied to her bed with knife cuts all over her body; apparently whoever did this was looking for Madelyn.  She doesn't know what to do but Luciana does, and they go to her brother Diego's house, and Madelyn calls her emergency number for Declan.  Declan and Madelyn leave San Diego, because he knows someone else is trying to find Madelyn and use her to get at Kylie, and yet it's hard for him to pretend to protect Madelyn while Kylie is still his assignment.

Madelyn sees good in everything, and Declan sees the worst.  But Declan refuses to do anything but protect Madelyn, even though she doesn't know why people are trying to kill Kylie, and doesn't even realize that Declan's assignment is to do just that.  Can Madelyn accept Declan for what he is, and know when he is away from her, he will continue killing; whether it's for a good reason or not?

Michele Mannon brings us into a hazy government (?) group and Declan, its prime killer.  He can't understand why he is obsessed with Madelyn even as he continues to search for Kylie and complete his job.  Told from Madelyn's and Declan's points of view, Madelyn is that eternal optimist, believing in the good in everyone.  Somehow she senses Declan is dangerous, but she seems able to read his mind and see the good inside of him.  Declan might have had a weak moment with Madelyn, but the job is the main thing in his life; will Madelyn be the catalyst the head of TORC realizes is interfering with his prize weapon?

Secondary characters are Luciana, Madelyn's roommate at college—or is she?  There's Kylie; is she a traitor to the group or not?  And Hayden is the person in charge of TORC, wondering what Madelyn is doing to his men.

MERCENARY is a different type of suspense novel where black is white and no one is who they seem.  And let's be fair, Declan kills easily and has no compunction about being good at it.  Madelyn is the innocent virgin who takes a rough mercenary and tames him, as far as a mercenary can be tamed.  MERCENARY follows ROGUE (August 2016) featuring Kylie, and how she got to be fleeing from TORC.  If adventure and tough, alpha men are your thing, MERCENARY is what you need for a thrilling reading experience.

Carolyn Crisher