Friday, July 01, 2011

TAKEN BY FIRE by Sydney Croft

TAKEN BY FIRE - Sydney Croft
ACRO, Agency for Covert and Rare Operatives
Bantam Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-385-34229-2
July 2011
Paranormal Romance

Rome, Italy and Upstate New York - Present Day

For months, Stryker Wills has been on a single-minded search for the woman who killed his friend right in front of him. Phoebe Milan is the worst of the Itor agents that Stryker has come across, and he’s looking forward to killing her. When he finally tracks her down though, it’s Melanie Milan—her alter personality—that he’s confronted with. Between the lust brought on by Mel’s use of her powers, and the lost expression on her face, Stryker hesitates to kill her. When she invites him to do just that, he’s even more confused. This is not the stone-cold murdering bitch he’s met before and, according to her, she’s not a split personality either.

Waking up in her own apartment is always a relief for Melanie Milan, considering her twin’s proclivities. See, Phoebe and Melanie aren’t a case of multiple personalities; they are twins inhabiting the same body, the result of an Itor experiment. Phoebe is the Itor agent, but Mel is the family disappointment, constantly tortured by her twin and the guilt over what Phoebe has done while in charge of their body. Mel has hopes of approaching ACRO for help, even knowing that it may very well mean her death; something that seems to be more than a possibility when the first ACRO agent she meets is the man she saw in the jungle several months ago. After killing Stryker’s friend, Phoebe retreated into their mind, forcing Melanie to flee from what they’d done.

The feeling that Itor is ramping up to something big, combined with the recent losses that ACRO has suffered have Devlin O’Malley more determined than ever to bring down Itor. Learning that Phoebe/Melanie are the daughters of Alek, the head of Itor, Dev thinks he may at last have the leverage he needs. With the final showdown between the two agencies looming, can Dev trust the information Mel is providing, and can he open himself up to let his team help him?

In what feels like the final installment of the ACRO series, we get the big battle we’ve been waiting for in TAKEN BY FIRE. Both ACRO and Itor employ people with special talents: telekinesis, biokenisis, super-strength, super-speed, and so on, but while ACRO agents are trying to protect the world, Itor is trying to control it. Many of the characters introduced in the other stories play a part in this one, along with the secondary storyline involving Dev and Gabriel finally playing out. The two have been lovers for a while, but the age difference between them, Dev’s tendency towards secrecy, and the fact that Dev is the head of ACRO have combined to create a few obstacles in their relationship.

Played out amidst that backdrop is the rocky romance between Stryker and Mel. Stryker, who has the ability to cause earthquakes, has been on a search and destroy mission looking for Phoebe since being released from the bonds that held him a helpless captive while she murdered his friend. Finding Melanie complicates matters as, almost against his will, he finds himself protective of her. Mel has led a horrific life since the death of her mother; useless in the eyes of her father, she’s gradually been relegated to the background, with Phoebe being the dominant one. Even being excluded from Itor hasn’t helped her, because with Phoebe’s enjoyment of sex, drugs, and violence, Mel is often the one bearing the brunt of the excesses. She’s willing to help ACRO overthrow Itor, because even if they refuse to help her, they’ll kill her, and no life is beginning to look like a better option than what she has. The chemistry between Stryker and Mel is strong, but can he overcome his feelings for Phoebe when the two women share the same body?

A fascinating story, TAKEN BY FIRE wraps up a few threads that have been interwoven throughout the series, while giving us a unique heroine to cheer for. While a satisfying conclusion to the series arc, it’s also a little sad to see the series come to an end, and hopefully there will be more stories in the future. Though it’s probably better to read the books in order, TAKEN BY FIRE is a thrilling romantic tale by itself.

Jennifer Bishop

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