I picked this one up because Ava Gray is the pseudonym for Ann Aguirre, who is an author I love.
The Premise: Kyra is a con woman with a very special ability. Whenever she touches someone, she picks up their best skill. She’s on the run after embarrassing casino owner Gerard Serrano, a man was responsible for her father’s murder. While on the road, she meets Reyes, who she thinks is a drifter, but who is really a hitman charged with finding out where she hid the stolen money, and with killing her afterwards.
My Thoughts: The two characters had interesting back stories, with imperfect parenting, which served to bond them after their initial mostly physical relationship. I liked that Reyes was a character of mixed racial heritage, and I loved that he was a cook. Kyra’s blase attitude towards sex (she was a one night stand only girl) and how she didn’t cling to Reyes afterward was also different. The secondary characters were also well-written. I was most intruiged by the mysterious Foster, who is a cold and mysterious manipulator, and Gerard Serrano’s right hand man.
After reading this one, I think I understand why the author used a pseudonym: it’s a very different book from the science fiction romance and urban fantasy under the Ann Aguirre name. This one is a lot more steamy, with plenty of explicit sex scenes, which isn’t what you’d encounter with her other series. I don’t tend to go for the steamy books, but the sex in Skin Game was well-written and not purple. I think people who enjoy a high steam factor will enjoy the story.
While the steaminess is a change, the imperfect characters and interesting relationships between them, a hallmark of Aguirre’s writing, are not. They are in full force in this paranormal romance. A con-woman and an assassin, the hero and heroine don’t sound very nice, but it worked because they still had their own personal rules about who they targeted with their skills. Kyra goes to the seediest bars in town and then uses the skills of the resident best dart-thrower or pool player to win a game. In the end, she has to use these borrowed skills with her own nerve to win some cash, which seems like a more honest swindle to me. Reyes also only targets scumbags to kill. It’s because of this code that makes him start to question whether his employer lied to him about Kyra, because in observing her, she isn’t like his usual kills.
I say that this works for the most part because there’s one scene in particular where I felt like the characters stepped too far away from higher moral ground for my comfort. I balked because I felt that Kyra let rage and vengeance dictate her actions, and Reyes and another character did not blink. Looking at it objectively, it’s probably the only way the book could go, and I’ve read other characters doing questionable things under the Aguirre name, but for some reason this scene bothered me anyway. Maybe part of it is I know that in this series, I’ll probably see one couple at a time, and if someone does something in this book that I don’t quite approve of, they may not be on the page later on for me to see their redemption. I wished Kyra and the others could have found another route instead of using violence, but this book is not about nice, perfect people. It’s about imperfect people with questionable morals who still find some happiness in another person, and maybe I’m more rigid in what I want in my hero and heroine, but I still find the idea of antiheroes in love kind of cool.
Overall: Plenty of steaminess for those who love a good sex scene. Different from the urban fantasy and space opera under the Ann Aguirre name, but with the same imperfect characters I love to read about. I have a quibble about the characters which made me not connect as much as I’d like to, but a very good paranormal romance, and I am looking forward to the sequel.