Dirty Dealings (Zeta Cartel #3)

Dirty Dealings is the third book in the dark romance series Zeta Cartel by AJ Adams. Click these links if you are looking for my reviews of book one or book two.

3

Quique is having a bad time. Back in Mexico his marriage has fallen apart and his wife has made him a laughing stock by cheating on him. Now he’s in London and finding himself out of his depth with a complex commercial deal. To make things worse, Natalia Truelove, a chef and pub manager, is blackmailing him. Quique is ready to commit murder and he’s pretty sure who his first victim will be.

Warning: Dirty Dealings contains strong adult language and themes as well as graphic violence and fully depicted love scenes

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I somehow completely missed the release of this book last year. I just picked up and started book four and realized that Quique was now married to someone new, and went back to one-click this book. No wonder it seemed like such a long time between book releases in this series. I’m just a dunce.

Dirty Dealings features an antihero who is familiar to readers of the Zeta Cartel. Quique is a surprising revelation within the macho Latino world of the Cartel. He has a thing against hitting women, and is amazingly lighthearted and sweet when not in work mode. He also likes his woman to be independent, a partner in life, when most of his colleagues view a woman as an ornament.

This book is mostly set in Britain, with lots of dry Brit humour and colloquialisms throughout. The heroine is a tough, brash woman with a disreputable backstory and an extended family of ex-inlaws with reputations of their own. Natalia reminds me of a workhorse, in the nicest of ways. She just doesn’t stop. She doesn’t acknowledge the obstacles in her way, she is always looking for solutions, searching for better, and will drag her family along with her no matter how much bitching or feet-dragging they do. She truly cares about them and their BS, even when they treat her horribly and have been the cause of much past suffering.

I felt like Quique and Natalia were well-matched and once they got over being on separate sides of a business deal, they realized it as well. Bruja mala leche (evil, little witch) is one of my favourite insults to use IRL (and I’ve been known to call my sisters this) so I was vastly amused as Quique’s use of this term gradually changed from a hate-filled curse to an endearment.

Also, apparently my efforts in learning the Spanish language are having an effect because I could translate most of the Spanish bits without referring to a dictionary or the internet! Woot!

Dirty Dealings is very plot-driven, more so than the previous two books. I felt that the romance took a backseat, and should have been brought forward more. The couple don’t fall into bed together until nearly 60% of the way in, so if you like super steamy books, that is something to take note of ahead of time.

** getting darker … **

I also wish that the issue of rape had been examined more. Adams wrote Quique mostly as a dark hero, a baddy who would still drop everything to rescue a child, but he is also a high-ranking member of the most powerful Cartel in the world, and a former Guatemalan special forces soldier. He doesn’t like rape, but had used it in the past as a tool of war, of intimidation and interrogation. Unfortunately, this subject is examined in a couple of short, introspective paragraphs and I think it is something that should have more of a big deal in the plot. Hopefully Adams will bring it up again with a future character in the Zeta Cartel.

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xx

Obsession

obsession

Hannah

All my life, I’ve only wanted one thing: someone to love me and someone who will let me love them in return. This seems like a simple request, but I was born to parents who wished I had died of childhood leukemia, instead of my younger sister, and who have ignored me no matter how much I’ve tried to please them. I’m starved for affection, addicted to the feeling when someone cares about me, which has led to a love life filled with either boys I’ve scared off, or men all too eager to take advantage of me. I thought I would never find a man who could feed my craving for constant attention—and then I met Leo. He fills the void inside of me, haunts my dreams, and does things to me in bed that are so good, they’re probably illegal. I can only pray I don’t scare him off once he figures out just how needy I really am.

Leo

There are very few people in this world I’ve ever been able to form an emotional attachment to, but the moment I saw Hannah, I knew she was mine. We were bound together by fate, our paths crossing first as children, then as adults, each time marking me. She doesn’t know it but I’ve been watching her for a year now, studying her, stacking the deck so when I do make my move, there’s no way she’ll ever escape me. But my world is a harsh, cruel place, and the cartel I work for demands absolute loyalty and trust…a loyalty Hannah has yet to earn in the dangerous eyes of my employers. There is only one way to ensure Hannah’s absolute devotion, and I hope that she doesn’t hate me forever when she finds out that not only have I brainwashed her into loving me, but that I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about doing it. She’s mine, only mine, and I’m keeping her forever.

Warning: This story features a rough and demanding Dom who’s completely devoted to bringing his baby girl pleasure through such unconventional means as spanking, mild BDSM, D/S, roleplaying, and various other forms of wicked kinkery.

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Hannah and Leo’s story is hot and sexy! It is the first book in the Cordova Empire series by Ann Mayburn and it is dark “ish”, but not as dark as many of her other recent series. I think of it more as a “grey” romance if those even exist. There are a few elements that I think will push buttons for some readers, but they worked for me.

First-off, there are elements of a captive romance in Obsession. While Leo never stoops so low as to kidnap Hannah, he does watch her from afar for a long period of time and researches everything there is to know about her before inserting himself into her life. He uses this knowledge, and his worldly experience to overwhelm her defences and bind her to him emotionally.

Leo, who is like a son to the head of the Cordova Cartel, is their master torturer for the and my heart was racing at the knowledge. It wasn’t a big part of the story though and Hannah is kept well away from cartel business for the most part – she never stumbles upon him torturing a person, that’s for sure! I actually wish his profession had been played up more, but then, I like dark romance. *insert wolfish grin*

Everyone in the cartel has major trust issues, especially the inner family who run it, because in the past, a woman married into the family, bore a child and then sold her son for money to a rival cartel. The child was tortured to death before his father found him.

Fast forward one year to our present love story and the Cartel has developed a sort of truth serum that enables them to bring a person into a drug-induced, relaxed state, almost as if they were hypnotized. Leo uses this drug on Hannah to insure her loyalty to him forever, although he routinely points out that you cannot change anything fundamental to someone’s personality using it … therefore, he cannot force her to fall in love with him or anyone else.

Luckily for Leo, Hannah is desperate for someone to love and to love her back unconditionally, and is also into his particular brand of rough kink. Hannah and Leo’s bedroom play is a cross between bdsm and daddy/lg play and it is sexy as hell!

In any story you have to suspend disbelief somewhere, and this can be hard to do. In this case, the author asks the reader to believe that the Cordova Cartel are sheep in wolves’ clothing. To believe that they only torture, extort, kill people who deserve it and would help out another person without expecting anything in return in many cases. Bullshit. They are a criminal empire, one of the most powerful in their region apparently, and to be successful they must be ruthless.

This is why I wish the Cartel business and Leo’s “services” had been utilized more throughout the book and that the story had been darker, to be more realistic. To compare to the author’s Submissive’s Wish series about the Russian Bratva, even though each of those Mafia Men fall in love with the woman of their dreams and would never hurt her, they sure as shit do bad things to everyone else. They are the ultimate anti-heroes. At the end of the day, I am never going to buy that a guy involved in organized crime, particularly the Torture Master, is a really good all-round guy.

Despite this little hiccup, I loved Obsession and would highly recommend it!

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