Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
With a past that haunts him with nightmares, Misaki “Aki” Itou became a “contracted companion”, a whore, in order to survive , leaving his starving existence on the streets behind. Aki is a psi—a person with mutated DNA granting him psychic abilities. And that makes him both a danger to himself and an object of fear and interest to the government scientists of the North and South. Only his contract and position as the “shining jewel” and top companion at the Hidden Gem,protects him while making enough money to buy the prettiest, most sparkly shoes he can find.
Det. Shane McNaughton is a cop, the Head of Missing Persons,with a completion rate so high that no one can top him. McNaughton survived the Third World War for one reason only, one he hides. Shane McNaughton is a A-M, one of many animal mutations that occurred as part of the chemical warfare between the North and the South. And while it gives him supernatural abilities it also makes him a monster when the virus isn’t dormant. His secret is known only to a few and that makes Shane McNaughton one lone wolf. Except when it comes to Aki Itou.
For two years Shane has been paying for Aki’s services, both for Aki’s sexual favors and for Aki’s psychic abilities. Always Shane has wanted more from Aki, and always he has been denied. When several children of the wealthy go missing only to be found dead, its up to Shane and Aki to combine their powers to find the children in time and expose the killer. But nothing prepares either one for the forces they unleash from the past that continues to haunt them both.
What a fantastical and inventive story Lissa Kasey has created for her release, Hidden Gem. Complete with a complex back story for her universe that includes a World War III where the weapons were chemical and their impact upon the populace diabolical and disastrous, Kasey manages to paint a portrait of a world gone dark and deadly, full of dead bodies, camps, and experimentation. That the descriptions aren’t incredibly graphic doesn’t take away any of their horror and impact. Relayed to the reader through memories of several of the characters, those past events come across as fresh and terrifying, a vision that haunts the narrative from start to finish.
Overlaying the past like a infirm veneer, the present is a place of secrets, hidden agendas, and where a sanctuary can be the last place anyone would consider safe and desirable. That last place, of course, being the Hidden Gem, a high level brothel known for its desirable male and female contracted companions. Aki and Candy, his best friend and fellow high paid companion, are happy and safe within the confines of their profession and contracts. Kasey lets us into the intimacies of their friendship and the daily operations of the Hidden Gem. It’s a fascinating world full of equally intriguing and memorable characters, not the least of which are Aki and Candy. Aki whose dress and makeup never try to hide his eyes which give away the fact that he is psi. And delectible Candy, whose mind reflects colored clouds and happiness back to Aki, is a jewel in his own right. I only hope that Lissa Kasey has another story in mind for this universe featuring Candy, he deserves it. The darkness of the companions pasts are always present, although pressed into the background or saved for their nightmares.
At the other end of society’s spectrum is the police unit headed up by Shane McNaughton, a cop who no longer considers himself a man. He is also tormented by his past and present. Only being in the presence of Aki, is that pain alleviated for Shane. Kasey makes Shane as fully realized a being as Aki, although his darkness and past are more fully known then Aki’s for most of the story. Shane is a powerful figure and he moves through the narrative with a blunt forcefulness that can take your breath away.
There is a malignant center to this story and a mystery of the most chilling and heartbreaking kind. Children are being kidnapped and horrifically killed. Kasey weaves her mystery thread through all the other filaments pulling together to make this an outstanding tapestry of a tale. Its not enough that each character carries a truckload of pain and secrets behind them, the author also keeps in mind each character’s emotional, mental and physical needs as well. All are juggled in a high wire balancing act that ends in an astonishing conclusion that will stay with you long after the story is over.
I hope this is not the last we have seen of the Hidden Gem universe and characters. Lissa Kasey has left herself plenty of room for more stories to come. They and the readers deserve them. Consider Hidden Gem and Lissa Kasey highly recommended by Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words! Grab it up today and start reading.
Cover Artist:2014 Shobana Appavu. Love the cover.
Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press Paperback All Romance eBooks (ARe) Amazon Hidden Gem
ebook, 246 pages
Published September 26th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press