Rating: 4.75 rounded up to 5 stars out of 5
San Diego homicide detective Ray Delgado never gets a chance to forget where he comes from, a wide spread criminal dynasty whose members are often linked to Ray by blood. So far Ray has put a number of cousins and uncles behind bars, making him persona non grata with his family, immediate and otherwise. Only two family members have remained close, his aunt and his cousin, Sophia, who Ray helped raise. When Ray’s crime lord cousin, Alejandro makes a violent late-night visit, Ray is in for a number of unpleasant surprises. Alejandro wants Ray to find his sister, Sophia, who disappeared from the UC San Diego campus, something Ray was unaware of. And Alejandro wants it done before the FBI digs too deep into his business. Why? Because millions of the Cartel’s money is missing and it looks as though Sophia, a computer whiz, is involved.
Special Agent Elliot Belkamp spent his entire life jumping from one place to another, including his last assignment which took him to Montana and an white hot encounter with the deeply closeted but oh so sexy Det. Ray Delgado. Now his new assignment assisting a FBI task force offers him a chance to settle down. It San Diego, California home to a certain homicide detective.
When Elliot catches a missing person’s case as his first assignment, the last person he thought to find poking around the victim’s dorm room is Ray, his one time hook that ended badly…at least for Elliot. After discovering Sophia’s disappearance is linked to a massive computer-based theft that has two powerful crime families ready to declare war, Elliot focuses on his investigation and tries to ignore Ray. As the search for Sophia turns dangerous, Elliot and Ray discover that tackling organized crime might be easier than resisting the intense attraction both still feel for each other.
Back in 2013, A.J. Thomas debuted her first novel, A Casual Weekend Thing (Least Likely Partnership #1) which went on to winner a Rainbow Award for that year. This novel was also the first in a remarkable series, Least Likely Partnership. Thomas’ story was brutal, raw, and realistic. It involved child abuse and the effects it had on its victims as they aged. It involved pedophiles within families, suicide, murder, mystery and much, much more. And once I started I couldn’t put it down no matter how wrenching the story got, and it was plenty traumatic on many levels. And introduced as secondary characters in that story were San Diego Homicide Detective Ray Delgado, a closeted officer obsessively crushing on his partner Detective Christopher Hayes, a main character and deeply damaged man. And who did Ray hook up with during the case that Christopher was involved with up in Montana? That would be FBI special agent Elliot Belkamp. They spent one hot and heavy week in a hotel in Montana after the case was over. Then Ray’s mouth and closeted status ended their relationship before it could get out of the motel. But somehow, the pull between these two was so intense that the reader just knew or perhaps hoped, that they would get another chance. And they finally do here in Holding Out for a Fairy Tale (Least Likely Partnership #2).
Was it worth the wait? You betcha! Once again, A.J. Thomas hooks you in immediately as Ray jumps vividly to life from page one. Ray, Ray, Ray! Ray, Ray. The energy, that spark of magic, determination and power, that Thomas builds into Ray Delgado is impossible to resist. He’s part jerk and part obsessed super cop. And even when he’s berating his fellow officers for not following some procedure or safety protocol (and he’s brutal with his verbal dressing downs), they also know he is right, they won’t repeat that mistake, and that he’s really doing it for their benefit. Of course, he’s still a jerk about it. But you just can’t dislike this guy. He’s charismatic, he’s caring, and he has to try extra hard because he’s a cop from a hispanic crime family that he has a love/hate relationship with. And everyone knows it. Ray Delgado is one beautifully fleshed out characters, so real that you forget he’s been fabricated for a story.
Quietly intense, and Ray’s equal in power and authenticity is Special Agent Elliot Belkamp. Elliot is out, unlike Ray, and ready to settle down in every aspect of his life. He wants a home after multiple transfers, he wants a life partner, and well, he wants a life and relationship just like his parents have. Elliot is the one holding out for a fairy tale and won’t settle for anything or anyone less. And he’s chosen San Diego as the place to get started on the next phase of his life. Or rather the FBI has with its creation of its new crime syndicate task force based there. Elliot is a far more subtle creature than Ray but just as fascinating. Because as much as they differ, Thomas has also made them alike in some fundamental ways. They believe in family, and the determination to be the best law enforcement officers they can be, no matter the personal costs. They are highly intelligent and thorough. And its that respect they have for each other and their jobs, along with the intense physical attraction they feel that keeps them returning back to each other. A.J. Thomas makes their interplay and attraction real and compelling and she does so through intelligent, sometimes snappy dialog and believable law enforcement procedures where each plays off the other during the course of this convoluted case and investigation.
Elliot and Ray are among the least damaged of the two couples but they still carry plenty of baggage, especially Ray. And that includes the cultural and familial reason Ray has remained in the closet. With just a telling look from a doorman, Ray gets put in his “Hispanic” macho regulated place, and the fear and rationale behind Ray’s closeted status becomes clear. And when Ray finally decides to come exploding out of the closet, it gives the reader even more reason to cheer and celebrate. While Elliot is looking for his fairy tale and determined to get it, Ray is looking for a family to replace the one he lost when he chose being a police officer over the family business. That he finds a deep love surprises him because he never realized how much he wanted it.
Along with these outstanding characters, Thomas has created a cast of just as excellent supporting players. This includes Ray’s captain, Elliot’s boss (a sterling example of a strong woman), Ray’s fellow detectives, and so many more. Each a crystalline portrait of humanity as its best and worst. And yes, there is plenty of the “bad” to be found here, starting with Ray’s cousin Alejandro, a crime boss who could be Ray’s twin and was once as close as a brother to Ray. It’s one compelling character after another, and the situations and events that follow are as complicated and authentic as any in real life.
There will be horror and heartbreak, laughter and tears, revelation and exhilarating surprises for the readers here. I didn’t put this book down until 2 something in the morning. I couldn’t help myself. I had to know how it all ended. And it ended the way it had to, both heartbreaking and deeply satisfying.
I have to admit I have favorites. I love Ray and Elliot better than Christopher Hayes and Doug Heavy Runner. But that said, its a close race so I’m happy when I can get them all together. And that’s coming in the next book in the series, The Intersection of Purgatory and Paradise (Least Likely Partnership, #3). And yes, I have already read and am now ready for more. At least I hope there is more. I’m off to find out. Meanwhile if you are new to this series, start with the first story and work your way through. I know others will say its a stand alone novel, but its so much richer with the back history that the first story represents. I highly recommend this story and the author. She is on my auto buy list and this story is an excellent example why she should be on yours too!
Cover art by Brooke Albrecht. Not a fan of this or any of the covers in this series. I get the darkness, that works. But that model is far too young for Ray, surely there are older hispanic models out there to choose from.
Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press All Romance (ARe) Amazon Buy It Here
ebook, 250 pages
Published May 9th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published May 8th 2014)
ISBN 1627987061 (ISBN13: 9781627987066)
series Least Likely Partnership #2
The Books in the Least Likely Partnership series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the timeline, events and relationships: