My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’ve been meaning to read Nancy Haviland’s debut release, A Love of Vengeance (Wanted Men #1), for quite sometimes now. I’ve been on the search for some new material after reading another popular mafia book couple of months ago. Well, TBH, it wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, Nancy Haviland’s writing and narration of the story was pretty well-done. But it also had some clichéd stuff that I couldn’t help noticing.
I’ll get to my point soon enough, but on to my review now... Vasily Tarasov, a powerful Russian organized crime leader, aka Mafia Boss, meets up with a very good friend of his, an Italian-American, Gabriel Moore with a request. He needs help. Gabriel is much younger than Vasily but they’ve been closest of friends for a long time. Gabriel seems to be earning legally now but we soon learn that he had his own legacy, and was supposed to have been the original Don of the Italian-American Moretti mafia family. Something pushed Gabriel away. So far he hasn’t shown any interest in those shady dealings, though he still has connections with other mafia bosses around the world. Secretly of course. His elder brother, Stefano, is now the Don, with whom Gabriel doesn’t really have a good relationship. Gabriel’s father was a jerk to whom nothing was more important than their mafia business. He made both Gabriel and Stefano’s lives hell. When he, alongside his wife, were murdered, Gabriel has had enough.
He met Vasily when he was much younger. Vasily has been anything close to a father he’s ever known and Gabriel would do anything for him. So when he confides about a woman he’d loved long ago, and that with her, he’d had a baby, Gabriel is surprised as hell. But he is stunned when Vasily informs him that Katherine has been murdered recently. He knows the culprits so he’s returning to Russia to take care of this mess. While he’s away, he needs someone to protect Eva, his daughter who’s now in her early 20s. And that someone would have to be Gabriel because he trusts no one else to do the job. One look at Eva’s photo and Gabriel is positively vibrating with lust. But he also knows he can’t just ‘have’ her if he wants to because his respect and gratitude for Vasily knows no bound. So even though he’s trying to stay away from all that mafia sh!t, Gabriel agrees to keep an eye on Eva. It was clear that all of his interests weren’t just for the sake of the promise made to his friend. After Vasily’s departure, Gabriel begins keeping eye on her in secret, sometimes by himself, sometimes thru his men, though Eva was totally in the dark about it all.
These first few pages of the story gave me the déjà vu. Russian mafia boss requesting the best man he could think of to protect his long lost daughter who has no idea about her father’s identity? And the guy in turn becomes completely obsessed with the girl? Ring any bell? Fortunately, no matter my grievances, the story turned out to be pretty different with many different characters emerging one by one. When I say ‘many’, I mean it. It took me first 100 pages to get them straight because there was no formal intro to the lives of these men. The information of how they fit in (or not) came gradually with the story, when bits and pieces of their lives were revealed; who was who and how they came to know each-other, their links to each different organizations etc.
Then there was the fact that every single protagonist, even the secondary characters, of the story were gorgeous beyond words. Men are all super tall, big and muscular, while the women are tall and leggy beauties. Yet, personality-wise, they felt somewhat the same to me. The notion of too-many-pretty-faces gets kinda boring after a while if you ask me. I need diversions in my characters. A little less gorgeous would do perfectly fine with me, as much as a short H or h, as long as they have the kind of personality and intelligence to push all my right buttons. I have to say that, so far, none of the characters other than Stefano Moretti stood out to me in any exceptional way (which is why this review is probably going to be a bit Stefano-centric lol). This was one of the big clichés of this book that I simply couldn’t ignore.
Even then, A Love of Vengeance delivered a pretty decent, enjoyable storyline, so back to my review...
Gabriel is an hotelier, pretty big and apparently legit. He has some other ventures as well that he ran with Alek Tarasov, who is also Vasily’s nephew. He had some men at arms like the Asian, Quan or retired army officer, Jak Trisko and the best computer specialist out there, Maksim Kirov. There are more characters and I’ll mention them in my review as needed. Gabriel’s life has so far been smooth, as any good-looking, rich young man. No shortage of privileges or women. He’d also tried his best to ignore the secret side of his life and the ongoing conflict with Stefano. But soon after taking on this new assignment, Gabriel knew his life might not be the same when he begins having all sorts of possessive reactions where Eva was concerned, even when he hadn’t met her in flesh. Something he was about to rectify...
Eva has never known her father, so she’d always thought of him as the jerk that left her and her mother when she was an infant. She thought he didn’t want the responsibility, or maybe, somehow her appearance ruined the ‘fun’ for them. Katherine never spoke of the man, and the mention of him would just make her so morose that at one point, Eva stopped asking. But that didn’t make her feel any less guilty about it. So, she knowledge of who he was or if he even was alive! Eva has just finished her MBA (I think) and has been preparing for internship when Katherine was killed. The whole incident shattered and completely changed Eva’s existence. She’s now all alone, except for Nika, her best friend and Nika’s elder brother, Caleb Paynne, whom she’d also always thought of the brother she never had. Caleb and Nika are also orphans. He’d been very protective of the two; now, after Eva’s sudden loss, even more so.
Eva, who is said to be a tall brunette, is gorgeous, yet she’s very introverted, while Nika, another tall redhead, also gorgeous, is the troublemaker. But she got married suddenly to this man which didn’t seem right to either Eva or Caleb. There’s something wrong in that marriage as Kevin, the husband, watches Nika like a hawk and won’t let her communicate much with anyone. Nika has grown distant and seems like keeping a grave secret. But that’s another can of worm entirely, waiting to be unraveled at the right moment. Or story.
Gabriel finally decides to come forward and ‘meet’ Eva face to face in his own hotel, Crown Jewel, where she was attending a party; his main target is to see her up close, in flesh. He’d also introduce himself to her, thought not everything. Eva once saw Gabriel couple of days ago when she got this sudden job offer and went for an interview, not knowing the whole thing was staged by him, yet she remembered him because he was, of course, oh-so-handsome. She had no idea about her heritage, so it was up to Gabriel to slowly break things to her. After the intro and slight flirtation, Eva comes under apparent attack out in the garden which leaves her shaken and confused. Gabriel rescues her and from the interrogation, he learned who’s behind this; Stefano, his vengeful elder brother.
It’s then we get to learn more about Stefano and Gabriel’s not-so-complicated relationship. It was known that the brothers couldn’t stand the sight of each-other. We were already introduced to Stefano and his men Furio and Vincente when he paid a visit to Caleb’s house. They also found Eva there, dropping off some stuff since she was moving to back to Seattle for the above mentioned job offer. Eva thought Stefano handsome but his eyes looked cold and dead; there was no spark of life there. I instantly got interested in him, wanting to get to know him better. Thankfully, the author doesn’t disappoint in the details. There were scenes with Stefano’s monologues that I truly appreciated, much as Gabriel’s and Eva’s (and great many other characters... I have to say it should’ve been even more confusing but after 100 or so pages, I caught on with all the characters). Stefano wasn’t Albert Moretti’s natural son but the product of violence that was done to his mother when she was young. Moretti married her pregnant with a promise to take care of the baby. That promise was broken as soon as Gabriel, the ‘real’ heir to the Moretti Mafia dynasty was born. Albert Moretti the SOB never bothered to hide his distaste for Stefano due to the circumstances of his birth. He also NEVER ceased to remind Stefano that he’s a simple nobody. That he should leave the family ASAP. Imagine that all of a sudden, one day, the man you knew to be your father saying these things on your face. Poor thing. :( Needless to say, Stefano’s mother had no say in any of it, or anything in her life for that matter, though she was murdered with her husband just because she was married to him.
A young Gabriel didn’t know what was going on between his elder brother and his father. I found it hard to believe that he never found out the truth from any sources, ever?! Stefano was bitter as hell and hated Gabriel and everything else that has made his life hell. He was a bit of a bully to Gabriel when they were young. But all hell broke loose the day Gabriel drove a van full of explosives to a warehouse to blow it off, to appease his father’s constant nagging for him to become a real part of their legacy; to understand his responsibilities and become the true heir. He was just completing an order without questioning anything, but in this accident Stefano’s fiancée, whom he loved very much, was killed. This just ruined any chance the brothers might’ve had for reconciliation. Stefano left, so did Gabriel because he felt guilty and wanted no part of it anymore. But when Albert was murdered, Stefano returned to take the reign. He has been the leader of the gang ever since.
The day when his fiancée was killed, Stefano promised to Gabriel that someday, when he falls in love, Stefano would be back to take revenge. To make him feel what he has been going through. Gabriel took the threat literally and cut all ties with Stefano. He’d since established himself as a corporate head with legit business. Then last year, 3 women he’d been with turned up dead in a few days of their association. Gabriel had been pretty sure it’s all Stefano’s doing, to teach him the lesson he’d warned him about. But when we read Stefano’s side of the story, we find that he is NOT guilty of those murders. Instead, he thought that Gabriel was responsible for those murders to put all the blame on him! At that point, I didn’t know what to think of Stefano, though I really wanted him to NOT turn out to be the cold-hearted criminal everyone in and around Gabriel thought him to be. He was as alone in the world as a man can be and I felt so much for him. So this revelation came as a surprise, as well as a relief. After that, I got more interested in the story because it was as clear as daylight that someone, possibly who can fool them both, is pulling all the strings from behind, doing everything so that the brothers are kept apart. That they continue hating each-other...
Regrettably, Gabriel and Eva’s relationship didn’t quite hold my interest. It was pretty predictable (the gorgeous mafia boss falls for the gorgeous mafia boss’s daughter). I had hard time believing Eva to be such an introvert shy girl who had always managed to be the center of attention for her looks! She may have wanted nothing to do with men (oh yah, she turned out to be a virgin too!) because of the notion she had of her father, but so shy like a school girl? And regardless Eva’s no-man policy, they fall into bed pretty soon in the story, making their relationship rather apparent. Eva gets the job next day, daydreaming away about her first time, only to find Gabriel at the boss’s chair. Then she’s mad, though she can’t help noticing his hard body and drool over it. *eye-roll* She refuses to work with him for a while since she’d slept with him, yet she’d equally find it difficult (again) to hold onto her own words seeing Gabriel jealous over Caleb or any other men coming near her. She was still in completely oblivious about the drama that was being played behind her, even though she was the central character in it.
I also didn’t find Gabriel to be the strong, intense man that he should’ve been. Insta-lust was pretty obvious from both sides, but there was very little on the side of real, heart-melting romance. At least not until the last few chapters.
Stefano’s man Furio has tried coming at Eva a few times, warning her about Gabriel’s ‘perversions’. When, in her own home which she once shared with her mother, Eva gets injured in one of those scuffles, Gabriel is determined to keep her with him all times of the day. Which means, she’ll have to move in with him in his suits in Crown Jewel. Eva tries to put up some objection but she was also coming to rely on Gabriel’s strength. Not knowing why she’s being targeted and what an apparent businessman like Gabriel might be involved in with the mafia, Eva felt ever so confused that she finally gives in.
Gabriel tries to explain to Eva about Stefano and the side of the story he knew of. To his defense, Stefano also had Eva’s goodwill in mind and was trying to warn her thru his incompetent men of the side of the same history he was aware of. As I said before, both saw each-other as villains that needed to be deal with ASAP, not knowing the string that was being pulled from behind. Gabriel doesn’t tell Eva about Vasily’s presence until things begin going downhill. After that, Eva gets angry and decides to leave. But Gabriel won’t have any of it, though learning about Vasily and exactly why he left them so long ago works wonders on Eva’s negative impressions on her father. She has a pretty quick change of mind, and now is eager to see him in flesh for the first time in her life. She’s also super happy to learn that Alek is her cousin, discovering more of the close tie of blood that she never thought existed beyond her mother’s affection.
However, Eva’s not so happy to learn of Caleb’s part in all, knowing he was secretly keeping an eye on her on behalf of Gabriel. Caleb is the member of an MC club, the Obsidian Devils, and thru the club he had connections with the mafia. He knew almost everyone in Gabriel’s team, including Vincente, whom I initially thought to be Stefano’s man. He turns out to be a close friend of Gabriel, Alek and Maksim; a spy instilled in Stefano’s group to collect intel on him. Which is how Gabriel would keep a step ahead of Stefano and fool him. Stefano knew he had a snitch but never was quite sure who it was until it was too late. TBH, since I really was cheering for Stefano, when Vincente leaves him in the midst of trouble, sending notes to the other guys to ditch him to join the ‘true boss’ of the Moretti family, my regards (if I had any) for him went down. Stefano trusted Vincente completely and shared his plans with him regularly, so this was a big blow to him. I felt his hurt, a little bewilderment alongside the anger and hatred because he genuinely regarded Vincente as a friend. Mixing it up with a lifetime of rejection and betrayal... yah, my heart broke for him. :( After that he had no other choice but to basically rely on Furio, who was as mean and capable an assassin as they come. Though he wanted a resolution to this lifetime of hatred, I never thought Stefano actually wanted to hurt either Eva or Gabriel. Yet, since Gabriel was pretty sure Stefano was behind everything, he was planning his elder brother’s demise from his tightly secured hotel, with a big team of capable men who’d joined him over time to help in the mission.
When thing begin heating up, Vasily returns and the father and the daughter share an awkwardly emotional moment. Knowing about him prior to the meeting helps Eva welcome her father with a genuine smile and a hug. Vasily, though ecstatic over the reunion, wasn’t happy about Gabriel nailing Eva in his absence. Even Gabriel knew this can become nasty. He was supposed to take care of her, not shag her when her father’s back was turned! But by then, he knew that he wanted Eva beyond a few days of sex and a seasonal fling. With that, he was also planning to ask for Eva’s hand, if Vasily would allow and if she’d have him. But first, he needs to take care of his brother once and for all.
I was waiting with bated breath to read the moment when the truth would be revealed and the brother could see how they’ve been played all along. I was also a bit worried for a while that Stefano would turn out to be a villain nonetheless, to be removed conveniently from the story and from Gabriel’s path to becoming the Don. That would’ve been superbly disappointing. But I’d like to thank the author for not taking that route, and keeping my hopes alive for Stefano’s book at one point in the series. From the blurbs, I know that the next 2 books are of Vincente’s and Maksim’s, so it seems that I have to wait. *sigh*
The climax of the story wasn’t as mind-blowing, though I was still moved by Stefano and Eva’s very honest conversation for the first time since they met. She was kidnapped by Furio to lure Gabriel to them, yet Stefano’s original plan remained the same; to warn Eva off Gabriel’s supposed perversions. But after that conversation, Eva learns just how much of a broken man Stefano was, and just how badly he was treated all his life. I don’t condone the violence done by any of these mafia men but Eva made me proud by being on Stefano’s side, later, when the villain comes out thinking he’s won the game. But Gabriel and his team burst in to save the day. As he lies injured and unconscious, without the means of defending himself, Eva makes Gabriel promise to take care of Stefano and not just leave him there to die.
Sadly, Stefano disappears right afterwards, without leaving any clues to where he’d gone. Gabriel takes up on his long overdue responsibilities to his family’s legacy. He finally leaves all pretenses behind and becomes the Don. He’s also getting his girl, so no surprises there. I welcomed the fact that, after hearing everything about Stefano, he has had a change of heart where his brother was concerned and maybe, there’s still hope left for a reconciliation.
In conclusion, have to say that I find myself being more attached to the lives of these characters now than when I initially began. Though Vincente was more in the background and didn’t feel like someone who’d have his story so soon in the series, I’m still very eager to discover what surprises The Salvation of Vengeance holds. 3.5 stars, with a hope that this series would get better with each installment.