My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Nancy Haviland’s The Salvation of Vengeance is the book 2 of her Mafia romance series, Wanted Men. I’ve read book 1, A Love of Vengeance, which was an OK read all over, a bit too clichéd for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, the author has potentials, and she really likes storytelling, that much is apparent. Finished book 1 with wanting to know more, but I wished less of those clichéd stuff that dulled my interest level quite a bit.
Wanted Men series that has many casts of characters who are taking shape with each installment. You get to know them as they are introduced in the storyline, pretty much on the go. There’s no background upfront, so you’re left to contemplate their past that are only hinted at.
Book 1 was about Gabriel Moretti, the now Mafia boss of the Moretti family. He and his half-brother, Stefano, had bad blood between them, which (and also the deeds of his asshole of a father), made Gabriel leave his dynasty to eke out a living on legit ventures. He didn’t know about Stefano being his half-brother at that time, also the fact that Stefano was verbally abused by his father since he was a kid; something that resulted into a bone deep, long-lasting hatred. When big Russian mafia boss, and his closest friend and ally, Vasily Tarasov tells Gabriel a secret about his past and an existing daughter, Eva, who needs to be taken care of while he searches and avenges her mother who was killed a few months ago, Gabriel is in deep sh!t. He didn’t wanna babysit but would do anything for Vasily, whom he has always seen as a replacement father of sort. But his interest intensifies when he sees Eva’s photo and falls head over heels in lust. Eva didn’t know her father existed at all, until when she gets involved with Gabriel and is forced to come face to face with her own legacy. That she’s the daughter of a mafia boss.
Pretty straightforward storyline, though I found Eva-Grabriel’s relationship quite boring. I didn’t believe in their ‘love’ as much as I felt their ‘lust’ for each-other. I mean everybody in that book is gorgeous from top to bottom, all tall model-like people and filthy rich with Mafia money. There’s even an MC that I’ll mention in the review of book 2. TBH, I had a tough time connecting with anyone. The only character that remotely interested me was Stefano, and his dark and cold eyes; who was still tortured by the murder of who he thought was the love of his life, only to come to learn in the end that she was two-timing him with a sleezebag. That everything was a setup. Nothing gets worse for a man than this! I wanted to know more about him, though, unfortunately, there’s still no book for Stefano.
Vincente Romani was one of Stefano’s man for the half of book 1, on someone Stefano relied on a lot. Thought of as a friend. And cruelly enough, he didn’t know that Vincente was also Gabriel’s spy, that he thought Gabriel is the ‘real’ boss of the Moretti family so he was moving information to him secretly so that Gabriel stays a step ahead of Stefano in their skirmishes. When things begin to get rough, Vincente simply ditches Stefano to be a part of Gabriel’s gang once more, where he becomes his underboss as soon as he joins. Some man huh? TBH, didn’t like Vincente all that much so I didn’t know what to expect in his book.
Nika Paynne is Eva’s BFF. Her older brother, Celeb, a member of the Obsidian Devil’s MC (ODMC), is also a friend and protector of both girls since their teens. Nika and Caleb are orphans, though Eva is now reunited with her long-lost father. While Eva was the bookish one who didn’t want to drag any attention to herself, Nika was portrayed as a wild, party going girl, having loads of men in the past, until one day she swiftly marries this guy, Kevin, who is not at all her type. He’s not good-looking, neither seems smart or witty. He rather gives everyone the creepy vibe. No one knew why she married him so suddenly. Anyone asking would get Nika’s back or a stern warning voicing that she didn’t wanna talk about it. It was hinted at that Kevin controls her with iron-fist and won’t let her even see Caleb or Eva; the two most important person in her life. This left both worried but they could do nothing when it seemed Nika has chosen her life’s path. But was that what it really was?
There was no hint that Nika and Vicente would be paired in book 1, so I was surprised to find it to be the case at the beginning of book 2, where it was shown that they’d already met and shared a scorching kiss, which marked them into each-other’s minds. And for good. Nika was totally scared of Kevin, and the reasons we finally come to learn when we read quite a graphic description of her physical abuse, in plain words, the brutal beating she was getting from that a$$hole. It was gut-wrenching to read, yet equally left me baffled as to why she was even enduring this? Why not seek help from Caleb, or even Gabriel now that he’s a part of their growing family?
The answer comes next quite easily. Kevin has acquired a tape holding some damning evidence against Caleb that will surely see him to jail, serving life. He wanted to be a part of ODMC but was rebuffed by the members. On top of that, there was Nika’s rejection when they first met. From there, Kevin became obsessed with Nika and quite determined to exact revenge. That tape came pretty handy in getting his first wish; Nika for his own. When you read Kevin’s ramblings, you know he’s mad. Utterly, utterly insane because his words don’t make sense. This moment it’s as if he loves and wants Nika like no one else, the next something triggers his violence that his words would slur and he’s beating the sh!t out of her. I was amazed to find that after all that beating, Nika had no permanent injury somewhere in her body because those sounded pretty vicious to me! I was shocked and disgusted but would give the author the kudos for portraying something like that with a great deal of authenticity.
I knew the story would basically center around Nika’s sad life and her subsequent escape from it, if she ever manages to get there. She was depressed, haunted, not knowing what to do, until the chance presented itself at Eva’s wedding to Gabriel. Nika travelled to Seattle from New York to attend, Kevin in tow (unsurprising since he doesn’t let her out of sight). Somehow, Kevin refuses to attend the wedding, sneering something dirty about it. It was Nika’s chance, on which she has to act. She needs to find that USB stick with the copy of that tape and run for her life. At first try, she fails to find it so she leaves for the ceremony.
At the wedding, seeing Vincente again, makes Nika weak at the knees. She wanted him but knew it’ll never happen. Not as long Kevin’s holding that tape over her head. But somehow both Caleb and Vincente end up seeing the bruises in her body that Nika took great efforts to hide. Questions and inquiries come tumbling out of two men, which she couldn’t, wouldn’t answer. Then, after Kevin’s threat over phone, she sneaks out of the house to her doom. At that motel, Kevin again beats her to bloody pulp for being late in answering his call and reaching the motel. But this time, Vincente has followed her and catches Kevin red handed in the act. Though he manages to injure that rat, he scurries out and escapes. The same can’t be said about Nika though, who was so bloody by that time that anyone there had trouble recognizing her. Caleb is in utter shock, Vincente is boiling in anger. What the hell is that? Why Nika has been going through this sh!t without asking for any help? But first, they need to take care of her injury, so Vincente insists taking her to their house.
The ‘home’ of these guys is a big house full of separate apartments, where the men i.e. Gabriel, Alek (Vasily’s nephew, Eva’s cousin, Gabriel’s partner in their company TorMor), Vincente, aforementioned Underboss, the computer guru and all around playboy Maksim, also their bodyguard Quan and a few others live. It’s a pretty tight-knit family of mixed background and origins; a hub of all of their actions. They also help each-other when needed without questions. They even have a standby hospital where Dr. Tegan rules. She’s a friend of the men and has a good relationship with them. Vincente takes Nika to Tegan who decides she’d need immediate surgery.
For the next few days, while Nika recovered, Vincente starts avoiding that place. He begins living in another apartment quite far away. It’s all because he was living a nightmare all over again. He saw the shocked and miserable face of Caleb, where the guilt was etched upon for failing to properly protect his sister. What elder brother want to go through that nightmare? Vincente knew that expression because, at one time, it belonged to him when he failed to protect his younger sister Sophia from a gang of traffickers. It happened a long time ago and all them where young. By ‘them’ I mean Vincente, Gabriel, Maksim, who knew Sophia; they’ve been together for that long. After his parents perished, he was all that Sophia had left. She could wrap her older brother around her pretty fingers... After her abduction, it took Vincente a year to find her drugged and abused body in the morgue. The pain, misery and the guilt never left him in the intervening years. It may subside a little but never goes away, so Vincente only hoped that Caleb pulled through this. Nika’s situation only brought back those painful memories, and Vincente is again struck down by guilt. He decides that he’d take care of Kevin, with or without Caleb or his brothers’ help but he’d leave Nika alone, even though he wanted her very much. Really, what can a guy like him offer her but more pain and blood?
This though, hurts Nika, who was hoping for a glimpse of Vincente. She was already feeling the misery of Caleb knowing what she’d done and endured all that year. That’s what she wanted to avoid in the first place for crying out loud, but now they all know about it anyway! But is she safe from Kevin? Nika knows that she might not be safe from him, but she can’t live with Gabriel and Eva for long. She craves the independent woman she was before her life got entangled in this misery. So when Vincente fails to show up after a few weeks and she’s sufficiently cured, Nika requests Gabriel to help her for a bit, until she finds a job.
Now, Gabriel plays a role to get her and Vincente together. He gives her the key to Vincente’s apartment to stay the duration, something Nika didn’t know. But it works as they finally see each-other again. Vincente is of course not happy, but mostly because she was alone without much protection. Though Gabriel send out men to watch over her, you can guess, Vincente preferred keeping close watch that only he can provide. He won’t let anyone else come close to Nika but he won’t respond to their attraction either. Not properly at any case. They’d kiss and fool around a bit, then he’d push her away not citing the reason. It only serves to hurt Nika’s self-esteem, who thought Vincente maybe was disgusted by her mistakes. That he may not find her that attractive enough. Eh, talking would’ve solved that problem, yet both seemed to have problem doing exactly that. One would surmise all sort of wrong conclusions from the other’s actions. It became a bit tedious after a while, also frustrating.
At that point, we meet some new characters; one would be Detective Lorenzo who has been working on the case of a new serial killer that seemed to have been killing redheaded prostitutes around a certain area. Where Nika is living at the moment. Vincente and the rest of the guys were also acquainted with Lorenzo, though in secret, and exchanged information and help as required. After the news of the serial killer spread and increasingly seemed like it’s the rat they’ve been after, Vincente decides to live with Nika for her protection. I still don’t know when everybody knew about this killer, how come Nika was completely oblivious of the news?! I mean in this age of TV and internet? Either way, after a while, both return to the other home, where all the guys live closely for better protection. They were making good, if slow, progress on Kevin’s trail, definitely not enough to make Vincente happy. Caleb was also helping out, but it was apparent that he was still in a state of shock.
When it seemed that both Vincente or Nika can’t be strung any tighter than they already were due to this constant push and pull, Gabriel (and Maksim too) go for a brotherly chat, telling Vincente that maybe he needs to take a step back and give this a chance. Even if for a fling only to get each-other out of the system. Either way, being separated wasn’t helping. They all were expecting these two to end up in bed any day, as if it was that inevitable. Vincente has already told Nika quite a bit about his past and Sophia’s tragic death, garnering her sympathy and adoration. They probably only needed that push from the guys. And when they do, both find that they can’t keep their hands off each-other.
The ending was rather predictable with the big climax but I enjoyed it. Though the Kevin business is taken care of, Maksim does something wrong in the shootout that pretty much shoves him into a kind of a dark place. Though he’s the ultimate manwhore of the bunch, I already knew that he has a past with some really bad stuff happening to him. I don’t know what to think of that bar owner, Sydney from Australia (really? LOL), who, in all intent and purpose, will be his match. Maksim did pursue her for a while because she’s so gorgeous to look at (*yawn*) and was rebuffed thoroughly. Personally, I didn’t feel any chemistry anywhere so not sure if they’d work for me. Regrettably, there’s still no news of Stefano. Apart from him, I also like Caleb, so would like to find out more about both men.
I’ll probably pick up the next installment, An Obsession with Vengeance, if only to read about the progress of the lives of the other characters or to be introduced to a few more new ones. I have to say that I’ve come to care for these characters and wanna continue knowing them better. 3.5 stars.
This ARC was set as 'read now', courtesy of Montlake Romance, via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.