Skin Game is solid. Very solid. But based on many glowing reviews and the intriguing blurb on the back of the book, I expected something a little more intense and a little more captivating. The characters are interesting enough, the love story is believable, but lacking the oomph that would have made the story a keeper.
Kyra Beckwith is a girl on the run. She and her father were small-time hustlers, traveling across the US and conning men out of their money. Her father decided to try to make it big in Vegas, and soon Kyra found her father dying in an alley, courtesy of Gerard Serrano, one of the most ruthless casino owners on the strip. She vowed to get revenge on Serrano, and did - she made him fall madly in love with her. Intending to marry her, Serrano gave her absolute power in the casino, and the night he left for business, she immediately broke the house, cashed in all her chips and ran. It helped that Kyra has a special ability: whenever she physically touches someone, she temporarily gains their skills. At the casino, she only had to touch the right people, and she immediately became a skilled gambler.
Now she has millions of dollars, and is waiting for her friend Mia to come home so they can cross the border safely. Meanwhile, she has to lay low, and spends the time driving to little towns and going to local bars to cheat arrogant guys out of a few bucks. She has the bad feeling that Serrano has sent someone out to get her, and she's right - he's hired Reyes, an assassin with the perfect record.
Reyes trails her for a little while, and when he sees her get into a little trouble during a hustle, he comes to her aid. He begins to get the feeling that something’s wrong: she’s nothing like the cold, ruthless woman Serrano described. He makes her take him along for a ride, and she agrees, thinking that she might spend the night with him and then sneak away as he sleeps. Too bad for her that he has no intention of letting her get away. Eventually, Kyra reluctantly decides that a partner in crime might be useful. They develop a fast friendship, and it soon becomes clear to Reyes that Serrano's information on Kyra was a total lie - it's obvious that Kyra loved her father, and didn't kill him for money. Meanwhile, it seems like there are more hit men after her, and Reyes decides to place his loyalty her and figure out what's going on. And, of course, there’s the teeny little problem of telling her that he was the one sent to kill her.
Surprisingly, I was not feeling the urgency or tension throughout much of the story. A lot of time was devoted to the falling-in-love, which was (also surprisingly) standard, and happened much sooner than expected. Reyes falls for Kyra quickly, trusts her quickly, and decides to help her quickly. I expected this would-be assassin to have a little more internal conflict about falling in love with a hit so speedily. Instead, they spend a lot of time talking about their respective dysfunctional childhoods, discovering that they're kindred spirits. Which was sweet enough, but typical.
Kyra is a generally nice girl; which makes things a little uninteresting when it comes to conflict, only because she usually chooses the very reasonable thing to do. She’s used to dealing with one-nighters, but there’s something about Reyes that makes her want to keep him around. I actually began feeling sorry for her, because she’s had a pretty lousy life; she’s like a poster child for broken homes. Forced to live a life on the road, she’s used to eating junk food. When Reyes cooks her a real meal, she’s touched beyond words. She’s surprisingly trusting; I suppose it is refreshing that she doesn't deal with artifice - she is true to her feelings and owns up to them. Reyes is also scarily normal for a killer. Seriously, if I weren't told at the onset that he's an assassin with a perfect record and that she's a petty thief, I'd have thought that these were just two small-town people falling in love.
My main issue with the story, besides the general lack of impetus, was the way Kyra’s magical ability was handled. This may not be a problem for anyone else, but it bothered me that it was handled so cavalierly. She doesn’t know why she has it, how it works, how long it lasts, etc. It’s just…there. It doesn’t even have much of a role in the story; just there enough to be vaguely “paranormal” and then disappears until the end. After a while, her power stops working on Reyes, and she isn’t sure why. Frankly, I think it stops working on him so the author can write intimate love scenes without having Kyra experience the negative after-effects of her power.
I thought the secondary characters were pretty good. Serrano, the bad guy, is definitely pitiable. He truly fell in love with Kyra, and wrote her supremely cheesy poetry on his computer – I had to feel a little bad for this guy. Foster, Serrano’s right hand man, was ten times more interesting than Reyes. He has all the makings of a hugely tortured hero, and his suspicious disappearance in the book suggests a sequel. I hope so.
Maybe I came to Skin Game with wrong expectations, because I definitely ended the story on a disappointed note. This is a book that I liked after reading – the more I thought about it, the better I thought it was. It lacked excitement for me, but I’ll definitely read the next one, just to get some answers about Foster.
-- Emma Leigh
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