Jack of Hearts by Sandra Owens, narrated by Sebastian York & Amy McFadden

lower face and torso of a dark-stubbled hot guy in dark trousers, a white tee and a black leather jacket leaning agains a large picture of a faded Jack of Hearts playing card.Why I read it:  This is one from my own TBL.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Alex Gentry doesn’t scare easily. Working as an undercover FBI agent in the biker bar he and his brothers co-own, he hangs with deadly criminals in order to gather information. Danger is just part of the family business. But one thing has him terrified: his attraction to Madison Parker.

Madison is the cousin of Ramon Alonzo, son and second in command to a notorious drug lord Alex is trying to bust. Alex has befriended Ramon as part of his cover, and Madison has unknowingly become his informant. Falling for her could risk this case—and both their lives.

All Madison wants is to get her new bookstore business off the ground, and for her creepy cousin Ramon—to whom she’s unfortunately indebted—to leave her alone. If she could only stop fantasizing about his mysterious new friend, Alex…

As the Alonzo cartel investigation heats up, so does their relationship. But will the secrets they’re keeping tear them apart—or get them both killed?

What worked for me (and what didn’t):    One has to suspend disbelief a little for the setup of the Aces & Eights series. Three brothers, all in the FBI, run a biker bar in Miami as a cover for their covert investigations. Just how they maintain their cover when they are involved in the take downs of the criminals they catch involves a similar suspension but if one can look past those things (and I could) Jack of Hearts is an enjoyable romantic suspense, with emphasis on the romantic part (right where I like it).

Alex Gentry is the youngest Gentry brother. His mother left him, his two older brothers and his abusive father when Alex was very young. After that, Nate, the eldest Gentry son, took over the mothering and ensured all three of them completed their education and stayed safe from dear old dad. After their dad died, Nate took over the fathering (and did a better job from all accounts) too. The brothers are very close. While Alex understands his mother couldn’t take the boys with her when she left (if she did Mr. Gentry senior would never have let them go) on a head level, on a heart level he struggles with her decision.

Alex is working undercover to bring down the Alonzo drug cartel. Aces & Eights, the biker bar he and his brothers own together is the perfect place to launder some of that drug money and it is this arrangement which will bring about the downfall of the drug dealers in the not too distant future. Ramon Alonzo is the son of the head honcho. Ramon’s cousin, Madison, whom Alex encounters one day at the Alonzo family mansion, is a red-haired beauty who takes after her late father – an investigative reporter who was killed in a hit and run crash in the prologue.

Madison has been fending off unwanted advances from cousin Ramon since she was 15 years old. When Alex and she first meet, Alex’s protective instincts are aroused – Ramon forces a kiss on Madison and Alex steps in.

Alex, of course, has no business getting involved with Madison but he can’t help himself. He can’t stay away. But he can’t tell her he’s FBI and working undercover – both for the secrecy of the mission and for her own protection. What she doesn’t know she cannot reveal – even by accident. But it eats him up that he is deceiving her and he dreads the day she finds out about him.

Madison has some reservations about Alex – he is, after all, hanging out with her despised cousin, Ramon. Madison suspects Ramon and Uncle Jose of being involved in the drug business and if Alex is getting pally with them, maybe he’s not so squeaky clean? However, Madison’s heart knows better and she is irresistibly drawn to Alex in spite of her misgivings.

Madison and her roommate and business partner, Lauren, run High Tea and Black Cat Books. Madison borrowed money from Uncle Jose for her share of the down payment for the business and she is now worried about what Jose and Ramon want from her in return. Madison is paying off the loan with interest but there is already talk of favours owed.

As Alex grows closer to Madison, he also grows closer to taking down her uncle and cousin. While he’s committed to that goal, he doesn’t know if Madison will want anything to do with him afterward.

What else? The last section was the weakest part of the story. As expected, Alex tries to “be noble” (why exactly he thought his actions could be characterised thusly was beyond me) and there was a period where he and Madison were not together. Their rather tortured path to their HEA from there was a little too circuitous for my liking and some of the coincidences and plot machinations were a little too much (and felt a bit less organic than the earlier sections of the story).

But I did like the chemistry between Alex and Madison and I enjoyed their interactions. The suspense plot (with the exception of the above-mentioned caveats) held together well and the narration was very good.I like the balance between romance and suspense in Ms. Owens’ books and I also like that the plots tend to take some time and allow the romantic relationship to grow in a more realistic time frame.

The surprise epilogue which introduces a whole new character got my antennae buzzing as well. Next up is Court’s book and I’m looking forward to finding out exactly what’s behind the sizzle between Madison’s roommate Lauren and Alex’s middle brother. I have an early guess about one of the regulars in the biker bar too.

Overall, Jack of Hearts was a solid romantic suspense story. I don’t mind a little suspension of disbelief if it gives me a satisfying romance and this one delivered.

Grade: B

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