Title: Armed & Dangerous (Cut & Run #5)
Author: Abigail Roux
Cover Artist: Mara McKennen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Novel/330 PDF pages/103 K words
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
Review Summary: Set against a high octane, nail biting, hang-on-to-the-seat-of-your-pants murder mystery and action/adventure, this book is aptly named as our heroes try to stay ahead of their prisoner and a savvy and cunning master manipulator who takes no prisoners.
Left alone in Baltimore after his unpredictable lover bails, Special Agent Zane Garrett takes his frustration out on everything in his path until he is ordered to Chicago to back up an undercover operative. When he gets there, though, he finds himself face to face with his wayward partner, Special Agent Ty Grady. They have to deal with the uncertainty lingering between them while they work to retrieve their intended mark, a retired hit man and CIA wet-works operative named Julian Cross.
Ty, once a Marine and now an FBI hotshot, has a penchant for being unpredictable, a trait Zane can vouch for. Zane is a man who once lived for his job but has come to realize his heartbreaking past doesn’t have to overshadow his future. They’re partners, friends, lovers, and the go-to team for unusual cases. With Cross and his innocuous boyfriend, Cameron Jacobs, in tow, Ty and Zane must navigate the obstacles of a cross-country trek, including TSA pat-downs, blizzards, their uncooperative prisoners, CIA kill teams, a desperate lack of sleep and caffeine, and each other. Ty and Zane are determined to get Julian Cross to DC in one piece, but it’s starting to look like it might be the last thing they do
Whenever I pick up a new book in this series I lower my expectations and tell myself not to assume it will live up to the previous stories, which were all standouts for me. This time I was more apprehensive because, for the first time, Abigail Roux was flying solo and I didn’t know how Special Agent Zane Garrett’s character, previously written by Madeleine Urban, would turn out. I’m happy to say that my fears were groundless as I LOVED Armed & Dangerous just as much as the other stories and I thought that it was a fine piece of writing, possibly Abigail’s best work. With regard to Zane, there were a few differences in his characterization – while he’s just as complex and flawed as before, his vulnerability about his feelings for his partner was very evident throughout the book, but he seemed tougher and more resolute although I thought he was a lot more fun.
The first thing I noticed was how romantic the first couple of chapters were compared to Fish & Chips and Divide & Conquer. There were many public displays of affection by Ty (perhaps he was trying to apologise to Zane for leaving him) and expressions of love between the MCs that I rarely saw before. The tenderness when they were in bed was so palpable that it was like a living thing. A few of the love scenes were filled with what I would call an uncharacteristically desperate closeness, which would make sense because this book started only a few days after Ty left at the end of Divide & Conquer, so Zane’s feelings were still raw and he was emotionally bereft.
Although there was no place Zane wanted to be other than in Ty’s arms, he also wanted answers, and Ty tried desperately to make Zane understand why at times he had no control over his actions which would seem irrational to everyone but himself. Here is their first attempt to discuss what happened:
“You just left,” Zane said, and he made no effort to hide his upset.
Ty glanced around the terminal, then looked back at Zane and flopped his hands.
“I had to. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s just sometimes it feels like… like the world is shrinking around me. Like if I don’t get out and away that it’ll catch me and crush me. And I know that sounds stupid, but it’s a real feeling and I panic. I woke up that morning and I just had to go.
“Next time …. next time I need to go, will you go with me?”
“I love you. I will always be yours, Zane — no matter where I am or where you are. I promise you that.”
Zane’s response – “You grovel pretty damn well”
Ty has always been my favourite MC in this series and Armed & Dangerous reinforced my affection for him because he’s so out of control, with a myriad of serious emotional issues that he can’t talk about regardless how much he wants to. Zane’s insecurities about whether Ty will stay this time are slowly forcing these issues to the fore because if they didn’t repair their personal relationship they would have to move on. Ty is always dangerous and unpredictable, never at ease, while Zane is his polar opposite – unflappable and in control, except when Ty is injured.
This fifth book was a turning point and a major milestone in the series which was at the stage where it was either going to be memorable or stagnate, and the author made a bold move by giving readers never-before-seen insights into Zane’s and Ty’s psyche and emotions.
Julian Cross and Cameron Jacobs from Warrior’s Cross return as an integral element of the plot. Ty and Zane are dispatched by Assistant Director Burns to find Julian and bring him back to Washington, by force, so that he could save one of Burn’s CIA friends and a former Marine Corps buddy who was accused of murdering many of his colleagues. However, someone is determined that Julian will never reach D.C., and murder and mayhem ensue. Ty and Zane will have to stay ahead of everyone who is intent on murdering Cross, and deliver their prisoner alive to Burns.
I thought that the mystery was well executed and the take-down of the perpetrator was exciting as well as an adrenaline rush. I always knew that Abigail Roux was a good writer but I didn’t realize until this book how well she layers her characters and scenes. Here she leads her readers down several paths to confound them and preserve the mystery until the big reveal.
I have read many books where the characters evolve and grow and this growth is very evident in Armed & Dangerous as Ty and Zane make adjustments in their relationship that are sure to cause ripples in the future. The love between them is like a beacon to which they are irresistibly drawn, and most of Zane’s fears about Ty’s commitment to him are laid to rest as secrets are revealed about what makes Ty the way he is – flawed, restless, driven, always looking in the rear view mirror, short on trust, but loyal to a fault to those who have earned his trust. But maybe some secrets should remain buried.
The characterizations in this story are impeccably drawn and the writing is top notch. There were many highlights but for me one of the standouts was Ty vs Julian Cross. The constant power plays between them to see who would blink first exhausted me. Ty and Cross had so many common personality traits they rubbed each other the wrong way throughout the story, but in the end there was a grudging respect as they went through hell together and came out still standing and breathing. One pairing I still don’t get 3 years later is Julian and his lover Cameron, even though Cameron is a lot less whiny and a little more assertive in A & D. I also couldn’t figure out why Ty and Zane kept referring to Cameron as “the kid” – he’s their age, I think – maybe it’s a size thing!.
There were countless funny lines in the book, even stoic Julian got into the action after one of his bouts with Ty:
“Agent Grady just needed a cuddle. And possibly a piece of my spleen.”
For my money, the success of this plot is due mainly to the author’s brilliant decision to pit Ty and Zane (well mostly Ty) against Julian Cross, a charismatic and tough retired killer who challenged them at every turn. Adding to this strategy are the other characters who return, heightening the excitement and increasing the complexity of the story: Ty’s brother Deuce, Julian’s right hand man Preston who is really hot, Ty’s former Recon buddy Nick who is still in love with him, and Blake – Julian’s friend and former partner in crime. I have to hand it to Ms Roux, she sure knows how to put her characters through the wringer and I’m not talking about their emotions. If you think that the tone of this book seems different after you read it, IMO that’s because the author focused a lot more on the evolving relationship between Ty and Zane than in past stories.
My somewhat biased opinion of Armed & Dangerous goes like this: A believable plot; Ty and Zane at their absolute best; an incredibly smart perpetrator who is always one step ahead and will do everything he can, including committing multiple murders, to eliminate the one person who could put him behind bars forever; a charming, suave, enigmatic, street smart former hit man who gave the impression of always being in control of the situation despite being handcuffed during most of the book; a supporting cast of characters who almost steal the show seemingly effortlessly; two vicious cats that were Julian’s revenge on Ty; and a great ending with fireworks.
A worthy sequel to Divide & Conquer.
Bring on Book no. 6 – Stars & Stripes. Here’s a preliminary blurb:
Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have managed the impossible; a few months of peace and quiet. After nearly a year of personal and professional turmoil, things have finally settled down. They’re living together with no conflict, their work is going smoothly, and they’re both happy, healthy, and home every night before dark. Anyone who knows them well knows it couldn’t possibly last.
When an emergency call from home upsets the balance of their carefully arranged world, Ty and Zane find themselves dealing with family drama, a perplexing crime, and a helpless victim to save before time runs out. From the mountains of West Virginia to a remote ranch in Texas that harbors more than just Zane’s past, Ty and Zane must face their fears to overcome an unlikely enemy.