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REVIEW: Skin Game by Ava Gray

Dear Ms. Gray (aka Ms. Aguirre):

0425231534.01.LZZZZZZZIn reviewing my emails (because my memory, as you know, is terribly spotty), I see I received the book for review from you. I had enjoyed Grimspace and heard that this book was fresh for the romance genre and it is. Kyra is a grifter, working with her father, until he is beaten and left for dead by a casino owner named Serrano. Kyra runs a long con on Serrano, not just to take his money, but to humiliate him. She does this by learning what Serrano likes and transforms herself into the perfect woman, luring him in, and then ultimately humiliating him by gambling away his engagement ring, taking his money, and publicly admitting she just dated him for the money.

Serrano has his security guy hire a hitman to retrieve the money and kill Kyra, in that order. Reyes is one of the best but he’s a hitman with scruples. He is meticulous about who he kills and for whom he kills. He agrees to take down Kyra because she allegedly killed her father. A woman that kills her father needs killing herself in Reyes’ mind. Foster, the guy who hired Reyes, didn’t have a long history with Reyes and so it seemed a little farfetched that Reyes would just accept the “report” given to him, as if that was sufficient to whitewash his kill. Reyes is set up, curiously, as a one man judgment squad. He decides if you are worthy of taking out based on the information provided and he takes you out. Reyes realizes later he’s been lied to by Foster by I wondered how often he has been lied to. It’s not something Reyes even considers.

Kyra and Reyes have convenient morals. Kyra only screws over bad people and Reyes usually only kills bad men. Bad being relative here. They both don’t like drug dealers and at one point burn down a meth lab. Later they take a bad drunk/drug dealer on the side for a little con. Like many cons or morally ambiguous characters, they are good people to the core. Their justifications somehow make them all good. Whether that’s a realistic view of things or not, it’s how the story is played. And for all Kyra’s “wickedness” as Rey would put it affectionately, she still reads fairly innocent.

Admittedly, Reyes is pretty heartless. There is some sort of perverseness in Reyes character that he would have sex with someone he planned to kill. Later in the story, we are shown a real streak of ruthlessness. In the end, Reyes loves only Kyra. She’s his lodestone, and, I imagine serves as his conscience in the future.

There were other things that niggled such as Kyra so easily accepting Reyes as a partner. For someone who was on the run, this seemed improbable and quite stupid. She never even once thought that Serrano was out to get her; that Reyes somehow just so coincidentally shows up in two backwater towns hundreds of miles apart.

The sexual tension is really well done and after a wild romp in the bed, Kyra considers whether to break her no second night rule. It’s inevitable that she will, but the delicious tension that overlays the wait adds spice to the story. I was surprised at how sexy the book was but it fit with the danger. The adrenaline rode the two of them hard, particularly after a fight. I thought the romance was particularly well down. You really see how these two fit together.

They both knew each other’s flaws. I think this is why the con/killer setup worked so well. Neither was a deceived innocent.

Reyes ground his teeth. Something dark and primitive swept over him at hearing this asshole practice his sloppy endearments on her. It was all Reyes could do not to punch the son of a bitch in the face, which told him he had a problem. No wonder she’d played Serrano-‘and so well. Kyra was a pro, all right, well schooled in manipulating a man’s emotions. And that made him twice the fool-‘because even knowing what she did, he found himself susceptible.

Toward the latter half of the book, it really lights up. Kyra and Reyes fall for each other. For some reason Kyra begins to trust Reyes. For Reyes, Kyra is like no other. Her gift for the con, her matching scruples, her wicked ways all allow him to dream of a perfect kind of marriage, not in the white dress church style, but of the matching of hearts and souls.

As the two travel along, Kyra biding her time and Reyes trying to figure out if he kills her or scotches his perfect reputation and throws in with her, the story grows darker and darker. Kyra and Reyes are some kind of Bonnie and Clyde with the bad guys trailing them making things worse and worse. When the truth comes out on both ends, Reyes realizes how close to heaven he touched with Kyra now that he’s lost her and Kyra who is sick with shame over being duped and in bed with an assassin.

This book is very edgy and I appreciate the risks that it takes with the genre itself. It’s dark and the characters aren’t always doing likeable things. There is no questioning of morality in this story. You take the characters as they are. Everyone in that group of grifters, drug dealers, killers, thieves, have a differing take on the right v. wrong thing. Living up to your reputation, making sure you don’t harm those who don’t deserve it. That’s the code by which the characters of this book live. Trusting someone is the hardest thing to do, the most vulnerable thing to do. These emotions were well conveyed by both characters and while some of the contrivances that worked to bring Kyra and Reyes together made the earlier part of the book less believable, the romance made up for it. B-

Best regards


This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Moth
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 16:40:43

    I’m a fan of Ann Aguirre’s writing, and I was really looking forward to this one, because her series books tend to have cliffhanger endings and that bothers me, so I was very happy this one was stand-alone. But then I got it and read it, and while I enjoyed myself mostly, it just wasn’t…great. And I wanted great. I also felt like her writing was a bit more…labored, I guess. I saw her working for it with all the elaborate plotting, etc.

    Reyes is one of the best but he's a hitman with scruples.

    @Jane, this was one of my sticking points too, because to me you really can’t have it both ways. If you’re killing people for money I really don’t think you’re going to care if they’re good or bad. And I also felt like there wasn’t enough emphasis put on how he determines whether they deserve killing or not. There’s a vague reference to him refusing to kill other people before, but I don’t see how he could be “the best in the business” if he’s so picky about jobs. I think the bad guys are going to take their hits to someone who doesn’t care.

    Also, I remember a line at the end where Foster says he picked Reyes because he knew Reyes would fall for Kyra and not kill her, which seemed a pretty long shot to me.

    I also thought there was a bit too much set-up for Foster and Mia in the next book that didn’t really need to be in this book.

  2. DS
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 17:17:06

    There would probably have been a point in my life where I would have enjoyed the idea of the hit man and the grifter, but it just doesn’t do anything for me right now.

    This summer I gave up in the first chapter on a book where a hit man was after a scientist (Killing Joe) simply because the idea of the two ending up as a couple didn’t appeal.

  3. Leslee
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 05:00:57

    IMO Ms. Aguirre has the ability to make you suspend disbelief. I am picky when it comes to believability but this was an amazing read. The one sex scene in the car, I mean come on like that would ever happen. But she made me believe it!! Reyes, I think, felt like his scary rep kept people from lying to him. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book!

  4. Another Jessica
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 08:42:45

    I used to read all of my dad’s old cold-war espionage thrillers, which had plenty of assassins. Some of them just took the money and went at it, while quite a few (in that genre) had scruples, would look over the dossier of the hit, and decide if they were “bad enough” before they would accept. So I had no problems with that aspect of the story. That even made Foster’s choice of Reyes, that he would fail at the hit, almost sensible to me.

    I initially passed on this one just because it seemed so trite: “grifter takes her revenge” and “assassin with scruples” meet and, somehow, fall for each other. But it’s Ann Aguirre, and her other books are far from mainstream, both in characterization and in style, so I went ahead and started this one. While her writing is certainly more prosaic in this book than in her sf books, her characters are still very good and unpredictable. Overall, the book was much better than I was expecting.

    My problem with this book, though, was Kyra. More specifically, her ability to hold a grudge based on not-that-much, and from that point never to look back and think things through. She’s supposed to be a smart girl, but I thought that was pretty dumb, and a plot device.

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