As agents for the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, Lucky Lucklighter and Bo Schollenberger have just broken the pipeline of a dangerous street drug between Mexico and the U.S. The problem is that they were not able to catch the guys on the manufacturing end, and someone is still working hard to produce the dangerous drug. It is only a matter of time before the transport system is back up and running and the drugs are on the streets again.
Bo and Lucky have been laying low for a while, waiting for the next move, and spending some idyllic time alone together. But now Lucky is being called back to headquarters and Bo is back undercover as Cyrus Cooper, a motorcycle driving bad guy high up on the drug dealing food chain. When Bo goes missing, Lucky goes ballistic, ready to do anything to find his man. But before that can happen, Lucky’s past catches up to him. It turns out Stephan, the nephew of Lucky’s former lover, Victor Mangiardi, is interested in taking over the family business and he wants Lucky to be a part of it (whether Lucky wants to or not). When he decides Lucky doesn’t have much choice in the matter, Lucky ends up reunited with Bo, but trapped in Mexico.
Now Bo and Lucky must keep their cover, while gathering as much evidence as they can against Stephan and his drug trade. It is unclear who they can trust and just about everyone around them presents a danger. Bo continues to lose himself in his Cyrus persona, making Lucky worry if he will ever be able to get the real Bo back when this is over. Lucky must deal with ghosts from his past and questions about what really happened to Victor years ago. And as the danger increases, both men must work to build their case on Stephan before their luck runs out.
Manipulation is the fourth book in Eden Winters’ fabulous Diversion series, and I really think it keeps getting better and better. This story picks up on the heels of Corruption, where we saw the investigation of the drug on the streets and Bo’s beginnings undercover. While that story focused on the distribution end of things, this story then moves us to Mexico where the guys attempt to stop the drug at the production end and keep it out of the U.S.
In Corruption, we saw Bo take on his first undercover assignment as Cyrus Cooper and here he continues in that role as he becomes one of the leaders in Stephan’s drug trade. It is an interesting place for Bo because he really excels at becoming this character and it is fascinating to see him turn on and off the two different personalities of Bo and Cy. We are in Lucky’s head and we can feel his anxiety as he watches his sweet, gentle lover disappear into this cold, heartless man. Lucky worries if Bo will be able to find himself again when he can finally let go of Cyrus. The tension is amplified here as we learn more about Bo’s past and how much of his darker self he normally holds inside. On top of that, Bo is forced into testing the dangerous new drug, something that puts him at even bigger risk given his previous addiction and his deal with the SNB. So we really get a lot of complexity here as Bo struggles with holding on to his true self while having to spend most of the time in the mind of this cold, hard criminal.
Lucky is dealing with equally complex issues as he must face some ghosts from his past. Stephan has always been jealous of his uncle and now wants Lucky for himself. Despite documents saying that Victor died in jail, Lucky keeps hearing that Victor made a deal and is in fact alive and well somewhere. And an old friend of Victor’s is back in Lucky’s life, but it is not clear if he is on Lucky’s side or poses a danger himself. Lucky’s relationship with Victor has been an ongoing story line but here we really delve into it as we see Lucky interacting with these men from his past. We learn more about Victor’s life outside of Lucky and more about what was happening in Mexico. We know that Lucky has moved on, that now his only feelings lie with Bo. But it is still difficult for him to navigate though these dealings, especially when he is also trying to uncover everyone’s motives.
And then of course all this is thrown together with the case as Bo and Lucky try to uncover what Stephan’s plans are and to get enough information to bring him down, all while trapped on the wrong side of the border with no way to communicate with SNB. One of the hallmarks of this series is the fabulous detail and research Winters puts into these investigations, showing us the inner workings of the drug trade from so many angles. Here we get the story from the manufacturing end, learning about how these dealers set up shop in Mexico and produce the drugs that make it onto the street. We also see Stephan set up sales with U.S. distributors and how the drugs are transported across the border. So it is all fabulously detailed in a way that makes it feel so real. Not to mention that this book is once again filled with excitement, suspense, thrills, and life or death moments.
So I am a huge fan of this series and I think it keeps getting better and better. We get a really nice combination of fabulous (and SUPER sexy) romance developing between Bo and Lucky, along with a super exciting law enforcement thriller. I love these guys together so much. They are sexy and strong and both willing to do anything for the other. Their relationship has developed so nicely over the series and we can see how both men have grown and changed. They are hard men who are also so sweetly in love, even as they have to hide it most of the time. Not to mention scorching hot together. At the same time, Winters gives us a great balance of a really well developed investigation with lots of excitement.
Truly, if you are not reading this series, you should be. I absolutely love it and highly recommend Manipulation and the whole Diversion series.
P.S. While this could maybe possibly stand alone, it is much richer with all the history from the first three books. Plus, they are SO good. Read them all!