beneath this maskRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Gael Peterson is a member of the FBI’s H.E.R.O. team, a squad of enhanced humans with special abilities. The enhanced men are now being paired with regular human partners, and Gael has been matched with Jake, who is coming to them from the police force that oversees keeping an eye on the enhanced. Gael isn’t thrilled to be matched with Jake, whom he doesn’t really trust, and things start off rocky with the guys.

The team gets called in to investigate the deaths of some enhanced who died under mysterious circumstances. They can’t quite figure out how the murders all fit together, but the fact that killer seems to be targeting the enhanced is worrisome. Things get even more complicated when an enhanced child with some mental and verbal disabilities gets dragged into the case, and is even thought to be behind the murders. Derrick isn’t able to communicate with anyone to really make clear what happened, but Gael finds himself connecting with the boy and able to make the first forays into communication.

While things start out rocky with Jake and Gael, it isn’t long before their relationship begins to smooth over. In fact, an attraction starts to bloom between them. But their relationship is complicated by secrets about their pasts that both men are hiding. And as the murder investigation heats up, they find their lives in danger as well.

Beneath This Mask is the third book in Victoria Sue’s Enhanced series and the first one to focus on a new couple in Jake and Gael. Despite the new pairing, I think the series is soundly enough linked in plot and characters that you really need to have read the other books to be up to speed on everything here.

As much as I liked Talon and Finn from the first books, I enjoyed the chance to focus on a new couple and to start expanding the story to encompass the rest of the teammates. I wish we had gotten to see Gael’s abilities in action more, as part of the fun of this series is that the guys all have extraordinary abilities. In Gael’s case, it is an ability to speak and understand any language, as well as impenetrable skin. Although we get to see a teeny bit of each, I wished these abilities played more into the story. Gael is Talon’s number two guy, so he is a leader on the team. At the same time, he has a lot of insecurities about his past, as well as his appearance due to a large facial scar. He can’t quite believe in Jake’s affection for him, something that challenges their relationship quite a bit.

I did like these guys together, but a couple of things held me back. First, things move fairly fast for them as they end up moving in together when Gael loses his apartment, so it is basically days between Gael hating Jake to them having strong romantic feelings for one another. But the bigger issue is one of violence that really affected my ability to rally behind the men. There is a point where Jake reveals something about his past that makes Gael feel vulnerable about their relationship. The secret doesn’t actually have anything to do with Gael, it is his own insecurities making him upset. And so he hauls off and punches Jake in the face, knocking him unconscious and giving him a concussion. Now Jake apparently sees the punch coming and makes the decision to take the hit because he feels so guilty for what he has done (again, it has nothing to do with Gael — and even if it did, that doesn’t justify punching Jake). What makes me quite disturbed here is that this is just played off. Yes, Gael feels bad, but he literally knocked his boyfriend (and coworker) out with his punch. How is this not domestic violence? How does he not get some sort of disciplinary action at work?

While folks are concerned about Jake, no one seems particularly bothered by the fact that this happened, including Jake himself. The whole thing is presented very much like they both made mistakes here. In fact, at one point the aftermath is described as “both seeking forgiveness for a guilt that wasn’t their fault.” Well now, no. These weren’t comparable actions. Jake made a potentially questionable decision on the job (for which he was cleared) and didn’t tell his new team about it right away. Gael got his feelings hurt because he made the confession all about him and knocked his boyfriend unconscious. I just found it really bothersome that this is all presented so mildly, as almost equivalent crimes, and no one seems to really find fault with Gael here. But as the story describes the horrific bruising, the concussion, and Jake’s inability to eat, I’ll admit I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for this relationship.

On the mystery side, Sue develops things nicely, keeping lots of parts moving around and slowly bringing them together. I really liked how the different aspects of the case all end up intertwined by the end of the book and I enjoyed following along with the mystery. I’ll admit, I knew the bad guy almost right away. So that put a little bit of a damper on it the suspense, but overall I found this part to be well done. I also am really excited with the way the series is developing as we meet some new characters and future teammates come into play. Let me just say, I am SO excited for Vance and his love interest and I am really hoping that they are up next.

So I am enjoying the series and think the suspense elements are well done. I had a harder time connecting with Jake and Gael than I wanted, but I still think this is a nice installment in the series.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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