undercover coverRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Alec is an FBI agent working undercover in Burlington, Vermont. Someone is smuggling drugs inside yoga mats, of all things, and evidence suggests the culprit is someone in town. When Alec catches a cute guy watching him in the local bookstore/wine bar, he is definitely intrigued, but when the guy makes a suspicious move, Alec wonders if perhaps he is involved with the drug smuggling and has caught on that Alec is an agent. When Alec learns the man is connected to a big shipping company thought to be involved in the case, he knows he has to get to know the man better.

Gabe can’t help but watch the gorgeous guy at the bookstore and feel intrigued, but when the man approaches him in the park, it sets off warning bells. Gabe doesn’t have the best track record with guys and doesn’t much trust himself to make good decisions, nor believe enough in his own appeal to think someone like Alec would be interested. Still, Alec is appealing enough that the men start spending time together and soon Gabe realizes he really likes him.

Alec originally approached Gabe because he thought he might be involved in the drug smuggling, but quickly realizes that is not at all likely. However, someone from Gabe’s family’s company might be involved, and that means as much as Alec would like to pursue something real with Gabe, he is still connected to the case. As much as Alec likes Gabe, he knows he can’t get involved with him under false pretenses if he has any hope of maintaining a relationship with him once the truth comes out. Yet, the more time the guys spend with each other, the closer they become, and the more difficult to maintain his distance. Now, Alec needs to solve the case and hope that his connection with Gabe is salvageable when it is all over.

Undercover is the fourth book in the Vino & Veritas collection, part of the World of True North Universe. The V&V books are a multi-author series of books that are intended to stand alone and all connect to the LGBTQ-friendly bookstore/wine bar. In this case, the only link to the bookstore is that it’s the setting for the guys’ meet cute (and they pop in a couple of times afterward), so while there are some staff mentioned that appear in other stories, this book absolutely stands alone with no problem.

The set up here is interesting as we know from about the first moments where the conflict lies: Alec is investigating Gabe and his family company, but he also wants to date him. It is inevitable that Gabe will find out the truth about Alec and things will blow up, so it is just a matter of time and watching it all play out. In the meantime, I enjoyed the men together and there is a sweetness to their interaction. Gabe isn’t a guy with a lot of self confidence and Alec really supports him and helps Gabe start to value himself more and realize he deserves good things. It was hard at times to watch things play out, as while I rooted for them to get together, I also knew Alec was lying to Gabe about who he was and why he was there. I think Grayson makes it work, however, and knowing that Alec is aware of exactly why what he is doing is problematic, and how torn he is between his feelings for Gabe and his duty, helps smooth out those rough edges. The ending comes together nicely and very sweetly, and while the story hits some expected beats, I did enjoy the romance.

I think it’s worth noting that while Alec is an FBI agent on assignment, this story isn’t really a mystery or an investigative thriller. The case is more of a way to set up the conflict between the men in their relationship than all that significant in its own right. We never really see Alec investigate, follow clues, or do much in the way of case solving. We get the barest bones of the situation (someone is smuggling drugs from Canada in yoga mats) and there is a nod here and there that Alec is doing something on the case, but we see virtually none of it. It isn’t necessarily a problem that the investigation is more background than actually a significant part of the story, but I think it’s worth knowing what you are getting here. The part that didn’t work as well for me is that Alec is presented as this super competent FBI agent and yet he seemed frequently out of his depth. For example, he is supposed to be working undercover and has apparently developed no actual cover story. Gabe asks Alec about his job and Alec has to struggle to think of an answer. How is it possible he is undercover on a case for the FBI and has no backstory developed? Alec’s behavior also varies wildly (and suspiciously to Gabe) as he acts one way upon meeting Gabe and then sort of changes personas partway through. I didn’t necessarily need the case to be the forefront of the story, but I needed Alec to feel more believable in the role of crack FBI agent.

As I said, the storyline in terms of the relationship development is sort of telegraphed right from the set up, but it still worked for me. I enjoyed Alec and Gabe together and I think Grayson manages to turn the inevitable conflict into a sweet and believable resolution. I liked the way that Alec helped bring back Gabe’s confidence and feelings of self worth, and overall found this a cute and fun read.

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