Sacha “Joker” Wilder does not trust easily, other than his brothers in arms, that is. Joker is a silent partner in Four Kings Security and works with his “brothers” and his best boy, Chip—a bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois. But other than his dog, and his friends who are his family, Joker is suspicious of everything. Especially if it seems too good to be true. And Gio Galanos is definitely too good to be true. Joker is determined to show that Gio is not the charming philanthropist he purports himself to be.
Gio is back in the States because he’s ready for a change. He’s spent years helping the less fortunate and traipsing across the globe to do it, but now he wants to settle down stateside again. With the draw of family, and a prickly former Green Beret who has captivated his attention, Gio sets about remaking his life, and a big part of that is Joker. Gio is drawn to Joker, and despite Joker’s insistence that he doesn’t want love, Gio can see past Joker’s exterior and gently pushes forward. Joker makes Gio feel safe and he hopes that he can show Joker that they are meant to be together.
But danger is stalking closer and has Gio in it’s sights. As they work to keep Gio safe and figure out what’s going on, truths come to light. Gio is not the perfect persona he presents, and Joker is the only one who sees to his core. It’ll take hard work and facing the past before they can move forward. And if they can work together, and lean on their burgeoning love, they just might make it through in tact.
Sleight of Hand is another story in Charlie Cochet’s Four Kings world, and the third book in the Wild Card spin off series. We finally get Joker and Gio’s story, which Cochet has been hinting at for several books. Cochet has created a tight-knit group of friends who make up a found family, and the snarky, sassy, fun, and loving group of men are in full force in this book.
Joker has been suspicious of Gio since he first learned about him, and their interactions have always had Joker on edge. Not in the least because of his attraction to Gio. Joker had a rough childhood and it’s shaped his perception of the world at large. He doesn’t trust easily, and he certainly doesn’t need love in his life. He’s perfectly fine with the way things are. Joker pushes Gio away whenever Gio flirts and asks for more, but he doesn’t really want Gio to go anywhere. I liked watching Joker’s progression and his acceptance of his true feelings.
Gio is far more complex than the reader ever knew, and he has a lot going on, especially mental health-wise. Cochet does a great job of showing the reader exactly where his head is at and what his motivation is, especially when it comes to his mental health. Cochet handles it with care and delves into Gio in a well thought out way.
There’s a good balance between the romance, Gio’s progression to understanding himself, Joker’s acceptance of his feelings, and the suspense plot. All the storylines run along each other, intertwining and pushing each along. I have to say it was done well, easy to follow, and each plot line boosted the others as the story progressed.
The romance is also nicely done. Some of the set up has been shown in prior books, so when the story begins, there’s already some history for these guys. I think this book, as well as the rest of the series, work best when read in order. Cochet has set up the tension between Joker and Gio and laid the groundwork, and so when the book starts, the reader is already primed for what is to come. The chemistry is great between them and the tension held at just the right level, especially because Gio doesn’t take no for an answer and keeps pushing Joker. It could have gone too far and landed in creepy territory, but Cochet handles it well and keeps showing us Joker’s mindset, so the reader knows exactly how much Joker actually wants Gio. The romance unfolds slowly, but there’s an intensity there that really works with the story as a whole.
As for the suspense plot, for me it was a bit predictable. Cochet still handles it well, but it’s nothing too surprising. But there’s the right amount of clues, dropped at the right time, to move the suspense plot forward. As I said, though, it’s fairly obvious, at least to me, who the “bad guy” is and their motivation. For me, this wasn’t the big draw of the book, so I was fine with this part of the plot not being surprising or particularly groundbreaking.
I wanted to read more of this found family, the characters we’ve seen and grown to care about, and see Joker and Gio find their way to each other. And of course, see Chip, everyone’s favorite bestest boy. Chip definitely steals the show in several scenes, and it seems like the characters want that as much as readers do.
Overall, this book fits really well within the Four Kings world and the Wild Card spin off series. Gio and Joker grow as characters and within their relationship, and their love is believable. If you’re a fan of this author and this series, you’re definitely going to want to pick this up.