Special Agent Levi Bishop has been working a human trafficking case for months and he is just reaching the point where they may catch the suspects. So he is furious when it all falls apart due to the intervention of another FBI agent who gets involved with his case. Levi is still mourning the loss of his wife two years ago and dealing with a surly teen isn’t helping. So he is beyond stressed and upset when the resolution to his case seems to be within reach, but instead, the bad guys get scared off.
Special Agent Emmitt Marshall has been stationed at The Hague, but he is determined to find justice for a fellow agent who was killed by terrorists. He had hoped that he could resolve both his and Levi’s cases at once, but ended up spooking the criminals and messing up both their investigations. Now, Marsh is off the case officially, but he has a proposal for Levi for how they may be able to salvage both their investigations. If they get married, Marsh will have an excuse to stick around and can unofficially get involved helping with Levi’s case. At first, Levi is resistant, especially because he doesn’t want to make things complicated for his son, David. But Levi is also dealing with huge medical bills and Marsh offers to sweeten the pot by paying off Levi’s debt if he will go through with the plan.
As the men work together, they realize that Levi’s trafficking case and Marsh’s terrorist case are connecting in surprising ways. As they dig deeper, they begin zeroing in on not just the low level suspects, but the big guns who are behind it all. But with a mole at the Bureau, staying a step ahead of the bad guys isn’t easy. And the fact that Levi and Marsh are falling for each other is making things even more complicated. It was supposed to be a marriage in name only, but the men are realizing that they have true feelings for each other. Now, they have to figure out how to catch the bad guys, as well as decide what the future may hold for them together.
Dead Draw is the first book in Layla Reyne’s Perfect Play series and reunites us with Marsh, who has appeared as a side character in some of her other books (He is Sean’s partner from What We May Be and Brax’s best friend from Silent Knight). While this book does take place in the same world as those stories, it reads perfectly as a standalone and is a great place to start with Reyne’s work. This book really highlights Reyne’s strength with suspense/investigative thrillers, particularly stories that carry the same couple across multiple books.
I really enjoyed Marsh and Levi together. Their marriage is one of convenience and has a bit of a fake relationship vibe as well as they pretend to be really in love and together to their co-workers and family (though David knows the truth). At first, the guys are determined to keep things purely professional. Levi is still raw from the loss of his wife and doesn’t feel ready for more. And Marsh has made a habit of falling for emotionally unavailable men in love with someone else (see Sean and Brax) and knows falling for Levi is a bad idea. Of course, the pair end up falling for each other anyway, and there is a nice sense of mutual support to their connection. These guys just bring a peace and happiness to one another that they both need. This isn’t a sex heavy book, but there is a great chemistry between them and the beginnings of exploring an intense physical connection. I will admit, I never fully understood just why they had to pretend to be married for all this to work. It was supposedly to allow Marsh to better help with the cases, but honestly, the explanation felt a little muddy to me. I also always get a bit bothered when the characters lie to their families to whom they are very close about their fake relationship (as Levi does with his mom). But I do think the plot device works well with the overall story.
The cases themselves end up merging nicely so that each of the investigations begin to play off one another. We get a nice resolution here to the main threads of their cases, but things are left open in some of the bigger areas and this story sets things up really well for the rest of the series. It is not a cliffhanger or anything, but new issues emerge that lead well into the next book. I didn’t always fully follow the investigation, as I lost track a bit of the different groups and how they were involved. But the suspense side still worked for me and it comes together well. It is fun to see Marsh’s hacker skills at work and I am excited to see how the new issues play out in future books.
So this is a great start to what seems like a promising new series. If you are a fan of Reyne’s writing, particularly her suspense stories, I think you are going to find a lot to like here. I am really looking forward to more for Marsh and Levi to come.