Title: Dirty Angels (Dirty Angels #1)
Author: Karina Halle
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Length: 300 pages
Rating: 5 stars
***AUTHOR’S WARNING*** This book deals with drug cartels and as such it contains a lot of sex and violence and some violent sex. It can get pretty ugly, pretty dark and pretty crazy. There is drug use, abuse, a bit of torture and dubious consent. The hero is not a hero and the villains…well, they’re even worse. If this sort of thing bothers you, PLEASE DO NOT READ IT. This ain’t no cupcake farting unicorn kind of book. If you are even a bit squeamish about violence, brutality and rape, this is your warning to stay away from a book that you certainly will not like (and why read books that you know you won’t like?)***
Reviewer side notes: First, did you read the author’s warning above? Read it again. I’ll wait. *taps fingers* If you can’t handle the violence that occurs in real world drug cartels, then heed to the author’s warning. Javier’s story is an honest look into that world. Sure, there is some sexual tension and smoking hot scenes. But, romance? Not in the way you would expect. Second, you don’t HAVE to read the Artist Trilogy before this book, you won’t be lost in the plot. But really, you NEED to read the Artist Trilogy. It was one of my favorite series’ for 2013. A heart racing, crazy wild ride. Ellie’s name is mentioned frequently in this book, so reading that series, will help you to understand better what happened between her and Javier. And while you’re at it, you should read Dark Paradise, a short story featured in the recently released Moments in Time anthology. That story, also isn’t absolutely necessary to read in order to follow along in this book, BUT, if you are one who likes to read things chronologically, then you should pick up this quick read, which takes place shortly before this story. It features Javier’s right hand man, Esteban Mendoza, and what happens in that story is referenced in this book. Oh, and there’s a scene in that story that caused it to be banned from Wattpad. So . . .
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to my review. Shall we?
Luisa Chavez has grown up in a life of relative poverty. She spends all of her time and money caring for her blind Mom and Dad with Alzheimer’s. She lives pay check to pay check and only has one friend, her co-worker at a Cabo cafe, Camilla. Her life changes, for better or worse (mostly worse), when a well known drug cartel leader, Salvador Reyes, visits her cafe. He’s not attractive, at all, and is terrifying to boot. But, for some reason, Luisa is extremely selfless, and sees a relationship and later marriage to this leader, as an opportunity to help her family. Unfortunately for her, the marriage to Salvador turned to a nightmare before the ink dried on their marriage certificate. Luisa manages to escape Salvador eventually, only to be kidnapped by another drug leader, Javier Bernal. Cue the madness!
When Luisa is taken from Salvador, the clock is set for one week. One week for Salvador to meet Javier’s demands. The author has an interesting way of counting down the days, using Javier’s name. For each day that passes, he carves one letter of his name into Luisa’s back. Call it torture. Call it claiming. But you just know, this can’t have a good outcome.
Power has always driven Javier. Already establishing a dangerous reputation in Mexico, feared by many, he wanted more. He thought his plan was perfect – using Salvador’s wife as a bargaining chip to gain access to a drug shipping lane that Salvador controlled. Did he need Salvador’s extra shipping lane to be powerful? No. There were a wealth of other opportunities for him to remain one of the top drug cartel leaders. But Salvador was the top dog, so to speak, and by taking something from the top, Javier expected more power. However, there was a major problem. Luisa’s relationship with Salvador was not good. Salvador didn’t love her, and Luisa knew this. Javier had planned to break her, but Luisa was already broken.
“Give me back to Salvador, “ she said, looking deeply at me, “and I promise you, you’ll never be able to piece me together again.”
As a drug cartel leader, love is not a wise option. In that world, love makes you weak and opens one up to an untold number of risks from enemies. Javier made his first mistake years before, falling for Ellie and being obsessed to reclaim her. It nearly got him killed, and did get him jail time.
Luisa’s repeated attempts to escape and fight back only made her more appealing to Javier. Nothing turns that guy on more than a girl who knows how to handle a weapon.
Despite his unwillingness to express his feelings, we learn from his inner monologue how Javier is desperate for a Queen. Someone to stand by his side and rule the (drug) world. With each passing day, he begins to think of Luisa as his Queen.
And that’s when I knew, with nothing but a smile, my Luisa, my queen, she had broken me.
Strangely enough, some of Luisa’s strength, or power over Javier, came from her acceptance that her life was over. She could die at Javier’s hands, or endure a worse fate with her husband. Her willingness to accept her fate, only drew him in more.
For the majority of her capture, Javier protects her, particularly from his own people, who aren’t used to treating hostages so well. However, one incident breaks their building trust, and you truly experience Javier’s dark side. If I was watching this scene play out on screen, I would probably be trying to cover my eyes and ears.
What shocked me most about this book was that I actually felt sorry for Javier at times. CRAZY, I know! Through the Artist Trilogy, I had a love-hate-hate relationship with Javier. This book alternates POVs between Luisa and Javier, and being inside his head, I found his thoughts to be very unexpected. You could sense the struggle he had, trying to exude his power to his cartel, while fighting a developing connection with Luisa. When the last letter is carved, you felt Javier’s will-power fall apart.
Their time together is up. Supposedly. But a change of plans forces Javier to give in. He can no longer deny what he wants. And great balls of fire, the heat nearly melted my kindle. *checks kindle warranty*
Despite Luisa’s strength through most of her ordeal, I didn’t always agree with her decisions. Her desperation to protect her family at all costs lead her to make a series of bad decisions. Thankfully, Javier isn’t dumb. While his cartel thought his heart was guiding him to make bad decisions, he had a plan, and while risky, was smart. Is there a HEA? Depends what you consider “happy” in the drug world. Remember, “this ain’t no cupcake farting unicorn kind of book.” But, I’m sure Javier was smiling.
Once again, Karina has put together a compelling and brutal twist on romance. I was drawn to both Luisa and Javier for very different reasons. Luisa for her spirit and fight during her ordeal. Javier for his rare moments of tenderness. I loved the struggle the characters faced to stay in control, as well as the moments when they surrendered that control. Just like the Artist Trilogy, Karina has created a riveting storyline that keeps me guessing, and I can’t wait to see what is next.