Forever / August 20, 2013 / $2.99 digital
When Ellie Watt offered herself to her thuggish former lover Javier to save Camden's life, she never imagined the twisted game Javier had planned for her. Trapped by him and his entourage of killers, Ellie is forced to commit a dangerous, heinous crime—or Javier will kill Camden. Now ex-con artist Ellie must find a way to stay ahead of the game . . . before it destroys her and the only man she ever loved.
Camden McQueen can't forget Ellie Watt. Seeking revenge and pursued by the authorities for a crime he didn't commit, the talented tattoo artist does things he never thought himself capable of to save Ellie. As Camden straddles the line between love and retribution, he vows to do everything in his power to get her back. But if Camden unleashes his dark side, will Ellie still love him?
Love is messy, and Shooting Scars, the second in Karina Halle's Artists trilogy, proves that again and again when it comes to Ellie Watt, heroine and con artist. She's on the run with one man to save another, causing her light and dark sides to wage a serious battle between sensitive tattoo artist hero Camden and the intense drug lord antihero Javier. This is an interesting dynamic against a backdrop of ruthless scamming and a prevalent survival-of-the-fittest mentality. One man is Ellie's past, and one is her future, but the question is: Who is the present?
“So... what shall it be? Your pride and freedom? Or the chance to save a man you think you love, or at least took pity on, plus the chance to kill the man who put those scars on your leg and in your heart?”
You're the one who left the scars on my heart, I thought to myself. I felt as if I were swallowing a cotton ball. I could barely look at him. “You promised me you wouldn't hurt Camden, that you would let him go. And you don't break your promises.”
He exchanged a satisfied look with Raul before smiling at me. “This is true. I think that's why I've become such a threat to Travis. Because I have my own code that never wavers. Integrity is missing from too many men these days.” He noted my face grow red with anger and went on quickly, “I gave Camden the money. I gave him his wonderful family back. That was what I promised, and I did just that. This, Ellie, this is a whole new game with a whole new set of promises. Now, what I need to know is, are you ready to play?”
Just as in Sins and Needles, Ellie is once again at the mercy of one of her men, forcing her in close quarters where she has to confront the past and examine everything she'd buried for six years, since leaving a life of revenge and her first love behind. Whereas the first book was primarily focused on the interaction between Ellie and Cam, here the coin has turned as Ellie is forced to return to her past with Javier. But with the story presented as alternating viewpoints from Ellie and Cam, it feels like a star-crossed tale. His determination to rescue Ellie, who may not be a damsel but is definitely in distress, and his willingness to stand by her no matter what, also makes this a powerful redemption story. Where Javier holds Ellie back, Cam moves her forward.
“You should be creating your new life, your escape, not heading after Ellie. Why is that?”
“Because...” How did I even explain it?
“Do you love her?” he asked. “Are you in love with her?”
I guess that explained it.
I nodded. No hesitation. All cards on the table. “Yes, to both.” I almost said some bullshit like “We're in love,” but I couldn't even say if that was true. All I knew is what I felt. And that the woman I loved, had always loved, had sacrificed herself for me. There was no getting past that. She'd embedded herself in my skin, like a tattoo I could never give myself.
“Well, that certainly makes things messy, don't you think?” he asked, leaning back in the chair. Now the hostility on his face had been replaced with pity. I wasn't sure which one I liked better.
“Love is messy.”
The story is one long winding road of twists and turns, never shying away from shoot-outs or stake-outs, graphic torture and brutal crime, shifting alliances, betrayal and harsh truths, and never slowing down. Characters' actions aren't always sympathetic and are sometimes hard to swallow, but it's honest. Nothing is expected when everyone is some varying shade of gray, and the final leg promises to be more heart-pounding and non-stop than ever.
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Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.