Locked and Loaded by Mandy Baxter

Locked and Loaded by Mandy BaxterLocked and Loaded by Mandy Baxter
Series: U.S. Marshals, #5
Published by Zebra on September 27th 2016
Pages: 352
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Charlotte Cahill intends to take down an infamous diamond smuggler on the FBI’s Most Wanted list—and she intends to do it by the book.  That won’t be easy with the cocky new temporary deputy on her task force. Mason Decker feels like trouble, especially when his cool gaze wanders across her hot body . . .   After his time as a Customs officer, Decker has enough experience hanging out with criminals to know that working undercover means following your instincts, not the rules. It doesn’t take long for him to lock horns with Cahill. But when the sexy assistant U.S. attorney is accidentally dragged out of her orderly world and into the turn-on-a-dime tension of Decker’s deceptive games, she’ll find that nothing is as seductive as playing a new role . . .

The unusual plot of diamond smuggling, cons and undercover work in ‘Locked and Loaded’ has been entertaining from the get go – and is possibly the best of the U.S. Marshal series to date. It’s currently my antidote for listless, clichéd-ridden summer reads and a perfect choice for a high-octane action flick in narrative form, to the extent where I was sorry when it all ended so quickly.

What starts out as a man sidelined in law enforcement for his infamous family and a prickly U.S. Attorney turns into an elaborate con with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Mandy Baxter has written a sufficiently complex plot to keep the action going, with very strong lead characters who are compelling in their own right without crossing the line into smarmy or super-human…along with a cast of shady secondary ones who themselves aren’t caricatures. But it’s also a showing of diamond valuation, the stones’ shady origins and the bloody politics involved from raw material to production and selling – a complex minefield that Mason Decker and Charlie Cahill find themselves in with their necks barely above water. That the story covered issues like the moral grey areas of going undercover – and betraying one’s own family and principles while doing so – dramatised the plot and the main characters more sharply than ever and frankly, was a treat to read as Mason walked these painful steps to dissociate himself once again, from a life he’d never known.

Watching Mason’s and Charlie’s relationship grow degree by degree as their interactions turned from hostile to wary and finally to scorching was beyond entertaining and enjoyable. I liked seeing how their mutual admiration of each other grew through a situation that neither could get out of and how they managed to find common ground together.

It’s definitely a plot that could keep going on – even if all the books in the series are standalone books – and I hope it does. With an ending that seems a little rushed and a loose end that isn’t quite so tied up, maybe…just maybe…we’ll see Mason and Charlie again.

It’s too soon to say goodbye.