Skin Game
by Ava Gray
(Penguin, $7.99, R)  ISBN  978-0-425-23153-1
Kyra Beckwith is a con artist, and a particularly successful one for a very good reason: Kyra, with a touch, can steal a person's strongest talent for a short period of time.  This leaves her marks helpless and Kyra beating them at their own game, be it fighting, pool, or anything else.

Unfortunately for Kyra, she was good enough to trick a powerful Las Vegas thug and casino owner, Gerard Serrano – Kyra, bent on revenge for her father's death, posed as a teacher.  Now Serrano is out to get her and mowing down anyone in his path – perhaps even her best friend, Mia.  What Kyra doesn't know is that the man she picked up during one of her cons, Reyes, is the best of the best, handpicked by Serrano's head of security.

The only person Kyra's ever touched whose abilities she can't absorb, Reyes is "Rey" to Kyra. Both know they're keeping secrets from one another; even Reyes doesn't know where Kyra's hidden the money she stole from Serrano and there is a whole lot of things Kyra doesn't know about Reyes.  Unfortunately, as the book goes on and the conwoman and the hitman grow more and more Natural Born Killers, readers learn a lot about Reyes that wouldn't endear him to anyone.  He's a convicted rapist who kills only people he deems deserving of his kind of death. He's lying to his girlfriend, who kind of gets off on violence herself.

A majority of the novel is Kyra and Rey trotting from town to town and having sex in various sleazy motels, occasionally fending off the guys from a bar where they had worked a con together.  Serrano proves slightly difficult toward the end of the novel, but since he assumes for much of the time that Reyes is taking care of the situation, he's basically out of the picture until then; although some of his behind-the-scenes activities are revealed through the author's interest in his head guy, Foster.

Skin Game starts out with a bang and an intriguing notion. It was definitely a four-heart keeper until around page two hundred.  At that point, it drops in its tracks.  The two primary characters are doing the same stuff over and over again and Mia at this point in the series is not a developed character.  Foster and Serrano are the best-grown characters and by far the most interesting.  When Rey finally comes clean with Kyra it is refreshing to see that she doesn't just bat her eyelashes and forgive him, so the relationship stays interesting but the action such as it is does not. The second book in the series, due out this summer, will probably be worth checking out —but I'd do just that, at your local library, instead of spending the money.

--Sarrah Knight

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