Her Last Chance
by Michele Albert, contemporary (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-3140-1


Her Last Chance is Michele Albert's follow-up to Tough Enough, and these two books are part of a series revolving around Avalon, a team of operatives-for-hire that specializes in recovering stolen artworks, relics, and such. These two books feature a standalone main plot in each, but there are some secondary subplots in this book that rely on your familiarity with the events that took place in Tough Enough. Therefore, my advice is to read this book after you have read Tough Enough.

Avalon operative and former cop Claudia Cruz fits the description of a femme fatale, if we are to gauge the effect of her sexy va-va-voom on men and consider the fact that she doesn't hesitate to use her sex appeal to her advantage if the situation necessitates it. Her main antagonist is FBI agent Vincent DeLuca, a by-the-book cop who resents the fact that Avalon agents like Claudia don't always play fair to beat folks like him to the finish line in a case that they are both competing to solve. Of course, they are both acutely aware of their attraction to the other person.

The heat is off and so are the gloves when these two meet again in this book. This time, artworks are being stolen in what seems more like random whim than anything resembling a pattern from the galleries around Philadelphia. She wonders what he knows. He wonders whether she has found any clues that he can certainly use. Working together is out of the question... right?

There are two other subplots in this story. We learn more about Ben Sheridan, the boss of Avalon, and the inner working of the company as he deals with the aftermath of the events in Tough Enough. Another subplot revolves around the nemesis of Avalon, the art thief extraordinaire Rainert von Lahr and a secondary character from Tough Enough. Can I say that I find Rainert a most delicious amoral bad boy? That guy is yummy, and I always have a weakness for bad boy criminals.

Back to the main plot. It goes without saying that Vincent is a yummy action hero who is all manly and sexy without resembling an alpha ape in the process. Claudia, like most of Ms Albert's heroines, takes no prisoners. She's capable of walking the walk, definitely, and whatever she gets from Vincent, she gives back just as good. What I really like about these two is that Ms Albert doesn't deliberately contrive to put Claudia in a position of weakness to allow the romance to continue. Claudia and Vincent meet, play, bicker, love, and kick rear ends on an equal playing field. Even better, Claudia admits that she is attracted to him but she never lets this attraction mess up her killer instincts or ability to do her job. The sexual tension is burning, but the whole relationship is even more delicious to follow because the characters are solid equals who are clearly well-matched in many ways.

Like Moonlighting, the fun dissipates considerably once those two get into bed, because Vincent pretty much crumbles once Claudia has had her wicked way with him. Where he was once antagonistic and even judgmental about Claudia, he immediately morphs into a gallant lover and ally who even tells Claudia that she judges herself too harshly when it comes to the events that led to her leaving of the police force. I know of guys who become so easy to manage once they've been shagged a few times, but Vincent is probably a little too easy, heh. While it's nice to see Claudia and Vincent work so well together, I begin to miss the tension-laced verbal back-and-forth in the earlier parts of this story.

The stolen artwork plot has a disappointing and even silly resolution - those twits are the villains? - but the tension and the pacing never disappoints. Her Last Chance - a most misleading title for this story, if you ask me - is a solid and most enjoyable tale of romance, cool espionage, classy good guys, and unexpectedly sexy villains. There is an underlying element of sophistication mixed with camp and high action, reminding me of the better days of the TV series La Femme Nikita.

Given the fact that this book finally sees the light of day three years after Tough Enough and that the author claims to be working on an urban fantasy and steampunk project on her website, it is easy to deduce that this could very well be the last book in the series revolving the Avalon team. I wish it isn't, as I have only begun to love Avalon and Ms Albert's potent cocktail of high-action espionage and romance. But if this book happens to the last in the series, I can only sigh.

Thanks for the entertainment, Ms Albert, and all the best in your upcoming projects. It's going to be very hard to say goodbye to Avalon. I've barely begun to know them!

Rating: 88


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