The Mask
Taylor Stevens
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Buy *The Mask: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel* by Taylor Stevensonline

The Mask: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel
Taylor Stevens
352 pages
June 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Vanessa Michael Munroe makes a choice to be with her lover, Miles Bradford, putting aside the rage that drives her to share a life with him in Osaka, Japan. But while Miles, owner of exclusive Capstone Security, reports to work every day in a high-stakes security job, he closes her out, asks her to wait a few months until they can have more quality time together. This is a risk: Munroe thrives on work, struggles with too much time and few friends in a foreign place, perhaps unable to give Miles what he wants. For the first time, the enigmatic Munroe gives in to the softer side of her nature, trusting Miles and happy to be with him as just his lover, not his partner on a case.

But when Bradford is arrested for murder, Munroe feels betrayed, stupid for believing what are now her lover’s obvious lies. She will do her best to get to the bottom of the false allegations that cover up the stealth of trade secrets in a priceless, cutting-edge biomedical discovery, but at a price. She gave her heart only to have it abused. Now she demands compensation for her endeavors, indifferent to the outrage of Bradford’s security team in the states, all of whom have put their lives on the line to save her from certain death in a prior investigation.

Always prepared, the androgynous woman Miles fondly refers to as "Mike" has survived a life of torture at the hands of a cult led by a sadistic monster, endured by virtue of her wit and strength, a match for any man as a fighter and strategist. Killing has become second nature, her knives the tools to vanquish hated enemies. She’s pushed aside this dominant side of her personality to be with Miles, begun to experience trust and even love with him, only to find herself alone in Osaka with no answers or direction.

Meanwhile Bradford awaits judgment in a Japanese jail, far from the protections of the American justice system. This is a culture built on saving face, decisions made for the greater good, ease of solution trumping justice. There is a small window of opportunity--less than twenty-three days--when Munroe can successfully free Bradford from this dilemma or forfeit years of his life behind bars. Munroe’s task is daunting, with no idea who is behind the setup or why. Once more donning the mask of a warrior, Michael dams up her emotions, slipping back into the role of quiet killer stalking those who have fashioned this new nightmare.

Painfully familiar with the ways the powerful dominate the weak and vulnerable, Munroe slips into her dark side, as comfortable as a well-worn garment. The mystery Bradford has left remains an enigma, Munroe the only one capable of engineering his release in “a polite country that laid a veneer over the brutality and bloodshed flowing through their history’s veins.” It is this very culture that allows an innocent man to languish in prison, a corporation more concerned with practicality than matching killer to murder. Multi-layered and fraught with intrigue, complicated by Michael’s decision to aid a Russian nightclub girl held against her will, the task is rife with danger, more than one perpetrator manipulating events.

On the move, racing through the streets of Osaka by night on her motorcycle and reporting to work in Bradford’s stead by day, Munroe is both prey and predator, working against time and the “politeness that made it possible for men of force and violence to thrive.” Returning to the instincts honed in extreme circumstances, Munroe tackles the threats as they come, learning the name of her most elusive enemy as she confronts him in a deadly battle: “Once more, she was the predator reborn, fully formed and ready for flight,” her time with Bradford and the fate of their relationship on hold for now, happiness and normalcy vanished in the stark reality of a brutal world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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