Blog Tour: Prisoner by Annika Martin and Skye Warren, Review + Excerpt

Release Date: October 22, 2014
Book 1 of the Criminals & Captives Series


He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He's dangerous. He's wild. He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it's getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can't stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that's the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he'll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can't call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can't think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

4 stars
PRISONER was just the right blend of "dark" and "romance" for me. Just a little bit more and this would have been an easy 5-starer for me.

The synopsis really made me stop in my tracks and say, hold up, let me move this book up my reading list! The idea of a librarian-ish English teacher in a prison becoming attracted to a hardened criminal was just too juicy to pass up. Right off the bat, the chemistry between Abby and Grayson was palpable. There was delicious friction that made my toes tingle. The stolen looks, body language and short exchange of words while they're still in prison, everything was described perfectly. 

Pretty soon the story gets into action and thrills territory. It turns out that the synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg, and that Abby's involvement in Grayson's life and his plans is already in the midpoint of an even longer, more serious, and heartbreaking story.

Grayson is not just your typical criminal. He has a tragic past that he shares with a group of deadly, cunning, and revenge-driven men. Having to bring Abby into his life—and by extension his and his brothers' plans for revenge—was definitely not something he was counting on. The earlier part of Abby's captivity had me at the edge of my seat. I wasn't completely convinced that Grayson will not hurt her or allow her to get killed. Sure, he admits his attraction to her, but his thirst for revenge was far stronger than his desire for her. So for a time there, I was really worried for Abby's sake. 

Aside from that, these two are on the run from the government and the main bad guys of this series. The plot has the potential to be a huge and dramatic conflict, and I'm really excited to find out how that will play out in the next books.

Abby's appearance into Grayson's life (and honestly into the lives of Stone, Nate, Calder and co.) couldn't have come at a much better time, in my opinion. She forced them to get in touch with their humanity once more, made them realize that there can be something more important than killing the man who has caused them so much grief and abuse since they were young boys. This may be cheesy for some readers, but I thought this was the turning point that allowed Grayson and the rest of the men to finally allow Abby to join their family.

I really like the premise for PRISONER. I'm not just talking about the delicious pairing between the two leads, but also the backstory of the men. It is the driving force that made them the dangerous men they are now. There are many of them who live in this old hotel building. I imagined it to be almost like “the red door” house in the movie Taken. The few of them who were named and given dialogue piqued my interest too. Undoubtedly they will be the heroes for the succeeding books of the series.

Couple of things though... First, I felt that Abby's past wasn't given the gravity it needed to really deliver a "woah!" factor. Second, I would have loved to know how Abby is now perceived by the authorities. The book ends with a kind of isolated tone. We don't really know what's going on outside after that last encounter with the authorities. Finally, I wish we were given even just a small hint about what the guys discovered after finding out just how big an organization they are up against! That would have been an additional incentive to be excited about the next book.

I am looking forward to what Annika Martin and Skye Warren will give us next! There's no clue as to who the next book will be about, but we do know that there is an even bigger problem that Grayson and the men have to face next. The nightmare they lived as boys is actually so much bigger than they first thought. I'd love to see how this thrilling plot will play out. 

PRISONER isn't actually a full-fledged dark romance, so for those who are hesitating because of that, I wouldn't if I were you. This book is also packed with thrills and excitement. Plus, with chemistry such as theirs, you can expect that Grayson and Abby will definitely burn up the pages. 

                Heavy bars close behind me with a clang. I feel the sound in my bones. A series of mechanical clicks hint at an elaborate security mechanism beneath the black iron plating. I knew this would happen—had anticipated and dreaded it—but my breathing quickens with the knowledge that I am well and truly trapped.
          "Can I help you?"
          I whirl to face the administrative window where a heavyset woman in a security guard uniform stares at her screen.
          "Hi," I say, pasting on a smile. "My name is Abigail Winslow, and I'm here to—"
          "Two forms of identification."
          "Oh, well, I already filled out the paperwork at the front desk. And showed them my IDs."
          "This isn't the front desk, Ms. Winslow. This is the east-wing desk, and I need to see two forms of identification."
          "Right." I dig through my bag for my driver's license and passport.
          She accepts them without looking up, then hands me a clipboard with a stack of papers just like the ones I'd already filled out.
          I've been dreading this day for weeks, wishing I'd been assigned any other project but this one. You'd think I was being sent here for a crime. My professor—the one who'd forced me into this—warned me that prisoners were not always receptive to outsiders. Apparently nobody here is.
          I complete each form, arrange the pages neatly on the clipboard, and bring them back up to the window. The guard accepts them and gives back my IDs…still without looking at me.
          My hands clench and unclench, clench and unclench while the guard eyes my paperwork. 
          Seconds pass. Or are they minutes? The damp chill of the place seeps in through my cardigan and leaves me shivering.
          Leaning forward, I read the name tag of the guard. "Ms. Breck. Do you know what the next steps are?"
          "You can have a seat. I have work to do now, and then I'll escort you back."
          "Oh, okay." I glance at the bars I just came through, then the open hallway opposite. "Actually, if you just point me in the direction of the library, I'm sure I can—"
          Thunk. The woman's hand hits the desk. I jump. Her dark eyes are faintly accusing, and I wish we could go back to no eye contact. How did I manage to make an enemy in two minutes?
          "Ms. Winslow," she says, her voice patronizing.
          "You can call me Abby," I whisper.
          A slight smile. Not a nice one. "Ms. Winslow, what do you think we do here?"
          The question is clearly rhetorical. I press my lips together to keep from making things worse.
          "The Kingman Correctional Facility houses over five thousand convicted criminals. My job is to keep it that way. Do we understand each other?"
          Heat floods my cheeks. The last thing I want to do is make her job harder. "Right. Of course." I shamble back, landing hard on the metal folding chair. It wobbles a little before the rubber feet stop my slide.
          I understand the woman's point. She has to keep the prisoners in and everyone else out, and keep people like me safe.
          I reach down and pull a book from my bag. I never leave home without one, even when I go to classes or run errands. Even when I was young and my mother used to take me on her rounds.
          Especially then.
          I would hide in the backseat with my nose in the book, pretending I didn't see the shady people who came to her window when we stopped.
          A little green light above the barred doors flashes on and there's an ominous buzz. Somebody's coming through, and I doubt it will be a library volunteer. I slide down.  
          Pretend to be invisible.
          It's no use. I peer over the top edge as a prisoner saunters through the door, and my pulse slams in my throat double time.
          He's flanked by two guards—escorted by them, I guess you'd say. But they seem more like an entourage than anything. Power vibrates around him like a threat.
          Read, read, read. Don't look.
          The prisoner is half a foot taller than the guards, but he seems to tower over them by more than that. Maybe it's his broad shoulders or just something about the way he stands, or his imperiously high cheekbones. The dark stubble across his cheeks looks so rough and unforgiving I can feel it against my palm; it contrasts wildly with the plushness of his lips. His short brown hair is mussed. There's one scar through his eyebrow that somehow adds to his perfection.
          The little group approaches the window. I can barely breathe.
          "ID number 85359," one of the guards says, and I understand that he's referring to the prisoner. That's who he is. Not John Smith or William Brown or whatever his name is. He's been reduced to a number. The woman at the desk runs through a series of questions. It's a procedure for checking him out of solitary.
          The prisoner faces sideways, spine straight, the corner of his mouth tilted up as if he's slightly amused. Then it clicks, what else is so different about him: no visible tattoos. Tough guys like this, they're always inked up—it's a kind of armor, a kind of fuck you. This guy has none of it, though he's far from pristine; white scars mar the rough skin of his hands and especially his forearms, a latticework of pain and violence, a flag proclaiming the kind of underworld he came from.
          The feel of brutality that hangs about him is compelling and…somehow beautiful.
          I drink him in from behind my book—it's my mask, my protective shield. But then the strangest thing happens: he cocks his head. It's just a slight shift, but I feel his attention on me deep in my belly. I've been discovered. Caught by searchlights. Exposed.
          My heart beats frantically.
          I want him to look away. He fills up too much space. It's as if he breathes enough oxygen for twelve men, leaving no air for me at all. Maybe if we were in the library and he needed help finding a book or looking something up, then I wouldn't mind the weight of his gaze.
          No. Not even there. He's too much.
          Two sets of bars on the gate. Handcuffs. Two guards.
          What do they think he would do if there were only one set of bars, one guard?
          My blood races as the guards draw him away from the window and toward the inner door, toward where I sit. His heat pierces the chill around me as he nears. His deep brown eyes never once meet mine, but I have the sense of him looming over me as he passes, like a tree with a massive canopy. He continues on, two hundred pounds of masculine danger wrapped in all that beauty.           Even in chains, he seems vibrant, wild and free, a force of nature—it makes me feel like I'm the one in prison. Safe. Small. Carefully locked down.
          How would it feel to be that free?
          "Ms. Winslow. Ms. Winslow."
          I jump, surprised to hear that the woman has been calling my name. "I'm sorry," I say as a strange sensation tickles the back of my neck.
          The woman stands and begins pulling on her jacket. "I'll take you to the library now."
          "Oh, that's great."
          That shivery sensation gets stronger. Against my better judgment, I look down the hallway where the guards and the prisoner are walking off as one—a column of orange flanked by two thinner, shorter posts.
          The prisoner glances over his shoulder. His mocking brown gaze searches me out, pins me with a subtle threat. Though it isn't his eyes that scare me. It's his lips—those beautiful, generous lips forming words that make my blood race.
          Ms. Winslow.
          No sound comes out, but I feel as though he's whispered my name right into my ear. Then he turns and strolls off.

Annika Martin
I'm a pet wrangler, bookworm, mediocre tennis player and hairstyle failure. And yes, an author, but I promise not to spam you if you friend me!
I live just a stone's throw from the Mississippi with my husband and two beloved cats in a home full of plants, sunshine, books and cookie crumbs. By day, I'm a freelancer in the business world. In addition to being smutty Annika, I write urban fantasy under the pen name Carolyn Crane.

Skye Warren
Skye Warren writes unapologetic erotica, including power play or erotic pain and sometimes dubious consent. There's struggle in the sex. There's pain in the relationships. Her books are raw, sexual and perversely romantic.



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