Loaded with Intrigue – A review of “Locked and Loaded” by Mandy Baxter

If you’re in the mood for a romantic thriller that lets you jump in at Book 5 without feeling like you’ve missed important pieces of the backstory then “Locked and Loaded” is a good choice. The title hooked me at the get-go so I was all in.

To say that Mason Decker is a straight arrow from a criminal background is like saying the Pope is Catholic. His father is doing hard time in a federal prison and his “brother” Kieran is perpetually only a half-step ahead of the law. They both think he’s a schmuck for walking the straight and narrow for peanuts when the pickings are easy. When Mason is assigned to a task force headed up by Charlie Cahill his rebel tendencies emerge because the powers that be know he prefers to work alone. But “Charlie” is an ambitious assistant US Attorney who doesn’t cotton to being told NO and she’s determined to stick to Mason like a burr. It’s good that she’s a quick study because Mason has to give her a crash course in being his “accomplice” in this undercover assignment from hell, just to keep them both alive. Can they track down and find the infamous Faction Five? Or does it even really exist? Is Kieran the key to finding answers to those questions? And if so, is blood thicker than water?

With no prior knowledge of the series I feel at liberty to comment with no shading from the earlier books. The characters are fully developed and multidimensional, especially those of Mason and Kieran. The dynamics of their brotherly relationship are particularly interesting but I could never make up my mind about Kieran’s motivations. Sometimes his jealousy of Mason was evident, especially in his obvious attempts to cut him out of the picture and monopolize Charlie’s time and impress her with his savoir faire. But other times that brotherly connection was the only thing keeping Kieran from wandering too far afield into the criminal element. Charlie is an interesting character. At first glance she is imbued with all the characteristics we love in a strong male lead but find overbearing in a female. Those are just societal norms pounded into us from early on. Once you cut through the pre-conceived notions, Charlie has a lot going for her and there’s more to her than is obvious at first glance.

The multidimensional plot is almost too much, at times seeming to draw in factions just to roil the water a bit more. And I could have done with more action and a lot fewer inner musings from all the characters. It slows the pacing unnecessarily. But the plot twists will keep you on your toes if you can stay with it through the slower parts. There’re also some steamy bedroom scenes with Mason and Charlie that add the romance to this romantic thriller. Four stars.

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