Review: Variable Onset – Layla Reyne

Review: Variable Onset – Layla ReyneVariable Onset
by Layla Reyne
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: May 4, 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 243
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

To catch a killer, a special agent and his former student will need to get close—to their target, and each other. Layla Reyne returns with a stand-alone romantic mystery.

When the serial killer known as Dr. Fear seemingly reemerges after a cooling-off period, Special Agent Lincoln Monroe wants on the case. He knows his research on the calculating criminal, who targets couples and uses their worst fears to kill them, could prove invaluable. But nothing can prepare Lincoln for the agent waiting for him in Apex, Virginia: a brash and cocky former student. Carter Warren is everything Lincoln is not, and somehow everything he wants. And they’ll be going undercover. As newlyweds.

For Carter, seeing Lincoln again—and flustered to boot—pokes his raging bear of a crush something fierce. He thinks posing as lovers will provide the perfect bait for Dr. Fear. But pretending to be married forces them to confront fears of their own…like giving in to the very real chemistry between them.

With evidence pointing to the possibility of a copycat killer, Lincoln and Carter will have to race to separate truth from fiction. But when another couple goes missing, finding the killer will test every ounce of their training, skills and the strength of their bond like never before.

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4 stars icon categories_m_m romance icon suspense

I loved Layla Reyne’s Irish and Whiskey and Trouble Brewing series, so I was excited to see she had a new book coming out. One of the townspeople describes the main characters as a “hot-as-fuck agent and his pet professor” which I think gives you a good idea of what this book is like! Plus, the fake relationship and opposites attract tropes!

Lincoln is a professor at Quantico, and Carter is one of his more memorable former students. When serial killer Dr. Fear abducts a new couple, Carter follows a lead to the small town of Apex and the university there. Since Lincoln is the leading expert on the serial killer, he’s sent there to help him out. Lincoln isn’t a fan of field work, and even less a fan of being undercover – especially when Carter springs on him that they’re pretending to be newlyweds. Pesky attraction aside, time is running out for the newest victims, and Carter and Lincoln may be on the trail of a copycat, not the real killer. Can the partners catch the people involved before it’s too late, or will they be the next victims?

“All those years, you can appreciate a slow burn.”
“In other words, you’re gonna make me suffer some more.”
“Trust me when I say we’re both going to be suffering.”

Lincoln and Carter are complete opposites. Lincoln’s a silver fox, ten years older than Carter, a bit curmudgeonly and very set in his routine – or at least as set as he can be with a teenage daughter. Carter’s much more outgoing and more suited to undercover field work, though his childhood experiences have left him with a lot of self-doubt over his ability to contribute to the case. And that’s problematic because he desperately wants to impress the man he’s had a crush on for eight years. Lincoln’s also never been able to forget Carter, but he’s wary of a romantic partner upsetting his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife, not to mention his carefully crafted life. Given the serial killer’s calling card – leaving diagnoses of the victim’s fears – it was not unexpected that a portion of the book was each character working through their own fears, whether it’s something like fire or more complicated like abandonment. Like Layla Reyne’s other couples, these two have ridiculous chemistry with plenty of amusing banter. It’s very, very slow burn, though, so the majority of the sexual content is kissing and making out.

“Carter liked that look of surprise. He wasn’t sure of the ranking yet—blush, surprise, anger—but all of them looked good on Lincoln Monroe. He aimed to see more of them while also collaring a killer or two.”

There’s a good balance between the suspense plot and the romance through most of the book. I guessed the serial killer’s identity pretty quickly, but there were enough herrings and twists and turns thrown in to make me doubt my choice. With the main team in DC and their reluctance to involve the local police, they’re both simultaneously removed from and in the center of the action. It’s solely up to them to cozy up to the townspeople and get the information the main team needs before the latest victims’ time runs out. Rather than the usual sort of stings and such, Lincoln’s an expert in forensic genealogy, which I knew a little bit about from the Golden State Killer but found absolutely fascinating. It does make this slower paced, though, as a lot of Lincoln’s time is spent in a forensic lab or library archives, but it picks up quite a bit at the end, as you’d expect. If there’s one criticism, it’s that I would’ve liked to see a bit more of them together as a couple at the end of the book. With such a slow burn I expected a bit more emotional pay-off, and I don’t think we quite got that. I believe this is meant to only be a standalone, but I could also see revisiting these two as part of a series.

Overall, I’d give this about 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. It’s a fun and suspenseful read, and the combination of fake-relationship and opposites-attract tropes worked for me.

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