Title: Heart of the Steal
Authors: Avon Gale and Roan Parrish
Publisher: Philtre Press
Length: 304 Pages
At a Glance: Black, white, and gray… who’d have thought those three hues could make for such a colorful romance?
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Responsible, disciplined William Fox channeled his love for art and his faith in the rules into being an FBI Art Crimes agent. Right and wrong, justice and injustice—the differences are clear, and Will has spent his career drawing a line between them. Maybe his convictions have cost him relationships, but he’s not willing to compromise what he knows is right. Until the night he meets Amory Vaughn.
As the head of his family’s philanthropic foundation, Vaughn knows very well that being rich and powerful can get him almost anything he wants. And when he meets endearingly grumpy and slightly awkward William Fox, he wants him more than he’s wanted anything. Vaughn is used to being desired for his name and his money, but Will doesn’t care about either.
When Vaughn falls back on old habits and attempts to impress Will by stealing a painting Will admires, their nascent bond blows up in his face. But Vaughn isn’t willing to give up on the glimpse of passion he saw the night he took Will apart. Before Will knows it, he’s falling for the man he should have arrested, and Vaughn has to realize that some things can’t be bought or stolen. Love has to be given freely. But can a man who lives by the rules, and a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, ever see eye to eye?
Heart of the Steal is a standalone romance with a happy ending. It features a Southern gentleman who thinks he’s always right, a buttoned-up FBI agent who secretly likes his buttons unbuttoned, and wall sex. And desk sex. And picnic blanket sex.
Review: William Fox and Amory Vaughn couldn’t be more different if they tried. Point one in this novel’s favor—opposites attract. It’s one of my favorite tropes in all of romanceland, and while enemies-to-lovers may be a slight exaggeration as labels go to describe the way Will and Vaughn start and end up, it’s not altogether inaccurate either. I mean, how is an FBI agent in the Art Crimes Division supposed to deal with a tall drink of water who’s ultra-wealthy, rivals Lucius Malfoy in the hair department, and steals an expensive painting—after seducing said agent—as a means of impressing him? It’s fun stuff, that, and it causes more than a few bumps in their relationship along the way.
Point number two in this novel’s favor: the friction. Everything is black and white to Will. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and there are no blurred lines between the two that allow for maybes. For Vaughn? Well, the various gray tones on his color palette cut a broad swath across his life. The only black and white is that he’s not willing to compromise on the finest life has to offer (i.e., what his money can buy). He has the financial means to ensure not only every creature comfort is his for the taking, but his money also ensures that he often can bend circumstances to his will (no pun intended). He’s not above using his abundant resources, including his charm, to control any given situation, and that privilege has insulated him from certain realities. Realities like, say, stealing the above-mentioned work of art and then using it to invite Will on a date, the guy whose job it is to arrest people who steal valuable artwork, the guy who takes that responsibility seriously—that might just be a slight lapse in Vaughn’s judgment. But, in Vaughn’s defense, he’s used to people being impressed by and using him for his money.
Point three in this novel’s favor is pretty simple: Will and Vaughn. Heart of the Steal is told from both their points of view, and I loved them both, but Amory Vaughn—I mean, amor is right there in his name, so the love was inevitable. Because the direction of his moral compass skews somewhat towards ambiguity—“There’s what’s right and there’s what’s right and never the twain shall meet,” to quote one of my fave films—I loved all the delicious potential for conflict Vaughn’s actions caused. Is he a bit stuffy and given to pretense? Yep. Does he like to make and break and remake the rules to suit his wants and needs? Yep. Is he a bad person? Nope, not at all, which makes him a sympathetic character. I loved finding out what made him tick, and characters who skate along through shades of gray are always so much more interesting. Who doesn’t wish they could live outside the lines sometimes?
Will is an awesome character too, and I love the way he tried to bring some perspective and a little “average” to Vaughn’s life. Will is a man of uncompromising integrity, but that also means he’s inflexible. It’s sort of the irresistible force paradox—what happens when an unstoppable force (Vaughn) meets an immovable object (Will)? The impact has the potential to be painful, and someone is bound to get hurt. Watching Will war with his conscience was a great conundrum. How can he reconcile falling in love with a man who is thoughtful, generous, makes exceedingly romantic gestures and yet, sometimes sees honesty as fluid, skirts the law, and can use his wealth and influence to manipulate? All was not smooth on the road to their happy ending, but so much of the fun was witnessing how cleverly Avon Gale and Roan Parrish led me over and through the peaks and valleys.
The writing itself is, of course, point four in favor of this novel. The benefit of these two authors combining their considerable storytelling talents is that Will’s and Vaughn’s voices are so distinct, their mannerisms and personalities so uniquely them—Will, the sort of down to earth “every man”, and Vaughn, the genteel purebred Southern gentleman—that even without the chapter or dialogue tags, I’d have known who was speaking from nothing more than the cadence and manner of speech (side note: this one would be fun to listen to on audio, with the right narrator). Watching Will bend a bit, seeing Vaughn come to the realization and then embrace that Will loved him for himself rather than for what he could take from Vaughn was pretty special.
Black, white, and gray… who’d have thought those three hues could make for such a colorful romance?
I adored this book. I assumed I would, based on who wrote it, but even that’s not always a guarantee. So, yeah. Adored. Heart of the Steal stole my heart (and you had to know I was going to go there eventually).
You can buy Heart of the Steal here: