This is books one thru three of six books in the Truth or Lies series. Each book reads like a roller coaster, with unexpected gut-clenching twists and turns. Enzo and Kai both grew up in a brutal world, but one was raised in luxury and the other in extreme poverty. They have an undeniable connection, but every time they cross paths or begin to drop their defenses, something seems to pull them apart. There are many questions and many lies, but answers do come with patience. The books are best read back to back since the plot is very complex. This review attempts to summarize earlier books as a reminder for readers that didn’t just finish the prior book in the series.
From book one:
The myth that surrounds the Black name in Miami and beyond is legendary, demanding both fear and respect. Danger defines Mr. Black; ruthless describes him. He rules Miami, where he runs Surrender, an invitation only club where deals are made by the high-powered members of the underground that frequent it. Mr. Black also runs many other clubs in Miami, has a fleet of yachts that he deals with, and runs a security firm. The fleet gives him access to the lawless waters of the ocean as well as the world beyond Miami.
Enzo Black, seventeen, drinks to numb the memories that haunt him. He grew up in comfort and has more money than he will ever need, but his life has not been easy. As the son of Mr. Black, he knows he has an image to maintain. There is no room for feelings for someone like him. He has blood on his hands. His father has trained him in the family business for years, expecting that Enzo might one day take over. His second hands happen to be his two best friends, Langston and Zeke. They all grew up together, so having his trusted friends at his side in a dark world dominated by older and experienced criminals provides a welcome level of comfort. Langston is more brain, while Zeke is more brawn. But both are loyal. They are family.
Katherine Miller, sixteen, hasn’t’ been to school in weeks. She is old enough to opt not to go, so she has been going less and less, choosing to work and steal instead. Food on the table and rent for the trailer she shares with her father rank higher on her list of priorities than her education. First on the list, however, is paying off her father’s debt. She loves her father despite the lack of warmth in their relationship. She remains loyal, even though they’ve had growing pains. Kai’s mother died from cancer when she was small, but she had fought it with everything she had before succumbing to the disease. Her death left Kai’s father with a debt in the millions. The debt collectors have to be paid, and some are shady. Kai knows one day she will have to pay with her body, but she will continue to delay that inevitability as long as possible by stealing.
When Enzo and Kai meet by chance, they both feel electrified. Enzo’s feelings come to life despite himself, and Kai has never been so attracted to a boy before. But when they meet again, the circumstances are not by chance. Enzo has a job to do, and Kai is his job. Kai has questions, but he doesn’t seem to have answers. He promises to let her leave town, but in a cruel twist of fate Kai is taken and sold to a cruel man named Jarod. Years later Kai is back and she wants answers. Enzo has answers now, but doesn’t want KaI to know them. They play a game but Kai loses. Instead of getting her answers, Enzo now owns her. He keeps her and sees to her health, but his trickery isn’t over. The two play a series of games of Truth or Lies as a means to get answers that neither willingly wants to share.
Just when Kai begins to recover her strength and the pair begins to bond, her whole world is turned upside down. She learns what Enzo meant when he said becoming the next Mr. Black is earned, and he confesses he didn’t actually earn it because he let her live six year ago. The next Mr. Black will earn his or her place according to the rules set forth by the last two to compete for the title: their fathers. The Rinaldi and Miller families have competed for the title for generations. As only children, Enzo and Kai must compete, since it is now known that she is not dead. There will be five competitions, each with a clear winner. Three out of five wins the title. Outside of the rules, there are no rules. It is a dangerous game, meant to flush out the weakest and leave the strongest to run the empire until the next generation of Rinaldis and Millers comes along.
In book two
Enzo and Kai must run Mr. Black’s empire together until a winner is determined. Enzo has run it as Mr. Black for three years already, and though Kai has great street smarts and is quite capable of standing up for herself, she lacks experience as a leader. When things get personal, the two clash professionally. Kai uses her equal footing with Enzo to hurt him, but it comes with a price. When the first round of the game begins, they had reached a tentative peace, but winning comes at a price as well.
Heartbroken by Kai's betrayal, as evidenced by the rumors that damage his reputation in the underworld, and not denied by Kai herself later, Enzo loses his careful composure and does the unthinkable. Another round of Truths, though, has him and Kai both spiraling out of control and the entire team scrambling. The book ends in a shattering cliffhanger with yet another wicked turn at the end.
In book three:
A tentative peace is reached, but a war is simmering. The entire crew heads aboard the Savage and out to sea to keep their whereabouts unknown and to buy time. Milo Wallace must be taken out, and an alliance is formed with Rowan Evan. Liesel Dunn, Enzo’s friend from his teen years, is forced to join leave on the Savage as well due to her role in the first game.
Liesel doesn't play nice and makes no secret of her feelings for Enzo. But Enzo, of course doesn't do quite enough put her in her place. The fact that Liesel is still his “everything” has something to do with that. Her history with Enzo presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Kai.
Tensions play out during the time out at sea. Some relationships blossom in such close quarters, but people also begin to grow antsy. The truths unveiled before the departure leave Kai and Enzo damaged. Kai deals with the fact that both her father and Enzo sold her as well as the many lies she grew up with. Enzo struggles with his guilt and his determination to make things right. He grows emotionally during this time, but still doesn't quite know how to deal with it best. He wavers between needing Kai forever and sending her away from Black for her own good at the first opportunity.
A second game takes place aboard ship. This game is different, though, because it isn't only Enzo and Kai whose safety and well-being are involved. It is an emotionally brutal game. Nevertheless, the war must take place before they can all return home, and nobody fights fair. Blood spills in this heartbreaking battle. The story ends in a cliffhanger. Their story continues in Stolen by Truths, book four of the series.
There are a few issues that merit mention. First, Kai's attempt to be serious about winning round two of the Black games isn't serious at all, hence she would have been better off not even attempting her chosen method. Perhaps more persuasion might have gotten her closer to a win. Second, Enzo's indecision becomes tiresome, though Kai makes some progress in that department. Finally, Enzo and Kai both make utterly foolish, dead-end choices that seem out of character, but conveniently lead to another cliffhanger as readers wait to see who gets their way and what new damage has taken place.
Enzo and Kai’s story is a slow burn. They have fantastic chemistry, but their relationship is complicated. It shifts. Kai and Enzo finally come to terms with their feelings in this book. They have an undefined relationship, though neither is capable of expressing their feelings for the other. Both are determined to do what is best for the other, even if it means an end for them. Sometimes they are enemies – of necessity, for self preservation. Enzo's priorities shift. Becoming the next Black falls second to protecting Kai, but how best to protect her doesn't have a clear and easy answer. Kai doesn’t want to become the next Black. Either way, the games continue even if she chooses not to participate. Here she has made great progress in healing, but the extent of Enzo's suffering and his own need for healing come to light.
Enzo and Kai’s story continues the angsty twists and turns in book three of the series. Their chemistry heats up the pages as they become consumed with one another. The story is nicely written. It is plot-driven, with heartbreaking curveballs that sock you in the gut. The characters are well-developed. The story is written in first person. The POV alternates mostly between Enzo and Kai, with one chapter in Liesel's POV and two in Milo's. I rate this book 4.5 stars.
I received a free advance copy of this book and am voluntarily leaving a review.