Unmasked by C.J. Barry
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 0-505-52574-7
As the fourth of C.J. Barry’s “un” books,Unmasked takes place at some undetermined time in the future.  Masters Shipping is the galaxy’s leading merchant fleet shipping company.  Torrie Masters has finally convinced her six older brothers to let her have a delivery run in the family business.  On her first run the ship is high jacked by pirates.  Torrie stays behind to fight after her crew abandons ship.  If the ship is going down, she’s going to make sure to take the pirates with it.  Outnumbered, she loses the fight.  The pirates let her go with her word that she won’t report them.  Apparently, even pirates have standards.

Oddly, only the medical supplies are stolen.  Torrie decides to track the shipment and steal it back.  She doesn’t want to face her brothers after losing cargo on her first run.  In the process of following the containers, she finds herself captured. 

The pirates – the Ghost Riders of the Dead Zone – have quite a reputation and are wanted across the galaxy for stealing ships and cargo.  Qaade Deter, leader of the Ghost Riders, is immediately intrigued by Torrie’s fight and courage.  He buys Torrie from a slave trader using the stolen medical supplies. 

However, Qaade is not quite who he seems to be.  Slavery is legal in about half of the sector.  In the other half, illegal slavery does occur.  Qaade created and runs Slipstream, a secret underground network for freeing slaves.  The supplies he stole contained Phellium, an illegal drug to restore short-term and long-term memory ability.  Slaves’ memories are wiped along with their ability to store memories.  The Phellium will return memory ability but not the lost memories.

No surprise that when she comes to Torrie’s pissed off and looks for an escape from the pirates.  Eventually, she agrees to help Qaade get back the Phellium.  She can’t have her family business destroyed because they were tricked into shipping illegal drugs.  As they work together can Qaade and Torrie learn to trust each other?

Torrie is a fearless, kick-ass, self-sufficient woman who doesn’t need anyone to take care of her.  Qaade is a sexy pirate with morals.  He also has issues with giving up control.  But since he has a Han Solo quality (hot and adventurous), I can forgive that in him.  Her law-abiding views and his vigilante tactics cause quite a bit of friction between them.  The two are wildly attracted to each other.  But do two people with such different approaches to the same problem have a future?

While there was plenty of adventure, the holes in Unmasked keep it from being more than three hearts.  For example, with all the slaves about Slipstream, how does no one else in the galaxy know?  Also Qaade and Torrie plan around each other in an effort to save the other.  It would be nice if they just talked to solve their problems.

As a fan of sci-fi stories (tv, movies, books), I was a little disappointed in the futuristic aspects of Unmasked.  People fly space ships, have electronic gadgets and visit other planets but I would have enjoyed more details of the future or of the spaceship battles.  The focus of the book is on Qaade & Torrie’s romance and on battling the slave trade.

Overall the fast pace and heroism made Unmasked a fun read.

--Terry Lawrence

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