(★★1/2) My first Tiffinie Helmer book, BEARING ALL was a fast read, enjoyable as a mini-break. Easily a stand-alone (even though #4 in the Wild Men of Alaska series), it may be perfect for readers looking for a light "enemies-to-lovers" story with mainstream (read: sensual, NOT erotic) love scenes and a romantic HEA. (Note: It's a holiday story only insofar as it takes place just before Christmas.)
Meet Kate "No Mercy" Mercer, a CIA operative on a mission to make up for past failures and avenge the death of her partner. Shame that her sexual attraction for her target keeps getting in the way.
Then we have Sergei Lavinsky, a former Russian spy codenamed "The Bear" who defected and is now a guide, fisherman, and handyman at a rustic lodge in Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Unbeknownst to Kate, she's the reason that he's been languishing in the Alaskan wilderness for the past two years since their ill-fated meeting in Afghanistan.
BEARING ALL is an example of "it's probably me, not the book". Fairly well-written with a developed storyline for its short length, I would've enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn't had to work so hard to suspend disbelief while reading it. The physical attraction between Kate and Sergei is tangible, and their sparring built up the sexual tension nicely. However, everything else lost its edge (yes, pun intended) under the weight of numerous plot and character inconsistencies, as well as grammar and edit/proof errors. For example, Kate acknowledges going "rogue" in Ch1 but is later shocked by it. And how can Kate still idealize her dead partner/mentor as a paragon of virtue when he cheated on his wife—with her, when she was drunk? Also, setting aside the issue of whether CIA agents are subject to military justice, the correct term is "court-martialed", not "court marshaled".
Furthermore, as much as I liked Sergei, the Russian accent and broken English expressed in his dialogue were unbelievable (most spies not too effective or long-lived with this) and distracting. Every time I tried to lose myself in the story, it served to remind me of a bad B-grade Dracula movie. Not what I want when reading a sexy romance...
(Thanks, Secret Book Claus(e)! Was a great pick given this week's tricky theme. ^_^)