Pen Holloway’s done with men—in real life. Guys in game are so much less drama. But when her partner from Heroes of Fallen Gods invites her to the convention of the year, she panics. What if he’s another jerk? What if he’s not? Cal Burrows is living his dream of being a spy. One of TRAIT’s misfit spies, but still a spy. It’s the perfect job… until an arms dealer with a taste for blood invades his not-so-secret geek haven. All Cal wanted from ConDamned was to meet his on-line girl. Now, with the threat of mass murder looming, he’s forced to choose between keeping his mission a secret and protecting the girl of his dreams. Despite their attraction, Pen can’t help but suspect Cal’s hiding something. She also can’t shake the feeling he’s not as much of a stranger as he seems.
My one and only experience with MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) came a long time ago and consisted of two days playing World of Warcraft under the very reluctant, exasperated tutelage of my son. Did I say exasperated? I meant that he had a sh*t fit having to explain to his mom how to play, especially in a group (whatever) he was in. It hadn’t been a bonding experience. Since I was such a spectacular failure I admit I’m always a little jealous of people who play so expertly and go to Cons and things, so when I saw the synopsis for Gaming for Keeps, there was no hesitation at all from me.
Megara is a badass rogue with a sizeable arsenal, but thanks to Maksamar, a lax member of her own group, she’s about to die after being attacked by a troll. Fortunately help in the form of her faithful paladin Lohonas is there and with a great sacrifice, she’s saved at the last minute. Megara, Maksamar and Lohanas only exist in a virtual world, their adventures part of a role-playing game, but their actions have begun to reflect the real people behind the avatars. Maksamar is really the dirtbag ex-boyfriend of Pen Holloway (Megara) and Cal Burrows (Lohonas) is interested in meeting up with Pen to see if their sparks in the game will carry over into reality. Understandably, Pen is a little apprehensive about meeting up with Cal in person. He could be an axe murderer, a girl or a teenage boy who lives in his mom’s basement, but Cal finds the perfect place to set her at ease. Gamer nirvana, also known as ConDamned is happening nearby, and they’ll both go – if fate decides it, they’ll meet, no pressure.
The story started getting a little dicey for me when Cal’s job as a sort of geeky second-tier spy was revealed. He has orders to locate someone at ConDamned, jeopardizing his time together with Pen. I thought the whole spy storyline in general was fuzzy and frankly, a little sillier than the story needed – it was already delightfully sly with all of the fun gamer and sci-fi references. There wasn’t enough time in this slight story to fit the romance, the gamer pieces and the spy sections and flesh them out and fit them together properly.
The romance with Pen and Cal played out in a fun way. I don’t want to spoil the way Pen had to go about finding him or the mishaps along the way, but it put a grin on my face more than once. I’ve read deLaney before and have always loved the chemistry she can generate between her characters and she did it again here. Through the humor and the completely bizarre situations, I could see why these two were hot for each other. Pen is a sweet girl, insecure and sassy all at once. I loved that she was right in the gaming community with the guys – a tough place to be if you’ll ask any woman gamer out there. Cal is my idea of a dream man – gorgeous, nerdy brilliant, confident, funny, sexy and sweet. We’d have to discuss that spy thing and all the time he spends online gaming though….
I enjoyed the beginning of the story when it was just Pen and Cal flirting, having fun and making plans to meet at ConDamned. My interest started to wane once the spy plot was added but I still hung in there because Cal and Pen were a great couple and the touches of the gaming community and pop culture references had me smiling and looking for more. Seleste deLaney is a terrific author and I recommend picking up her books – I just didn’t enjoy this one as much as I’d hoped.
My Rating: C