By day, Willa Heston is a mild-mannered Quantum Physicist; by night, she’s on the trail of stolen classified documents. Technically that means Detective John Tilbrook is on her side, only Willa has secrets she’s not sharing. Though she keeps her distance, John is fascinated by the new physicist on the block. A fan of coincidence and happy endings, John has plans for the secretive scientist with the wicked sense of humour. Trouble is, Willa has more than her heart on the line — her best friend is the prime suspect for espionage, she’s leading a double life and she’s having one hell of a bad hair day. As days speed past, Willa’s life unravels as she struggles to come to terms with her unexpected feelings for a man she just met. John’s a big fan of happily-ever-afters, but will he believe in love and happiness when Willa divulges the real reason she’s in town? Will he break the law he’s sworn to uphold — for love?
Having read and greatly enjoyed the two novels that (so far) comprise Sandra Antonelli’s In Service romantic suspense series featuring a spy and the (female) butler who loves him, I decided to delve into her back catalogue. I liked the sound of For Your Eyes Only (a title the author tells me she originally suggested as a joke!), a story revolving around a forty-something physicist-turned-FBI-agent who is sent to investigate the leak of sensitive information from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Ms. Antonelli’s writing is clever and witty, her plots generally well-executed and her books all feature romances between characters in their forties and fifties, an age group that is still sadly underrepresented within the romance genre.
Dr. Willa Heston isn’t too thrilled by her latest assignment. A quantum physicist, she’s also worked for the FBI for a number of years as an Intelligence Analyst before being recruited into undercover work. She’s heading to Los Alamos to take up a fellowship at the National Lab (where she used to work) but her real job is to find out how classified information from the lab was found at the site of a recent drug bust by the local PD. And that would all be fine were it not for the fact that the investigation is likely to turn up links to her dear friend Dominic Brennan – whom she knows is completely innocent – a former colleague, and the man who helped her keep her shit together after the tragic death of her husband.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, her car has a flat tyre on the road and while she’s perfectly capable of changing it, the final lug nut is screwed on so tightly she just can’t get it off. A passing motorist stops to offer his help, and discovering the spare tyre is flat, too, ends up driving Willa to the nearest town so she can get it sorted out. Even Willa’s foul mood can’t stop her noticing that the guy is really attractive, with a truly disarming smile – or from admitting there’s a definite spark between them, something she hasn’t felt since losing her husband a couple of years back.
Detective John Tilbrook has been on enforced leave from his job because of a complaint levelled at him by a suspect, which is how come he’s driving his eight-year-old niece home from a party just in time to catch sight of the white-haired woman beating the crap out of the rear tyre on a beat-up Volkswagen by the side of the road. When he stops to help, he’s surprised to find the woman is younger than her white hair had led him to expect, and that she’s really pretty besides. He likes her instantly; her sense of humour aligns with his and her ability to banter back and forth is seriously impressive and attractive… but he’s unlikely to see her ever again. Or so he thinks until, over lunch at his favourite haunt, he hears her voice dryly advising him not to cram too-hot food into his mouth.
That’s only the first of the series of accidental encounters between John and Willa that take place throughout the book, usually at the most inopportune times. The strength of their mutual attraction is never in doubt, but as one would expect of a couple of individuals who have a few decades of life experience under their belts, they’re both carrying around a bit of baggage, and everything is further complicated by the fact that not only is Willa unable to tell John the truth about why she’s back in Los Alamos, his best friend (and cousin) Lesley recently married Dominic Brennan. Soon Willa is going to be forced to make a difficult choice between the man she’s falling for in a big way and the long-standing friend who’s always been there for her. Throw in the local murder investigation John’s heading up and both he and Willa have plenty to think about besides each other… although that proves more difficult than expected for both of them.
It took me a few chapters to really get into this story and I’m not completely sure why. I liked the initial meeting between John and Willa and the way they just seemed to connect straight away, trading quips and pop-culture references as though they’d known each other for a while. But although they both came into focus fairly quickly, the suspense plot didn’t – it took a while for that to get going and for me to really understand what was going on. I also didn’t really get the relationship between Willa and her teenaged step-daughter – who steals from her, vandalises her car and generally treats her like shit – or rather I don’t understand why it was included, as the book would have worked equally well without it. It felt rather as though it had been included just to add yet another item onto Willa’s pile of baggage.
John and Willa are likeable, intelligent and attractive people who stumble into love unexpectedly at a time when both of them are starting to wonder if maybe they’ve missed the boat and are going to spend the rest of their lives alone. John is a genuinely nice guy; kind, funny, a bit of a dork and ready to wait for Willa if that’s what it takes; and Willa is a sassy, competent woman who embraces her white hair (it’s been that way since she was twenty-two) and the intense sexual attraction she feels towards John. She’s perhaps the more well-defined of the pair, but they work well as a couple, despite a bit of out-of-character behaviour from John towards the end.
There are a few rough edges here; the pacing is a little slow in places, and while I was amused by the fact that whenever John and Willa met they were a mess – they’d spilled something down themselves or someone else and ended up with food stains on their clothes – it got old fairly quickly; I mean, I’m clumsy, but even I’m not that clumsy!
Ultimately though, if you’re looking for a smart, funny and sexy romance featuring characters with a few more grey hairs and a few more laugh-lines than the norm for the genre, you could do a lot worse than take For Your Eyes Only out for a spin.