by Michele Albert, contemporary (2006)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-8503-3
The story in Michele Albert's Hide In Plain Sight is only part of an ongoing storyarc and therefore closure cannot found in this book. However, the romance is self-contained even if the story is merely the beginning of what seems to be a storyarc about our special operations team Avalon conducting an ongoing mission to capture the bad guys behind what seems like everything that is wrong in the world today.
In Hide In Plain Sight, Avalon's target is Rainert von Lahr. Our hero Griffith Laughton especially wants von Lahr nailed to the wall and he also wants to be the person to do the nailing because he holds himself responsible for leading an Avalon team into a trap set by von Lahr five years ago that ended with the deaths of a few Avalon agents under his command. The current intel on von Lahr suggests that he's in America. Grif holds something that Avalon hopes will lure von Lahr out in the open: a (fake) hitherto long-lost Christopher Marlowe work which contains a code that von Lahr will love to get his hands. Caught in the middle as an unwitting pawn is Fiona Kennedy, the owner of Kennedy Antique Bookstore and one the best scholar you can find in this part of the world to authenticate a possible undiscovered Christopher Marlowe work. Grif knows that von Lahr will go straight to Fiona so he has to get to Fiona first. The attraction between Grif and Fiona naturally complicates matters considerably.
This is a romance that at first takes part under deceptive circumstances, but I really like how Grif doesn't sway from his objective at hand even if this does make him come off like a cold-blooded reptile. After all, there is a bigger mission here, to stop bad guys, that should take priority. Likewise, I like how Fiona reacts when she discovers the truth about Grif's identity. She gets angry at being lied to by a man who slept with her without telling her the truth, but she also gets the big picture and doesn't let her feelings get in the way of listening to Grif when it comes to getting away from the bad guys.
Grif and Fiona are typical examples of this author's characters: they are smart people who come off as real as well. Grif may be a super-duper secret agent but his vulnerabilities and his reactions in dealing with these vulnerabilities make him come off as a real person. He has just the right amount of emotional baggage without overdoing the whole self-pity guilt trip thing. Grif is basically a guy who is rough around the edges but is clearly a good guy who will do the right thing for the right reasons, even if "right" doesn't always mean "nice". Likewise, Fiona is an intelligent heroine who may be in a situation she is ill-prepared to deal with on her own but she is smart enough to listen to Grif in such a situation. She doesn't make the story all about her and she is smart enough to see the big picture or connect the dots when she has to. She and Grif make a pretty good couple and they have fine sexual chemistry too.
Ms Albert also manages to make the relationship believable despite the short time these characters meet and fall in love, especially considering how he is a covert agent and she is a bookstore owner and scholar. Let's just say that the author winds down the story in a way that allows those two to have a realistic chance at a happily-ever-after in a way many "I bet they'll be divorced in a year because of his job!" stories with SEAL heroes and prim librarians fail to do.
I should point out again here that the storyline isn't fully resolved in this book - the author uses this book as an unofficial prologue and launchpad for her upcoming series that formally deal with the members of Avalon and the storyarc will continue, I would presume, in upcoming books. Grif and Fiona however find closure by the end of this book. Also present in this story are plenty of exciting chase scenes that are thrilling without coming off like scenes from a GI Joe cartoon, with the romance and suspense components fitting together very nicely like hand in glove without one overshadowing the other. Ms Albert's biggest triumph in this book is to serve up a romantic action-paced story with characters that come off as realistic and believable despite some of the superhero antics of the Avalon people. As a very entertaining fast-paced tale with a most satisfying romance, Hide In Plain Sight is it.
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