Final Hour Series, Book 2
Heat Factor: Sex on a boat! Not super explicit after the first time.
Character Chemistry: Loved these two together
Plot: Field operative can’t keep his eyes off quiet analyst…and then she’s framed as the mole!
Overall: I avoided doing anything on a Sunday in favor of reading this whole book at once.
Immediately after Every Last Breath, the Gray Box team sets out to find the mole hidden in their midst. It’s basically the ops team clearing everyone else, so when it’s time to draw straws and be assigned to a fellow Gray Box team member, Gideon Stone volunteers to take on Willow Harper, the analyst who has made a study of keeping to herself, but whom Gideon can’t help watching every day.
Gideon knows Willow isn’t the mole. She’s incapable of lying, and some weird things have happened with her that seem just a smidge too convenient. When everything hits the fan, and the mole frames Willow, Gideon has to step in and rescue her–from death by mole and from the Gray Box team hunting the mole.
For a “framed” narrative, this one follows a nice trajectory, full of the nail-biting suspense of “will they make it in time!?” And of course the ops team trusts each other–the team aspect is a really lovely thing about this series–they just have to race against time so the Powers That Be don’t take matters into their own hands and ruin everything for everyone.
For the romance aspect, the fact that Gideon and Willow have been working together for years makes it much easier to believe the relationship development that happens in less than a week of this forced proximity, high-intensity situation. Here’s the deal: Gideon was recruited from the CIA, where he specialized in, well, torture. He is a killing machine, and his first marriage was a hot mess and then ended very badly, so he’s pretty sure that his black soul is completely worthless, even if his golden boy looks make him appear irresistible. Willow is autistic, so she knows she’s socially awkward, and she thinks she’s far too dowdy for there to be the possibility that Gideon might seriously be interested in someone like her. So they’ve been low-key, a little subconsciously, pining for each other for a long time.
The dynamic these protagonists have is that they’re both very capable, but Willow is wicked smart on her computer and knows nothing about field ops, while Gideon is her fierce protector while they’re on the run, trying to clear her name. The relationship dynamic is problematic for them because Willow doesn’t lie and doesn’t understand cues that would tell her others are lying, she believes what people tell her, while Gideon engages in that wonderfully paternalistic “you’re riding an adrenaline high right now while running for your life, and I probably shouldn’t take advantage of that so I’m going to push you away” behavior, up to and including lying to her “for her own good.” And to protect his own emotions, of course, since he’s convinced he’s too worthless for a good woman like her. I appreciated the fact that Gideon’s paternalistic desire to make decisions for Willow “to protect her” formed the crux of their conflict. This is not an uncommon behavior in romance heroes, but they rarely get to the point of understanding that they are removing choice and agency from their partners by engaging in this behavior.
Rushdan doesn’t shy away from making her protagonists emotionally messy, but she seems to be very good at cleaning up their messes in a thoughtful and emotionally healthy way. You’ll just have to be prepared for the relationship to go from zero to forever in a matter of days. I’m psyched to start Castle’s story next…
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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