In an opening note to the reader, Stephanie Doyle describes how she’d written Her Secret Service Agent early in her career, unearthed, dusted off, rewrote and gave us the present volume in the Superromance category (which, sadly, will soon be defunct). In retrospect, having spent a few days reading Doyle’s Vivian and Joe, Doyle might as well have left Her Secret Service Agent moldering. This book is a right mess, a wrong mess, and every kind of mess in between. BUT, you’ll rightly ask, “Why did you keep reading?” Goodness knows I never hesitate to DNF, but Her Secret Service Agent reminded me of early Linda Howard, not category Linda Howard, but early romantic suspense Linda Howard and I used to love her. *pouts* Doyle’s Secret Service Agent is Howard with vertiginous character about-faces, a mystery resolution so obvious it sits down and has coffee with you, some dubious suggestions about violence and mental illness, and a hero and heroine who inspire citing Bea Arthur’s immortal words to her golden girl companions, “Which one of you has custody of the brain?”. Why’d I keep reading? The banter was amusing, in places, and the plot pacing kind of clipped along and, of course, the mirror it held up to my Linda-Howard nostalgia.
What is this smorgasbord of dubious goodness about? Ten years before the present action, the American president’s daughter, Vivian Bennett, had a secret service agent assigned to her protection detail while she attended GeorgetownU. Joe Hunt was young, sexy, disciplined, devoted, and best friend to a Vivian overprotected and isolated. Vivian fell in love with Joe. Joe didn’t even want to consider his feelings when his duty called. But, one night, when Joe was protecting Vivian at a party, Vivian resolved to tell Joe how she felt and kiss him. She did. He balked. She ran. Ta-dum! Running out of the party, she was knocked unconscious and kidnapped by a unhinged sort, who beat her and called her “Sugarplum”. Joe was blamed. Joe rescued Viv, the president-father fired him, Joe waked away in shame, and they warmed themselves, for ten years, by sadly-lit torches for each other until Viv, in D.C. to launch her interior design business, received threatening letters referencing “Sugarplum.” She contacts Joe, now of Hunt Investigations, to protect her. There is banter and sly, sexy looks, left-over hurt, regret, and resentment. Joe behaves like an overprotective nut-bar, Viv swoons over his manly physique and my eyeballs spent a lot of time defying gravity.
Frankly, I was embarrassed for this book, with lines like:
“Not a one-night-stand kind of guy, huh?” She didn’t know why she was asking. She wasn’t a one-night-stand kind of woman. “Not a one-night-stand kind of guy with you. If I take you, if I have you … it’s not going to be for one night.”
Cringe. Though Viv was in therapy post-kidnapping, her “suffering” was compounded when her therapist seduced her. She found a new therapist, but is still plagued by insomnia. Until she and Joe do the beast with two backs. His magic wand beats the Sleepytime-tea powers: “Apparently, he was the cure for her insomnia.” Cue loud reader guffawing.
The crazy-sauce continues, with Joe and Viv having a lot of wild monkey sex, alternating crude love scenes with closed-bedroom door, because the author obviously couldn’t be bothered. Once in a while, Joe remembers his protector-investigator role with lines as dismissively brilliant as: “They had the stalker business they needed to get through, but then maybe they could actually have a new start.” Taking care of a stalker? Like brushing lint from his manly-Henley-clad shoulders and he and Viv could return to their life of nincompoopery. In the midst of oh-minor-matter-of-The-Stalker, Joe agonizes over how he’ll get Viv’s now ex-president dad to accept him as a son-in-law. True to his severely-limited-braino, our Joe has an a-ha moment: “How the hell was he going to convince her father he was the best man for his daughter? Give him a granddaughter … ” Stalker, baby-making-win-dad-over-strategy, and Viv’s concern with finding Joe the right throw pillow, I couldn’t NOT read to the end, if only to see how bad it could get. I was not disappointed.
I can’t claim Miss Austen’s companionship for this one, but I can cite one of her great lines, “rubs and disappointments everywhere,” Mansfield Park.
Stephanie Doyle’s Her Secret Service Agent is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on July 4th, 2017 and may be procured at your preferred vendor. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.