It’s been a hot week, temp-wise, and I highly recommend reading Adriana Anders’s first Survival Instincts, romantic suspense novel, Whiteout, to help you think cool thoughts and see you groggy-eyed from staying up too late to finish reading it.
Set in the Antarctic, focussed on Dr. Ford Cooper, glaciologist and emotional “Ice Man,” and warm, curvaceous, smiling research station cook, Angel Smith, Whiteout is everything romantic suspense should be. That means romance never gives way to suspense. Oh, there’s heart-in-your-throat scenes, but grumpy-monosyllabic-hero to sunshiny-motor-mouth heroine is everything you’d look for in a we’re-gonna-die-we’re-falling-in-love-let’s-make-love romance narrative. Anders sets her hero and heroine up nicely. Angel has cooked for the “Poley”, the research station team for months and is set to fly back to the States the next day. The night before, she joins the last-night celebrations and shimmies a dance before Mr. Stone-Face himself, Ford. Ford’s attraction has been clinging like a pesky burr-ish ice pellet, but he’s a no-emotions-no-connections-happy-with-my-ice-samples, thank you, ma’am, dude. Except for the part where he can’t get delicious-food, delicious-bod, warm person Angel out of this mind. When the station is attacked and he and Angel are the sole survivors, they set off, grump to her sunshine, on a 300-mile trek to another research station, only a few ski poles ahead of their bad-guy pursuers.
Honestly, the suspense-bad-guys part of the Anders’s novel was a jumbled mess: there’s a bad-guy who turns out to be a woman, an ice-encrusted virus that is being sought as a bioweapon (and that Ford’s research unearthed, or rather “un-iced”), a nefarious organization looking for world domination, or cleansing, or both. Frankly, it didn’t matter because Whiteout has so going for it.
Anders created two utterly lovable opposites-attract protagonists and the initial friction between them only turns, as promised in their exchanges, into the good romance stuff. There’s Ford’s response to Angel: “No point in dwelling on the person who turned him — an awkward man at the best of times — into a monosyllabic robot.” Ford is a GREAT grump, so good at his Ice Man persona, Angel hasn’t a clue how his radar is focussed on her: “It was a lost cause, since he was only able to focus on one thing: her.” Does Angel have an inkling of his feelings? NO: “What an idiot to have hoped that a dance might heat up that man’s subglacial eyes … The door swung open, more violently that usual, and there he was, right on time, too-wide shoulders filling the doorway, perma-scowl on his annoyingly handsome face: Dr. Ford Cooper, the Ice Man himself.” A romance reader knows, when lines this succinct can convey the hero and heroine’s depth of attraction and liking, what putting these two together, under adverse circumstances, with killers on their heels, and a vista of beauty and danger, in a tiny tent, with cold so intense only body heat can save you, offer by way of romance? So. So. Much.
Anders makes good her promise. As Ford and Angel struggle with the elements and fight off thugs, they share more than body heat; they share what makes the best of a romance, themselves. Their past, present, what they like and don’t, what they believe in, what’s important to them … until, they become, to each other, what is most important, forged in team-work, attraction, liking, humour, bodily and emotional intimacy. The Antarctic, in the meantime, is as good as any closed-cabin romance setting. I loved how Anders establishes a bond between Ford and Angel because making the other laugh and smile becomes the most important thing they can do for the other:
Coop, who’d never had a mom and never been too sad about it, wasn’t a man to wish for anything. Ever. He had what he had and worked hard to get what he wanted. Which was mostly peace and quiet. But here, across from a woman who was the antithesis of everything he’d ever known, who’d fed him food that burst with flavour and worked as hard as any soldier he’d ever fought beside, he let himself wish — for just a second or two — that he could be the man who made her laugh.
“You go out on the ice alone every single day.” “That’s research.” “Ah. Research. A fine mistress.” She did some weird approximation of a foreign accent. He snorted out a half laugh and opened his mouth to say something but she beat him to it. “Holy crap.” “What?” “Did you just laugh?” She sat up, humor brightening her eyes. “Huh?” “That huffy noise you made. That was a laugh, wasn’t it?” “Huffy?” “Yeah. Like a grunt.” “Wasn’t — ” “It was. You laughed. Halle-frickin-lujah.”
Shared laughter, shared danger, shared stories, shared body heat, shared liking, shared admiration … building blocks to stupendous love scenes and emotional intensity. Oh, there are hurdles, external and internal, but Ford and Angel’s love is palpably, beautifully, thoroughly convincing. I gave a feeble, two-in-the-AM fist pump when Ford executed a stunning grovel and Angel played it and him perfectly. So, jumbled suspense mess aside, Anders’s Whiteout is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Adriana Anders’s Whiteout is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released in January and you should rush out and pick it up from your preferred vendor. It’s good for all manner of weathers. I received an e-galley from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.