My hat is off to author Sally Tyler Hayes for keeping my fingers glued to the pages of a story I didn't really want to read! As a reviewer, I worry that my perception of the quality of a book is subject to the limitations of my own likes and dislikes. I was reassured after reading Spies, Lies and Lovers that good writing can reach a reader even when it has to fight its way past preconceptions and personal preference.
This suspenseful contemporary reminded me immediately of the popular (with some) television show, La Femme Nikita. Lo and behold, it was meant to, according to the author's dedication. I settled in for what I thought would be an excruciating experience, since I usually dislike gender-bender spy stories where macho women, terminally out of touch with their feminine side – or their brains – spend their time achieving improbable physical victories over horrible bad guys that any sane woman would avoid like the plague.
Geri Sinclair is an agent for the top-secret government agency that is guarding Alex Hathaway. Alex is a brilliant chemist who has accidentally discovered a new kind of plastic explosive that would be a terrorist's dream if it got into the wrong hands. When he discovers that someone has tampered with his computer, Alex disappears, convinced that only a person with inside access could have gotten through the security surrounding his lab.
Unbeknownst to Alex, Geri and her partner, assigned to guard the outside of the lab, are ambushed just before his escape and both are seriously injured. When Geri recovers, she is given the job of tracking Alex down and getting close to him, which she does by posing as a woman fleeing from an abusive relationship. This cover story was chosen because they believe Alex has been alone long enough to be lonely, and he is known to be protective of women.
Geri is convinced that Alex is the devil incarnate: a greedy, callous villain who shot her and her partner in the process of escaping his security guards so that he could sell his secret formula to the highest and most evil bidder. In order to continue to believe this, Geri has to ignore the fact that nothing about his behavior and attitudes supports this theory. It is difficult to make this kind of conflict convincing, and harder still to portray sexual attraction to a perceived enemy as appealing.
What makes this story work is that both characters are truly equal. Geri is a trained killer, but she is extremely vulnerable emotionally in the aftermath of the attack that left her partner crippled. Not only is she angry and guilt-ridden over that, she is also experiencing a breakdown of the survival strategies that have helped her succeed as a soldier and as a spy. Her emotional confusion makes her stubborn insistence on Alex's perfidy more believable: she has to hold on to that conviction because so much else in her life is suddenly open to question.
Alex more than holds his own as an adversary and companion of this sharp, aggressive woman. He is smart and street-smart; fundamentally non-violent by nature, but more than ready to defend himself and those who depend on him. His concern for Geri is neither naïve nor disinterested; he wants her, and he knows she is probably a plant. His power in the relationship comes from his own emotional integration. He may be on the run, but he knows who he is and what he needs to do.
And Alex is also one sexy guy. He has a motorcycle that he uses for more than just basic transportation. (But I do wonder if sex on motorcycles and horses is really as much fun to experience as it is to read about…). Again, the author exceeded my expectations by providing these characters with a love life that was as innovative as it was emotionally satisfying. Even a bondage scene that could have been icky came out on the right side of erotic. These two characters complement and enhance each other and the resulting passion between them is extremely satisfying (as well as thought-provoking…).
So, even though I still don't go looking for lady-spy stories, I'm giving this one 4 stars. Sally Tyler Hayes has crafted a good story with extremely well matched characters whose relationship is a pleasure to read about. If she could impress someone as skeptical as I was, all the adventurous, open-minded readers out there are in for a real treat!