Desert Isle Keeper
Elle Pierson also writes as Lucy Parker, whose Act Like It and Pretty Face I loved, so I eagerly picked up Artistic License, a sweet story that moves slowly in layers from a fraught health scare to a tender HEA. While this book is different from the irreverent, wittily sarcastic tone of her Lucy Parker books, it’s so touching, I’m really glad I read it.
Sophy James is a twenty-something art student on a tour of a gallery hosting the art collection of the Ryland Curry Corporation in Queenstown, New Zealand. Mick Hollister is the security guard hired to guard the touring collection. While Sophy and her fellow students of the Dunedin Art School were supposed to study and sketch some of the art, Sophy was not-so-secretly sketching Mick.
Picasso would have loved his face. It was all brutal planes: the long blade of nose, the sharp jut of bone in cheek and jaw, the thin slashes of brows and lips.
I adored that this is Sophy’s first impression of Mick. He is beautiful to her.
In her wanderings around the gallery, she suddenly spots a man near her sporting a metallic tube. And everything then is a blur. In a case of an irresistible force meeting a moveable object, she’s hit hard by a charging Mick and crashes down. Gusts of billowing smoke belch out from the smoke grenade causing her lungs to seize and bring on a full-scale asthma attack. Mick finds himself terrified for her as he grips her hand while they wait for the ambulance to arrive.
Once Sophy recovers from her attack, she immediately sends information to the security staff at the gallery about seeing the man with the grenade outside the gallery along with a red-haired woman, whom she subsequently saw hovering near the ceramics display. Luckily, Mick and his staff were able to defuse the bomb thereby saving all the works of art.
Mick visits her in hospital – ostensibly to return her sketchbook – and it’s a case of social misfits unite, an observation which, conversely, relaxes them both. Mick is completely outside Sophy’s experience of men, and despite the embarrassment of his having looked at her sketches of him, she feels a level of comfort with and attraction to him that is unusual for her. There’s a wonderful conversation between them in which she finds herself trying to assure him of his attractiveness, while he finds himself trying to convince her of her deep ability to understand what makes people tick. And this sets the tone for their future interactions, each finding the other wonderful.
Sophy is content with her independence and solitude, so she’s never looked for a long-term relationship and doesn’t want one now. Mick, with his looks, has given up all hope of having one. And yet they find themselves easing gently into a relationship of building trust and hope.
While Mick is considered ugly by most people – including himself and his best friend – to Sophy, his face is arresting. At one point in the story, he says: “Sophy, look at me.” And she grips his head between her palms and forces his face to meet hers. She pressed her forehead to his and felt her lashes sweep the curve of his brow. “I do look at you,” she said fiercely. “I haven’t stopped looking at you for days.” He has always felt insecure about his looks and has been treated badly because of them, so Sophy’s tender avowal and consistent demonstration of how much he means to her is a balm to his bruised soul.
The humor just jumps off the page precisely when Sophy is the one making those quips. It’s such a huge departure from her usual shyness around people that it’s a joy to see her step out of her shell and be so at ease with Mick that she can joke with him.
Their romance is so tender. Sexual, yes, but suffused with an affecting warmth and affection.
There were kisses that were never going to lead anywhere but sex. And there were the more dangerous kisses, the ones that existed solely in and of themselves, that were about the pure pleasure of being close to another person, touching, being touched in return.
There’s a small mystery in this story surrounding the strange but expensive anonymous gifts Sophy receives that totally creep her out and anger Mick. There’s another incident where Mick has to rescue her from an attacking madman. But despite this ‘damsel in distress’ aspect of Sophy’s character, there’s no hint of her being TSTL. She carries her own in this story and provides emotional succor to Mick that he desperately needs. I liked this emphasis; being physically incapable does not make you weak.
As you’ll have correctly surmised, I adored this story from the beginning to the end. Do go read it!
Buy it at Amazon