Dangerous to Love
I read a description by Sally Tyler Hayes of how Dangerous to Love came about. She explained that the book came out of her personal enjoyment of the television series La Femme Nikita, particularly the romantic tension between the male and female spies. On the show it’s clear that they can’t act on that tension but it set Hayes to wondering, what if they could? Wow, I thought. Two spies? This is different from cowboys, amnesia, and secret pregnancies. I went out and bought it that day. However, I’m sorry to report that despite being admirably different than most of the series romances out there, Dangerous to Love just didn’t quite click with me.
Dan Reese and Jamie Douglass are operatives for a top-secret government agency that does, well, spy stuff. This part was vague from the start and never really clarified throughout the book. The agency is very small, and Dan Jamie everything she knows. Jamie has been secretly attracted to him for years, but Dan failed to notice his attraction to Jamie until she had a recent brush with death. As the book opens, he’s struggling with this realization while both are on assignment together guarding some scientists.
He acts on those feelings, giving Jamie a scorching kiss, and making a date for breakfast after he gets off duty. Unfortunately, before that can happen, things go horribly wrong with the assignment. One agent is killed, and Dan and his partner end up in the hospital, badly wounded. Dan has a spinal cord injury and may never walk again. The rest of the book follows their tortuous relationship, as Jamie tries to convince Dan let himself be vulnerable around her, and then Dan in turn takes care of Jamie after she is injured.
There were two problems with this story. The first is that the setting and subplot, involving betrayal from within the agency, are never well enough developed to be fully engrossing, but occupy enough time and space in the story to be an annoying distraction from the romance. I like romantic suspense a lot, and I like technothrillers and spy stories that aren’t romances as well. I found myself frustrated over and over again that I had almost no inkling what this agency was, what its mandate was supposed to be, or who they were supposed to be guarding when the bad stuff comes down. And so it was hard to care about any aspect of that plotline.
It is possible that developing the setting for the subplot in more detail would have undermined the romance. After all, the attraction in spy stories is often the thin ethical line that operatives walk in trying to serve their country. It’s hard to imagine traditional romance in this milieu, let alone a happily-ever-after ending, and it’s hard to unreservedly root for characters so full of moral ambiguity. The author spares us from this in Dangerous to Love by being vague about the backdrop, but that in turn undermines the spy story.
My second problem with the story was with the romance itself. Despite an adequate explanation that a prior attraction existed between the characters, I never saw it or felt it in the outset of the book. I felt like I missed some fundamental chance to bond with the characters before being thrown into the distractions of the spy subplot, and I never quite got what they saw in each other. Without that fundamental hook from the beginning, I felt completely detached from the characters the rest of the time. And that’s a shame, because there were some excellent individual scenes between them. I kept catching myself thinking, “This is a good scene, I’d be really into it if I cared about the characters more.”
I admire Sally Tyler Hayes for tackling such a different kind of plotline in a category romance. She writes well. The dialogue flows naturally and the love scenes were imaginative and fun to read. She has another spy story coming out in 1999 and I intend to give that one a try as well, because dang it, I want to support category romances that move beyond cowboys and babies!