Desert Isle Keeper
The Thing About Love
I’m sure I’ve mentioned my love of rereading books at least a dozen times in reviews. It’s how I weed out good and great books from DIK, I-must-own-it-NOW books. Desert Isle Keeper status is reserved for novels which I’m eager to reread immediately. By the time I finished The Thing About Love I was itching to experience it all over again—and then I reread Ms. James’ entire backlist. So yes, it’s a DIK.
Both Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd begin the book at a low point in their lives. They’re two FBI agents who met at training camp, developed a little friendly rivalry (emphasis on the rivalry), and then happily went their separate ways—Jessica to L.A. and John to Chicago. Six years later Jessica is recently divorced and looking for a fresh start at the Chicago office, just as John is looking to leave it. John recently had the pleasure of coming back early from an undercover assignment to find his girlfriend cheating on him, and has since applied to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) in search of his own fresh start. When Jessica arrives in Chicago, John is just a couple of weeks away from hearing if he’s made the team and moving to Quantico. This unique set of circumstances – one agent on the way out, the other on the way in – make Jessica and John the perfect team for a quick undercover assignment. Lucky them.
Their first few encounters in Chicago are brimming with the tension that comes of quietly resenting someone for six years. They haven’t thought of each other much per se, but the six months of training seem to have stuck with them in vivid detail. Although they were initially attracted to each other, John’s brash demeanor (a product of his Army days) and Jessica’s defensiveness (a product of being a petite, easily underestimated woman at FBI training) got in the way. Those weeks turned into a 24/7 competition, and even so many years later it’s not easy to get past the remembered slights.
Fortunately, between forced proximity, commiseration over failed relationships, and a couple of apologies, John and Jessica move on. They’ve been sent to Jacksonville, FL to act as a couple of crooked businessmen in hopes of catching the mayor taking bribes. Working together – instead of against each other – reignites the chemistry they’ve always had, and they very quietly begin to see each other outside of work. However, with the results of John’s HRT application looming on the horizon, they both fight the idea of this being anything more than a casual affair.
There are so many things I loved about the setup of this book, which surprised me, because I’m not usually one for books about divorcées or people who’ve been soured on love. Ms. James writes this wonderfully, though – the mix of Jessica and John’s history together and their prior relationships shed some light on who they are when they reconnect. John is feeling betrayed, not only by his girlfriend, but also by the close friend, with whom she was having an affair. When he finds out some other friends knew about the affair and didn’t tell him, he cuts them off. Jessica, meanwhile, ended things six months ago with her movie maker husband who was becoming increasingly frustrated with the undercover and on-call aspects of her job. Both are eager to move forward, but doubt themselves after all that’s happened. Realizing the similarity of their situations makes it easy for John and Jessica to talk about those doubts with each other, and they grow closer as a result.
That growing attachment gets put to the test as John prepares to hear back from HRT. I won’t give everything away, but I will confess one of my favorite pieces of this book was the last third, where Jessica and John have to struggle with what to do about their budding relationship, which feels like it could be the start of something great. As John’s brother reminds him,
“If Jessica had been looking for something more serious, you would’ve had to leave for Quantico knowing that you might’ve actually had a chance with her.”
This sums up their essential struggle. Unlike in some over-the-top romance novels, Jessica and John are aware that a few weeks is a very short time to fall so deeply in love that you’d move across the country for someone. Yet the feeling is there…
I hope I’ve explained everything I loved about The Thing About Love, but it’s a difficult task. As with any DIK, there’s a certain sort of je ne sais quoi about this book that hooks you from the start. The snappy dialogue, tangible chemistry, and character depth Jessica and John exhibit certainly play a part in that. I’d recommend it to anyone, anytime – but be prepared to forget about real life for a while as you read it!