by Juno Rushdan
Series: Final Hour #2
Also in this series: Every Last Breath
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The clock is ticking
Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.
He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.
Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...
I loved Every Last Breath so I was very excited to read this book. Forced proximity on-the-run? Neurodivergent heroine? Heck yes! It picks up shortly after the first book, and while you could possibly read it as a standalone, I think it works better as part of the series.
After the startling realization that the Grey Box has a mole, the operatives are desperate to identify who’s betrayed them. Gideon has been assigned to investigate Willow, one of the Grey Box’s tech gurus and their prime suspect, but things aren’t adding up. He’s certain she isn’t responsible, but someone is framing her, and the only way to keep her safe is to go on the run and investigate the evidence against her. But keeping his guard up around her is harder than he expected, and it’s not what either of them want. Can they clear Willow’s name before it’s too late?
“Whenever she talked too long, it was evident the motherboard of her brain was wired differently. People called her odd, peculiar. Her sisters preferred the term dweeb.”
I adored Willow. She’s blunt, unafraid to ask for what she wants (Gideon!) or take him to task for not respecting her. She’s on the spectrum, more specifically what used to be called Asperger’s. She has difficulty with social situations – many of her social responses are things she’s learned to end conversations as quickly as possible – and has various stims throughout the book, like touching her pearl necklace or playing with a pen. She also has sensory processing disorder, which mostly manifests in the styles and type of clothing she wears. She can be blunt and direct, but her compassion and kindness shine through. The representation felt respectful to me – being autistic doesn’t define her, it’s just another aspect of who she is – but I wasn’t able to find an ownvoices review to confirm.
“She was refined and had a gift for creating elegant programs. He was rough around the edges and had a knack for terminating threats. They were different breeds.”
Willow has been low-key cyberstalking Gideon for basically forever, even hacking into classified mission files. That could be considered a negative, but for Gideon, who had to hide everything about work from his previous wife, it’s actually a relief. Gideon is, basically, an assassin, who gave up his chance at going pro in football to join the CIA. He’s a widower and still has emotional scars from the marriage. One of the barriers to their relationship is Gideon believing he’s not good enough for Willow. He’s done a lot of, well, not very good things in service to his country, and he can’t help viewing himself as a monster in contrast to Willow’s sweetness. He vastly underestimates Willow, however, as she’s familiar with what he’s done (yes, even the parts she had to hack in to view) and doesn’t judge him for it. Willow doesn’t value herself highly enough and can’t initially understand what he sees in her, either. Willow has feelings for Gideon, but soon understands that she’s only an assignment for Gideon – he’s only interested in finding the mole, not her. Their chemistry is electric from their first kiss and only gets better.
“The point of loving someone isn’t to be made happy by it. The point is to be better because of it. It’s not your job to make me happy—that’s mine.” She’d learned a lot about love watching and listening to her parents. “And I’m happier with you than without you.”
The pacing is excellent, and the romance and thriller plot lines are perfectly interspersed. From dodging the bad guys to trying to find the mole to hiding from the other Grey Box operatives, multiple balls are always up in the air, though they’re mostly all resolved by the end of the book. Besides Willow and Gideon’s POVs, we also get POVs from Sanburn, the director of the Gray Box, and two of the bad guys. While I’m one of those people who thinks too many POVs slow down a thriller, in this case each worked well to further the story and heighten the stakes, as well as giving us tantalizing tidbits about the bad buy’s motives. It’s an intense read that’s hard to put down.
“When he looked at her, he didn’t see a target or a mission. Only an exquisite woman, tender and sweet, ready to open herself. She was giving him the precious gift of her trust—a miracle and a mistake inextricably tangled.
He was a bad man, who did bad things for a living.”
Overall, this book definitely delivers the romance and thrills. This author has easily become my favorite romantic suspense author, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next!