My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mark Paulson is a PhD student working in industry and writing his thesis, expecting to be offered a full time position in the company and generally happy to continue on the way he’s going. So he is surprised when his advisor suggests a career change to something that’s not exactly his field. He’s good looking, detail-orientated, and very easy-going. He may be young but he only has glimpses at his youth, his laid back nature giving him an older outlook.
Steven Frost is a bit of a mystery man. He’s older, successful, handsome, devilish and a bit of a contradiction. He owns his own engineering business and as any successful entrepreneur, he needs a personal assistant to help ease the stress of the details in his life. He wants someone that is a combined secretary, assistant, and scientist all rolled into one. Someone who can get his tea, take meeting notes and offer intelligent opinions and decisions about the subject matter.
Mark is the perfect man for the job and although the reasoning for accepting the job is somewhat thin (a PhD scientist becoming a secretary?), the interactions between the two men overshadow the contradictions in both characters. The story is told from Mark’s perspective and thus his character tends to have the main concentration; he pushes the story forward. Steven is less well-defined, perhaps on purpose, leaving his reasons and views often through interpretation, both Mark’s and the reader’s.
Mark is more than a fluff bit of pretty goods, as the theme is repeated in various ways with the supporting characters, almost reminding me that although this could be a Harlequin stereotype plot, it has a fresher and more interesting take on the traditional theme. The usual tale of boss/secretary used in this story could easily have turned Mark into a female in disguise, but Mark’s easy nature and acceptance of the slow building relationship lend a very masculine quality to the tale. There is no concern that Mark is anything but a virile male. Although Steven’s repeated lack of sex drive, often being too tired or not interested in sex, cements the age difference.
The slow burn of passion and languid progression of their relationship reminds me of a southern day. There is a hint of spice in the air, but things happen at the pace they happen with very little to get overly dramatic about. There is very little conflict, either internal or external, to the characters and most of it is taken very in stride with Mark’s oft used phrase to himself “fair enough.” Mark gradually begins to want more than stolen moments in the office for an affair lasting so long, but surprisingly it is Steven that shows a newly vulnerable side in taking emotional risks.
The relationship may have been a bit gradual but the story moves along swiftly. The revelation about Steven at the end is an interesting addition, set up nicely with very subtle nuances. Mark’s easy acceptance is in line with his personality and almost at times in odds with his age but the chemistry of the two men once again helps to smooth the way. The sex is not scorching but it has an occasional edge that keeps things interesting.
Jones has presented a new and well-written take on the classical story about the secretary falling for their powerful, successful boss. It has all the elements of why that genre was so well loved but gives them all a fresh, fun take with more substance. It’s clear these men have more to say and I liked the book for its easy nature and interesting characters. Any problems I had with their motivations or characterizations were minor and easy to suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoyment.