For His Eyes Only by Liz Fielding is a book I really wanted to like. Looking at the concept, on paper, I probably should have loved it. The hero is an artist (a sculptor) driven to distraction by the heroine's bootylicious curvaceousness. The heroine is a career-minded, driven, go-getter who has been burning the midnight oil to get a coveted promotion at the upscale real estate agency where she works. It seems great, on paper, right? Except when it isn't. This is one of those books that gets off on the wrong foot with me and never quite recovers.
Natasha Gordon has been charged with selling Hadley Chase, one of those monstrous English "country" homes that could easily house eight families of 5. There's only one Hadley left, and he needs to sell the house thanks to various taxes and such he is ill-prepared to fork over. So Natasha does what Natasha does best - and that is to start drumming up interest in various magazines, real estate rags etc. Except when the final copy rolls out in the pages of the most notable glossy publication? Yeah, it's all about how Hadley Chase is a falling down dump. What the hell? Natasha didn't approve any of this! And yet when her boss goes checking up on how such an egregious error could be committed? Everybody, and I mean everybody, throws Tash under the bus. Her boss suggests, strongly, that she check herself into a local rehab facility because she's "obviously" suffering from exhaustion. This is, naturally, code for "damage control." Tash knows the truth though, someone set her up to take a very nasty fall and she's damned if she's going to make things easy for her bosses especially since their rehab "solution" has smeared her good name all over town. Nope, she's just going to have to sell Hadley Chase all on her own. A neat trick that first requires her to get back into Darius Hadley's good graces.
Darius is an artist and the house holds nothing but shoddy memories for him. He just wants it gone, and now thanks to that bumbling Natasha Gordon he's likely going to be stuck with the albatross around his neck for a good long time. Except when he should be sticking pins in a Tash voodoo doll, he's instead drawing her from memory. Completely captivated by her, just itching, dying, to sculpt her. And here he thought muses were nothing more than urban legends. He can't get the delectable, albeit obviously incompetent, Natasha Gordon out of his mind - and as if by magic, here she is, in his studio, offering up a proposition. She'll sell the hell out of Hadley Chase. He eventually agrees, on one condition. He wants her naked. Darius Hadley is going to sculpt her, in bronze, and for that? She's going to have to sit for him. Naked. As the day she was born.
This story opens with Natasha getting called to the carpet by her boss for the disastrous press regarding Hadley Chase. Natasha's answer to this is to banter. Joke about it. And then when Darius walks into her boss's office, naturally extremely pissed off, Tash's brain flies out the window and she's turns into a giant puddle of oozing female hormones unable to string a sentence together. All because a hot guy walks into her boss's office while her boss is calling her to task. Oh, and there's that flushing sound in the background of her career going down the toilet, and yet Tash stands there tongue-tied. And when she's not tongue-tied? She keeps on trying to joke the problem away.
Really? I mean, really?!?!?!?!!?!? This is a woman whom I'm supposed to believe is so killer at her job that her bosses are ready to hand her partnership? That she's been burning the midnight oil to move up the ladder? And yet when her career is literally flailing on the floor at her feet, as everything she's worked extremely hard for is circling the drain she's....distracted by some hot guy in her boss's office? Where's the denial? Where's the outrage? No when Tash finds her Big Girl Words she merely, jokes about it all? Really? I mean, really?!?!?!??!?!?! She thinks banter is going to save her bacon?
How can I possibly take this girl seriously? I can't. That's the problem. Tash gets off on the worst sort of foot and even though things do get better the deeper we go into the story - I just can't get past my first impression - which is that Tash is a little girl wearing grown-up clothes.
And no matter how hard I try to "let it go" - I can't. Even when this book follows the "it gets better as it goes along" formula. I'm stuck with that first impression and I spend the rest of the story....not really caring. No matter that good stuff follows.
The good stuff being the chemistry between Tash and Darius, and their requisite baggage. Darius has all the trapping of a "poor little rich boy" - but I really liked that the author gave his angst a different bit of spin. Also, Tash spent her childhood essentially wrapped up in blankets, protected and doted on to the point of stifling. I enjoyed seeing these two get together and talk about their pasts. Definitely the highlight of the story was reading about them opening up to each other, and I especially loved the small glimpses we get into Darius' "artist" world - those moments when he's working, even if he might just be scribbling or doodling, were a nice touch.
But I just can't get past the set-up. Because no matter what happens after that point, the seed has been planted. Yes, maybe Tash will have some good ideas for selling Hadley Chase, but then there was that time when her career was dying and she got flummoxed by the hot guy standing there to witness the death throes. Yeah, I just can't. This story still has the requisite charm and verve I expect out of a Fielding story, it just flubbed on the execution for me.
Final Grade = C