Grace Hall is a wealthy woman who has become a fixture in the society pages of the newspaper. Upon her father's death, she took over as the head of the Hall family's charitable foundation, but is faced with sexist behavior from her father's former right-hand man and the board of directors. While Grace struggles to prove herself to the old boy's club, one of her society friends is brutally murdered, and the killer leaves behind a newspaper clipping featuring Grace and several of the other women who run in her circle. The last thing she wants is to look weak to her board, but with her life possibly in danger, she has no choice but to hire a bodyguard.
John Smith is a former special ops guy who has gone on missions to some of the most dangerous areas in the world. He now runs a security firm dedicated to protecting the wealthy, but there is no love lost between John and his elite clientèle. He's a simple man who prefers a simple life, and has no real ties to anyone. He never gets personally involved with the people who hire him, and once the job is done, he quickly moves on to the next. With Grace, everything is different. John admires her poise and beauty under pressure and soon finds himself wondering what it might be like to settle down with a woman like her. If he is able to keep her alive, could he possibly consider giving up the only life he's ever known for the only woman he's ever loved?
An Unforgettable Lady is another solid story from Jessica Bird aka J. R. Ward. It's kind of a hybrid of a standard contemporary romance and a romantic suspense. I say this because the suspense element is present but somewhat in the background as a group of high society ladies who were all featured in the same newspaper article are picked off by a serial killer one-by-one. The heroine is one of the women from the article, so she rather reluctantly hires the hero to act as her personal bodyguard. However, there are no direct attempts made against her until the end of the story, and I have to admit that it was pretty easy to figure out who the bad guy was. In between the murders, there is a nice romance with the hero and heroine experiencing a strong, immediate attraction that eventually leads to a steamy affair.
Grace was a very strong woman who never backed down from John's caveman act when they first met and she subsequently hired him to protect her. She was controlled most of her life, first by her parents and later her husband, and she's not about to let John waltz in and take over too. She's struggling to find her footing as an independently wealthy woman who has just taken the helm of her father's charitable foundation upon his recent death, while the sexist, old-school boy's club is trying to push her out. I like that she runs the family foundation differently than her father and avoids spending money on frivolous things like any good charitable organization should, even though the men in power disagree with her methods. Outwardly, Grace is very controlled, but inwardly, she's sometimes falling apart as she suffers from anxiety and self-doubt. She has a very complicated and strained relationship with her mother that obviously contributes to her self-esteem issues, which I would have liked to have seen explored in a little more depth. Grace also later discovers that there were things about her father she thought were true, but weren't. It would have been nice to see her feelings on that subject brought out a little more too.
Initially, John seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder where the rich and powerful are concerned. I think this is because, although his job is to protect them, he sees into their personal lives in a way that few others do and generally doesn't like the reality of what most of these types are like. It takes him a little while to figure out that Grace is different. To her, John seems a little too much like her controlling parents and husband, so he has to find the delicate balance between lightening up a little in their personal dealings and still being hard-nosed from the bodyguard angle in order to effectively protect her. John can definitely come off as being quite arrogant at times, but Grace often surprises him and occasionally makes him smile. He possesses an iron grip of self-control and cares enough about Grace to not want to hurt her even though he's caught up in an intense desire for her. Despite his passion though, John is still pretty closed off throughout most of the story. I really would have loved to see him open up a little more. He also has a pretty tortured past that was only briefly touched upon, and I would have liked to have seen explored in more detail.
Grace and John have both been deeply hurt in their pasts, and I think each of them recognizes that hurt in one another as well as the need to be in control. I really enjoyed the opposite sides of the track characterization and how Grace is a poised, society lady while John is a rough around the edges former special ops guy who doesn't put much stock in wealth and prestige. They didn't exactly start off on the right foot, but in spite of their early bickering, the sexual tension was high from the beginning. It was never a question of will they or won't they, but when. And when they finally do give into their attraction, the love scenes were very sensual, though nowhere near as hot as the author writes in her more recent books. The one thing I have noticed in these early books of Ms. Bird's is that her heroes have a tendency to hold out on expressing their feelings until the final pages of the novel which doesn't always lend itself well to building and maintaining an emotional connection, but despite this, it was still a very good story.
Although the author's website doesn't officially connect any of her contemporary books as a series, I've seen An Unforgettable Lady grouped with Heart of Gold and An Irresistible Bachelor as The Walking Papers Trilogy, although I have no idea where that series title came from. Other sites simply have An Unforgettable Lady and An Irresistible Bachelor paired as a duet. In any case, all three books contain common characters. Grace is best friends with Carter, the heroine of Heart of Gold, and was first introduced in that book. Carter and her hero, Nick, appear in the early part of An Unforgettable Lady when Grace goes to visit them, and Nick is instrumental in Grace hiring John as her bodyguard. An Unforgettable Lady also introduces Grace's good friend, Jack, and another young woman, Callie, who become the hero and heroine of An Irresistible Bachelor. At the very least, I would recommend reading these latter two books in order, otherwise, readers will get one fairly significant spoiler.
Overall, I enjoyed reading An Unforgettable Lady. I loved Ms. Bird's little shout out within the narrative to Gaelen Foley, another of my favorite authors. Other than my few minor complaints, this book was very well-written and in my opinion, reflects an earlier version of the style that Jessica Bird has developed in her highly successful J. R. Ward persona. Anyone who has enjoyed her Black Dagger Brotherhood and Fallen Angels books will probably like this one too.
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