Two years ago, Elise Watson and Noah James shared an ill-advised kiss that ended badly. At the time, Noah already had a girlfriend, but the experience rocked him to the core, so much so that he broke up with the other woman, only to be led to believe that Elise was already taken. Unable to forget her but unable to have her in his life, Noah took a promotion two thousand miles away. Now, these two FDIC special agents are working together over the New Year's holiday on a bank takeover in Omaha.
Elise was hurt and offended when Noah pushed her away after their kiss. In an attempt to save face and avoid any awkwardness between them, she made up a boyfriend when he confessed to already seeing someone else. In truth though, she didn't have anyone in her life at the time, but two months later she did. Now with that relationship over and her working so closely with Noah over a lonely holiday week, the old feelings start to resurface. Can they rekindle that old spark and fan it into a flame before their assignment is over?
After seeing a number of glowing reviews, I've really been looking forward to trying Victoria Dahl's work for some time, but unfortunately, this first foray into her storytelling left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. It wasn't a bad story per se, but I just didn't relate to the main characters very well, and it didn't hold my attention in the way that many other romances have. It's the story of two FDIC special agents who are sent in with their team to take over a failing bank during the week between Christmas and New Year's. They have a bit of history together in that they shared a passionate kiss two years earlier that didn't end the way either of them intended. Now being stuck on this case together ignites the sparks between them once again. On the one hand, I suppose I have to give the author some credit for coming up with such an unusual storyline, but on the other hand, a government bank take-over simply isn't a particularly exciting romance scenario to me. There was a small mystery in the form of some money that appeared to be missing from the bank and which the investigators were having trouble tracking, but I can't say that I was able to muster much enthusiasm for it. In general, Midnight Assignment was a little too short and the characterizations a little too vague for me to become fully invested in it, but at the same time, I don't think the author could have stretched this one into a more involved story, nor in all honesty, would I have been interested in reading it if she had.
Elise was a difficult heroine for me to like, in large part because I felt her characterization was too uneven. Initially, she comes off as very cold, hard, and unfeeling, an alpha female who thinks more like a man. She even admits that this is how she sees herself, and that she doesn't know how to be 'softer.' Being more of a girly-girl type of female, I just couldn't relate. At one point, Elise mentions being shy and having trouble communicating with people. This makes me think that the author was going for the socially awkward introvert angle, and I suppose there were times when Elise seemed more introverted but there were other times, such as when she's barking orders, that she didn't seem introverted at all. Elise shows some vulnerability with regards to her tomboyishness which she attributes to being raised by her father and two uncles. She also seems to have a soft spot for the elderly lady who was the owner of the bank. These parts made her a little more human to me, but in general, her personality was simply so far removed from my own that she never quite made sense to me. This was only exacerbated by her having made up a boyfriend when Noah backed away from their kiss two years ago. It was supposedly to somehow save face, but it was a move that came off as petty and juvenile to me. I've always been a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person who believes in honesty in all relationships, so I don't really care much for heroines (or heroes for that matter) who play games like that. Elise's actions and emotions were all over the board, making it very hard to become invested in her character.
Noah seemed like a fairly likable guy, but what he saw in Elise was a mystery to me. When she kissed him two years before, it was an eye-opening moment for him. He'd been attracted to her before that, but unlike Elise, he genuinely already had a girlfriend when Elise kissed him, which is why he pushed her away. I thought this was a perfectly honorable way to handle the situation in the moment. However, the intensity of the kiss made him realize that Elise was the only woman for him, and in an attempt to finally pursue her, he immediately broke up with his girlfriend. Then Elise had to go and stupidly claim to have a boyfriend too, which didn't become fact until two months later. Thinking there was no future for them after all and wanting to get away from her, Noah put in for and received a promotion to another city that Elise had been gunning for, which only further alienated her. Despite living two thousand miles away, he's never forgotten her or that kiss, so when the opportunity presents itself to reignite the passion, he goes for it. After one unforgettable night together though, Elise starts pushing him away again, which made zero sense to me. IMHO, Noah's characterization was pretty underdeveloped, because we learn virtually nothing about his background. However, like I said before, he seems like a pretty good guy, someone who is patient and persistent, which was evidenced by his determination to find the missing money. I just wasn't convinced that Elise was worth his effort.
Beside the unsatisfactory characterizations, I found several other weaknesses. I'm pretty sure I recall those glowing reviews of Victoria Dahl's work having mentioned some fairly steamy love scenes, but that was definitely not the case here. To me they came off as too raw, too short, too non-descriptive, and completely lacking any emotion. It felt more like mere lust rather than the love they supposedly professed for one another. The two year long "big misunderstanding" was totally clichéd and completely avoidable if Elise hadn't acted like a wounded teenager after their first kiss. Then after all that time apart and even with Noah's reassurances, Elise still wasn't ready to make their relationship more permanent, which IMO made the ending HFN rather than the HEA I crave. I also found a few continuity errors and last but not least, the beginning made me feel like I was being dumped into the middle of the story. It took me an entire scene to figure out that they were FDIC agents, taking over the bank, and if not for the brief cover blurb, it might have taken me even longer. As I said before, Midnight Assignment wasn't a terrible read, but neither was it anywhere close to being a great one. Noah's sweetness and more easy-going personality helped to save it for me somewhat, but he alone couldn't rescue this novella from its inscrutable heroine and inherent story flaws. Midnight Assignment can be found in the anthology Midnight Kiss.
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