Center, Katherine. The Bodyguard. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 9781250219398 $27.99
Executive Protection Agent (EPA) Hannah Brooks is having the worst week ever. On the day after her mother’s funeral, her boss grounds her from work and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Like a shark, she needs to keep moving and is desperate for a gig that will help earn her a promotion heading up the new London branch of the firm she works for, so she can’t say no when her next assignment is protecting a reclusive movie star who’s returned home to his parent’s ranch to help care for his mom. Hannah will be the primary agent for handsome Jack Stapleton, who decides that to avoid upsetting his world-class worrier mother, recovering from surgery for cancer, Hannah must pose as his girlfriend. And the next thing she knows, her cheap off-the-rack business suits have been traded in for embroidered sundresses, and his mother wants Jack and his cute new girlfriend to come stay at the ranch through Thanksgiving. For a month. And there’s #JustOne!Bed.
Jack, it turns out, has a local stalker and needs to avoid the paparazzi; he also has a brother who believes he’s the cause of their other brother’s death. Hannah’s issues to work through include her alcoholic mother who put up with abusive boyfriends (it’s no wonder Hannah learned to protect herself with a jujitsu class as a teenager). They are both trying to honor last requests of loved ones.
Hannah might look perfectly ordinary, but can kill a man with a corkscrew, pilot a helicopter, and blow away a line of bottles with a shotgun–shooting from her hip. Having never experienced a cozy family, the Stapletons are a breath of fresh air for her. Guarding a celebrity client on five hundred acres consists of gathering wildflower bouquets, making fish tacos for the family and looking for fossils on the banks of the Brazos River. It’s a paid vacation for someone who hasn’t taken one in eight years, except she’s also always on. The forced proximity breaks down Hannah’s usual client boundaries: she answers some of Jack’s questions, he answers some of hers, and as they begin to get to know one another, the lines between real and pretend begin to blur. And then pictures of them surface, and a stalker decides Hannah is a more of a threat to Jack’s well-being, and she gets pulled off the job.
The unexpectedness of Hannah’s career and the lengths the author clearly went through to research her topic make the EPA details authentic and honestly, fascinating. The characters are wonderful and leap off the page. Hannah’s ex Robby is an oblivious asshole (HE TOLD HER SHE WAS A BAD KISSER!) and nearly not to be believed; insult to injury, they work together, and he’s part of the surveillance team (it’s delicious that their boss Glenn, who exudes exasperation, tortures Robby by forcing him to watch Hannah falling for and being loved by someone else). Co-worker Taylor–that Hannah thought was a friend–isn’t, but tries to do the next right thing after sleeping with Robby.
The eventual kisses are more soulful than steamy, and the relationship is consummated behind closed doors.There is a lot of wit and laughter in the face of weighty themes of grief, forgiveness, accountability and abuse. And the writing. The WRITING. It slips into the profound amidst the drama and awkwardness with lines like “I think just because you can’t keep something, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. Nothing lasts forever. What matters is what we take with us.” To everything we’ve lost. And to what we hold onto, indeed.
The cover art is gorgeous; the depiction of shaggy-haired jack look slike Ryder Lynn from Glee, and Hannah’s red cowboy boots are spot on. I’m generally not a fan of yellow, but the spill of wildflowers across the front to the back cover is lush and vivid.
With it’s chemistry, suspense, banter, ranch setting, kick-ass female lead, and all the feels, The Bodyguard is a great readalike for fans of Something Wilder by Christina Lauren (fun aside, Center references The Honeymooners as if Jack has starred in a movie version of the book, and quotes it–I love when things get meta).
I missed this in NetGalley and borrowed a copy from my local public library when I saw it on the new book shelf (I’m so happy we buy romance now!)