This review was originally published on Love in Panels
At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli
Sandra Antonelli is a long-time advocate and promoter of romance featuring older protagonists. While the majority of romance authors and publishers focus on characters in their twenties and thirties, Antonelli and other fans of seasoned romance thirst for characters with a few more gray hairs and a lot more life experience. At Your Service is the first of Antonelli’s new In Service series, a mystery/romantic suspense series which will feature main characters over 40. At Your Service was an engrossing and highly-enjoyable romance, with great pacing, action and banter and a fabulous heroine, Mae in her mid-50s, who is just little bit older than the hero, Kitt.
Mae loves working as butler - she thrives on feeling productive and useful. For the last three years, she has juggled being both landlady and butler to Major Kitt, whose globe-trotting work is both dangerous and mysterious, but whose appreciation for her scrambled eggs is always constant. She might quirk an eyebrow at the way he hustles his young married paramours out of his apartment on the morning afters but she does not share her judgment, it wouldn’t be professional.
But the wall of perfect professionalism crumbles when Mae is first mugged, then burgled, and finally swindled before she kills a man in self-defense in his flat. Someone is targeting Mae and she is in way over her head, so he bullies her into letting him help. Together they race to discover who and why someone is after Mae and untangle their grand scheme while tangling with the several intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, wrestling with murderous bankers and brushing up against the Mafia. It is was a complicated but highly entertaining caper.
I enjoyed the action and adventure but if you are triggered by physical violence be aware that both Mae and Kitt get seriously banged up through the course of the novel, they are drugged, tazed and nearly drowned, and stumble upon a bevy of murdered bodies. But through it all Antonelli keeps up witty banter but manages not to trivialize or diminish the emotional roller-coaster both Mae and Kitt are experiencing as they survive multiple near-death experiences. They are both feeling emotionally messy and that is acknowledged and reflected in how they behave and in the quality of their decision-making.
One of my favorite tropes is a widow finding love after a grief, but I have mixed feeling as to how this played out in the novel. I loved Mae’s realization that her feelings for Kitt were deeper and more significant than she had ever let herself admit and that she reached out for him the mornings in the same way she had reach out to for her late-husband Caspar. Kitt knows how deeply Mae grieved Caspar and that affects his ability to understand that her feelings for him have changed. I was disappointed, however, very late in the novel when certain facts about Caspar are revealed to both the reader and Mae. Although Antonelli uses these to further the romance plot, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
I was also disappointed in the “not-like-other-girls” subtext to Kitt’s love of Mae. He refers to his past lovers as meaning nothing and thinks of them as no more than temporary disposable diversions on multiple occasions, while classing Mae differently. While that is part and parcel of his characterization as a cross between James Bond & Mr. Rochester type, it rankled a bit, especially when Kitt is convinced that he has been protecting Mae by overlooking her. I did appreciate that Mae saw his behavior for what it was, a misogynistic response to early heartbreak and calls him out on callousness. Other aspects of his hyper-masculine/Alpha hero persona were hyped up and I was particularly fascinated by recurring the hero or bully discussion Mae and Kitt have through the novel.
“You’re a bully,” she said.
“I was hoping you’d see me as heroic.”
“Heroic. Which means you expect me to lean up and cover you with kisses to thank you profusely?”
“I think I’ve enough of your blood on me already.”
“Heroic. Maybe you’re a little of that, but mostly you’re a bully.”
“ I can live with that.”
-Mae and Kitt in At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli
I stayed up late into the night reading At Your Service, and then dove back to reading as soon as I could the next morning and I recommend it to all who are looking for funny, smart romantic suspense with a strong focus on romance that doesn’t skimp on the mystery. I will be eagerly awaiting more from Antonelli, especially if her heroines continue to shock both their heroes and adversaries by refusing to go meekly or cave quietly, whatever the situation.
Content Warnings: Guns, Kidnapping/Abduction, Murder.