Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Code of Conduct, one of the books of the SmartyPants Romance group, is a story of finding one’s place. Disguised as romantic suspense, this book is a reminder that we all need a place to belong no matter our life situation. In the case of this story, it takes being loved to help the heroine open herself up to the possibilities of what it means to live.
Shane is a private investigator tasked with helping spouses confirm their spouses are cheating on them. One night, she meets with a man who is cheating and transfers money from a hidden account to his wife’s account. Unbeknownst to Shane, one of the best security firms, Cipher Security, is protecting this man. Alerted to her transfer, a Cipher Security team shows up to investigate, and Shane notices one of the men, Gabriel. She is drawn to him, in the same way, he is drawn to her. Ensuring she escapes, she leaves into the night. However, Shane is drawn to Gabriel and places herself in his way. On finding out that the wife has disappeared, Gabriel encourages Shane to work with him to investigate the wife’s disappearance and the shady dealings of the husband. As the two scrutinize the case together, they grow closer and more rooted in their attraction to each other. When Shane’s life becomes endangered, Gabriel does everything to keep her safe. But as the two grow closer, the more Shane wants to push Gabriel away. Will Gabriel and Shane discover the betrayal behind the husband’s dealings, and will Shane lower her guard to make room for Gabriel in her solitary life?
If you don’t know, Code of Conduct is one of Penny Reid’s SmartyPants Romance books. This is the third book of this group that I’ve read, and what I love thus far with these books is their social consciousness. Code of Conduct is no different. Wrapped up in a burgeoning, fiery romance is a message, an important one. Our heroine, Shane, is an amputee. She loses her leg in an accident, and it changes her identity. In many ways, she’s incredibly independent, trying on various “legs” to suit her needs. In other ways, her injury acts to keep people at bay. Losing her leg is one of her many traumas, and White shows us through the characterization of Shane how people sometimes empower themselves in ways that distance themselves from others. Sparky, the inventor of her many legs, tells her she needs to let people into her life because she has spent her post-amputee life, distancing herself from others. She doesn’t seek help because living alone is more comfortable. Unfortunately, as White shows us, it also keeps us complacent, never seeking adventure. White crafts Shane in a way where we get a real sense of her before the various traumas in her life. It’s easy to see she has stopped truly living until Gabriel comes into her life. It’s a reality check that we should look to our own lives to determine if we, too, are keeping people at “arm’s length,” effectively stagnating our lives in the pursuit of comfort and ease.
There are also messages in this book about pre-judgment. As an amputee, Shane talks about how people often can only see her loss: “people didn’t usually see me. They saw my face and my height if any prosthetic was out of sight, or they saw the fake leg and only the fake leg if it wasn’t.” White also illustrates this through Gabriel. He’s a black man, albeit one who wears beautiful suits and has a British accent. Yet, throughout the story, we see him struggle against the societal judgment of black men. One such incident occurs the night that Shane is threatened, and her life is endangered. Instead of the police handling the situation correctly, they focus their attention on Gabriel, the one who had saved Shane from danger simply because he is a black man, and the villain of this tale is a white man. Again, in this instance, White shows us the difficulty of people looking beyond the outer package. It causes others to unfairly judge people based on a loss of limb or more melanin in one’s skin. And it’s an important message for readers to consider.
As our hero, Gabriel is dreamy. From the outset, I loved him. He’s caring, sensitive, and masculine. These qualities are not mutually exclusive in this story. We find out quickly that he has been raised in a mostly female household. This has given him a sensitivity and respect for women while offering him a place to develop the skill of protection. And we see this is a balancing act in this story. White creates a tense moment between Shane and Gabriel when he fails to find the balance between caring and masculinity. At that moment, White is placing a magnifying glass on how masculinity usurps feminine strength. It’s another moment of reflection in this story. As she does so well with the other messages of her book, White offers a solution to it, one that remedies the tension between our hero and heroine.
Together, Gabriel and Shane are modern-day hero/heroine magic. With her internal strength, Shane challenges Gabriel and his expectations of women, while Gabriel challenges Shane to open her heart to others. To borrow from the movie, Jerry Maquire, they “complete” each other in ways that are mature and heady in our world of social messages. While I’ve spent time focusing on White’s messages in Code of Conduct, it needs to be said that her messages aren’t heavy-handed. They are woven brilliantly amid Shane and Gabriel’s romance and the suspense of this story.
Nonetheless, adding the depth of these messages to her romance gives it an essential place in romance. I think this is what I love the best about it. Yes, it’s easy to see the brilliance of an amputee heroine with the strength of personality to take down the bad guy. It sets Shane apart from your average romantic heroine.
It’s April White’s insistence on focusing us on greater social ills in Code of Conduct that make it a worthy read, a necessary one. This book is deep; it’s wrapped in a package of a comfortable, suspense-filled romantic story. But it’s anything but that. I love what Penny Reid and authors such as April White are doing with the SmartyPants Romance books. They are giving us “smart” romance, romance that uses typical romance tropes to challenge our thinking about life. If your romance manna is romantic suspense, then you need Shane and Gabriel’s story in your Kindle Library. You’ll thank me in the end.
In love and romance,