Tess Hamilton met Shep Ramsey under purely social circumstances, but it was a matter of national security that provided the real basis of their relationship.
Tess was working on a prototype airplane, and Shep was the man chosen to test its wings. For months her work on the plane had obsessed her, but now Shep had entered her heart and she was facing one frightening fact: if there were even one mistake in the plane, the man she loved would forfeit his life.
Very good book. This is an old book, written in 1984, and takes place in the mid-70s. Even so, it does not feel all that dated, with the issues at hand still existing today. Tess is a brilliant young woman, married to a much older man. She works for/with him, coordinating the building of a new bomber for the Air Force. She meets Shep Ramsey at a social event and connects with him. Shep is a test pilot, good looking and confident, but also sensitive. He sees her discomfort and spends much time talking with her. He's contemplating the end of his marriage to a social climber, and gives in to the urge to share a hot kiss with the sweet Tess. Unknown to them, it is observed by a less than pleasant man. This man tattles to her husband the next day, adding to the stress of an already over-worked man. Cy Hamilton dies of a heart attack in Tess's arms, believing she's having an affair, and leaving Tess devastated and aching with guilt.
Months later, Tess is still deeply involved with the plane's production. She puts in long hours, burying her feelings in work. She is reunited with Shep, who is one of the pilots who may be testing the plane. The sparks are still there between them, but how can she move on with the object of her guilt?
I really liked Tess. She's smart, sensitive and honorable. She's also a bit naïve at the beginning of the book. She's had very little experience outside the world of education, and has married a man who seems to be more interested in grooming her for his own purposes than in actually loving who she is. I ached for her feelings of insecurity outside of work. She also has the difficulty of being a woman in a job that is held mostly by men and has to deal with the prejudices and attitudes that go along with it. After her husband's death, she continued her work, earning respect from at least some of those she worked with.
I loved Shep. He is confident in his abilities as a pilot. He would rather fly than do anything else. At the beginning of the book, he has come to realize that he is no longer in love with his wife, who he admits never loved him. He was a tool in her attempts to move up the social ladder. He is also a sensitive man who immediately sees Tess's discomfort at the party. He can't help but try to help her. He's stunned by his immediate connection to her. Though he doesn't regret kissing her, he feels badly about the consequences of that kiss.
When they meet again, the sparks are still there. Shep has not been able to forget her, but knows she has been dealing with so much, so he has stayed away. Now in the later stages of the plane's production, Shep and Tess are thrown together. Now that they are both free, Shep wants to get to know her better, but Tess is still mired in grief and guilt. I loved seeing Shep's patience as he coaxes Tess out of her shell and into living life again. The hiking scene is great, as Shep's instincts help her reconnect with nature and she starts to relax with him. I loved seeing them share some of their pasts. They are starting to get closer, but Tess is still fighting her guilty feelings. When their next date is pre-empted by a work crisis, and she can't get word to Shep, his own insecurities rear up. I ached for both of them, as Tess worried about Shep's reaction and he fears that his growing feelings are not returned. Both of them have to face their fears before they can move on together. After a highly emotional scene, they are finally ready to see what the future might bring.
Their troubles aren't over however. Tess is dealing with the stress of political pressures regarding the program. There is also a subcontractor that has his own ax to grind with both Tess and Shep. There's a terrific scene between him and Shep, where Shep's protectiveness really comes out. Tess has her own scene with him later that was also very satisfying. As the date of the test flight gets closer, their feelings get stronger, but those same feelings create an intense level of fear in Tess. She knows the things that can go wrong during a test flight, and she fears for Shep's safety. I loved his sensitivity to those fears, and how he worked to ease them. It was fantastic to see Tess's growth, thanks to his love and support. The test flight scene was great, and I loved Shep's big moment after it.
I loved the realism of the political wrangling, complaints about the media, and other production problems. All of those things added a sense of realism to the book, as they still happen today. Tess's frustration was real and believable.