Sweeter Temptation
by Phyllis Bourne, contemporary (2013)
Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86322-8


Sweeter Temptation is part of a series that began with Taste For Temptation, but apart from the fact that the heroes of the two books are brothers, these books can stand alone pretty well. While this one doesn't seem as fun as the previous book, that's because, I feel, the story is too big for the Kimani format. But let's take a look at the synopsis first.

Kyle Ellison believes that he has what it takes to run the family business, but, unlike his brother Adam, he has always been perceived as the happy-go-lucky player that no one takes seriously. Adam has made it clear that he doesn't want to take over the family business, so Kyle wants to step in. But their uncle, who becomes the de facto captain in the place of their late father until things have settled down, isn't certain of Kyle's capabilities. Besides, that man has recently reconciled with his estranged son, and he wants to give that son a job. Kyle reasonably finds this upstart newcomer a threat - it is not hard to believe that his uncle would conveniently decide that his son is better suited to step in compared to Kyle. That man has already given his son a comfortably high post despite the brat's lack of experience, after all.

Therefore, it is important that Kyle succeeds in his latest assignment: to shut down Peppermint Lane Candy Co, a candy factory in - where else? - Candy, Ohio. His father purchased the factory shortly before his death, and nobody knows why. What they do know is that the venture is not a profitable one, so it's best to just hand out walking papers to the employees of that factory and move on with life.

Our heroine Nia King reluctantly puts her life on hold to come back to Candy precisely because of the rumors of the impending closure of the factory. It once belonged to her grandmother, and most of the town folks work for the factory. Shutting down Peppermint Lane Candy Co would mean shutting down the town as well. She would try to help her old friends to come up with some kind of proposal that can change the new owner's mind.

It is, therefore, rather inconvenient that both Nia and Kyle have some kind to get to know each other pretty well, thanks to a snowstorm that causes Kyle to end up stuck at Nia's place for a while, before they realize that they are going to be at opposite sides where the factory is concerned. What will happen now?

Nia and Kyle are so much fun together. What I like about Nia is that, when she describes herself as a woman with ordinary looks, she is not pretending to be humble. Kyle's initial impression of her is pretty much that, and he starts finding her attractive only after he starts to know her better. Nia has self-esteem issues stemming from her parents' unhappy marriage, while Kyle's "issue" is more of his conflicted feelings as he falls for Nia. He has worked so hard to prove himself, and all this while his only drive in life is to be the CEO of Ellison Industries. Can he walk away from his ambition, now that he's so close to achieving it?

Of course, this is a story with happy ending, so everyone gets what they want so everyone is deliriously blissed out in the end. Still, I never feel that the author has cut corners for her characters. Nia has to work to get over her own inner demons that threaten to ruin her relationship with Kyle, while Kyle discovers that he is capable of having a committed relationship with a woman that isn't just about fun times.

Kyle's character growth arc may seem superficial on paper, but the author manages to make the whole thing work. Kyle's falling in love has the guy feeling both flustered and unsure at the same time, which is so cute given his usual confident and even cocky demeanor. Nia's self-esteem issues are also dealt with pretty well. Despite the fact that her baggage is a familiar one, Nia's insecurities ring true and her epiphany is both real and heartwarming.

Here's the thing, though: as much as I enjoy following Nia and Kyle in their love story, I'm not sure that I can buy their happy ending. This story spends roughly half its page count on those two getting cozy in their snowed-in love nest, as the second half feels rather rushed as a result because there are many things happening in that second half and there isn't enough space to let these things work themselves out believably. Kyle and Nia don't know each other that well to rush straight into marriage. Given their chemistry, I'm sure they may like one another long enough to try and make things work, but their romance never gets the opportunity to develop more believably in its current accelerated pace.

If the story had ended with these two deciding to go ahead and keep seeing one another, I can buy that. But there is a marriage proposal here, so there is an element of finality and closure (for a romance novel) that I'm not entirely sure I'd buy wholesale. If the author had another hundred or so pages to play, perhaps the romance would develop in a more believable pace and I'd feel differently.

Still, it's been a fun ride despite everything. So far it is two out of two, and I'm pretty interested to see whether the author can keep this track record up.

Rating: 84


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