by Dara Girard, contemporary (2004)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-453-6
Dara Girard wants to write about a straight-laced prim and proper guy falling in love with a woman who keeps going for the wrong men, but I'm confused as to whether Eric Henson, aspiring career ladder gigolo, is supposed to be Mr Right or Mr Wrong. Sure, the heroine Adriana Travers marries Eric at the end, but it won't be the first time she's marrying one of those creeps.
Lingerie designer wannabe Adriana is a divorcée with issues. She blames herself for not being able to provide for her daughter Nina so she lets her ex-husband take custody of her daughter. She doesn't want to love so she dates bad boys while being miserable in the process. And if "aspiring lingerie designer" hasn't tipped you off to the fact that she's a sex-bomb underneath the prim and proper clothes ("lingerie" is a contemporary romance codeword for "silly goody-goody woman who wants to be bad", after all), you probably would after Eric, her prim-and-proper financial adviser, lusting after her after, er, seeing the naughty side of her on his birthday party. She too sees the bad boy side of him and they decide to have an affair. An affair only, definitely. You know how these things will turn out, I'm sure.
The characters all have baggages, but they often wallow in exasperating self-pity instead of doing something to overcoming these issues. Eric's insistence on having an affair only gets tedious really fast, and I'm not fond of his lofty aspirations of marrying some woman that will advance his career or financial situation either. That daughter Nina is a standard plot device to hit me in the head about how Nina needs a good daddy or how Eric needs a family. The repetitious angst parties the characters throw for each other make me feel as if I'm trapped in a shrink session that will never end.
Ultimately I do wonder whether Adriana loves Eric because he fixes up her life or because she really loves him. This woman is a mess. She seems incapable of making any decisions on her own and her reaction to problems is to often just retreat into her shell of self-pity. Eric comes in here, makes a better father figure to Nina that her ex-husband, and does all her thinking and decision-making for her. Adriana, professional passive victim, finds a perfect mate in Eric who solves her problems without forcing her to break the pattern of her life.
Ms Girard knows how to pour on the angst onto her characters, but she should consider having her characters work to overcome these issues instead of bringing out the worst from each other. For now, her baggage-ridden characters often come off as incompatible with each other and their stories make for some pretty unconvincing romance.
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