A Lot Like Love
by Julie James, contemporary (2011)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24016-8
A Lot Like Love contains some references to a villain who showed up in Something About You. The main characters in that book make brief appearances here as well. However, while the plot of this book is tied to the plot of that book, this book can still stand alone pretty well.
With organized crime boss Roberto Martino yet to pay for his crimes, the FBI hopes to trap Martino's accomplice, Xander Eckhart, and get Xander to testify against Martino. Xander is the owner of some high-class restaurants and clubs, and he dabbles in very expensive wine as a hobby. Our heroine, Jordan Rhodes, the daughter of a billionaire, moves in Xander's circles. She is a society darling not only because of who her father is but because she is an acknowledged connoisseur of wine in her circle. Her brother Kyle is currently serving time in prison, which is how the FBI secures her cooperation: in exchange for her brother's jail term being cut short, Jordan will take an undercover FBI agent as her date to Xander's charity wine event on Valentine's Day, and distract Xander long enough for her date to plant some bugs in Xander's office. Jordan of course agrees to this plan.
Our hero Nick McCall is supposed to act as an adviser of sorts to Agent Seth Huxley, who will be Jordan's date. However, poor Huxley catches the stomach flu virus that is making the rounds in Chicago at the very last minute, forcing Nick to play Jordan's date. These two aren't sure how much they like each other, but the date proceeds quite smoothly and Nick gets to do what he has to do in Eckhart's office. Unfortunately, Eckhart intends to announce to Jordan of his own feelings for her and the billions of dollars she will inherit one day during his party, and in a fit of jealousy, he hires someone to dig up the dirt on Nick. Because of this, Nick and Jordan are forced to keep up their charade of seeing each other a while longer, at least until the FBI gets something to pin Eckhart down.
The plot seems quite busy, doesn't it? Don't worry, though, the story turns out to be coherent, fun, and entertaining. The suspense element isn't window dressing, but at the same time, it doesn't get in the way of a most remarkable and charming romance. Like the characters in the author's previous books, Nick and Jordan are adorably likable and normal despite their larger-than-life background. Nick is a manly man without being overbearing and ridiculous and he has plenty of sexual tension with Jordan. Jordan, despite being a rich man's daughter, doesn't whine about her wealth or act like she's in a gilded cage. She has good friends, a normal social life, a sense of humor, and plenty of brainpower. She is not neurotic about sex and men - she actually seems human. Add in plenty of funny conversations oozing with chemistry and tension and this romance is a winner. Jordan and Nick really seem to like each other despite knowing each other for only a short time, and it's no stretch to imagine that they are made for each other.
My own complaint is how late in the story Jordan and Nick decide to take a trip to Napa. Hello? This scene is clearly a gimmick to allow the characters to have sex and then argue about Nick's apparent commitment issues, but the thing is, they know they are still on the Eckhart case and therefore it is really not a good time to act like hormonal teens arguing about the aftermath of a Spring Break fling.
But that's just a very small complaint. A Lot Like Love is just too much fun to read as it has pretty much everything I enjoy in a romance: fun characters, believable romance, lots of chuckle-inducing conversations, and lively secondary characters that add flavor to the story instead of reminding me too hard to buy their books. Oh, and a heroine that seems like a fun and sane woman instead of some neurotic caricature of a romance heroine. At the rate Julie James is going, she can write a book about some bloke painting a garage and still bowl me over.
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