by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2003)
Harlequin Temptation, $4.25, ISBN 0-373-69116-5
Hey, what do you know, this is the second Leslie Kelly series novel that I read where both the hero and the heroine are - get this, people - wonderfully normal. The heroine Venus Messina is a bartender, she has a tattoo, but at the same time she has had lovers before and her sexual experiences in the past doesn't give her a whacked outlook on life and men. In fact, you know what, she's hot in bed - hot, hot, hot, and she isn't afraid to get hotter than hot. Pair Venus with Troy Langtree, a beta rich guy who doesn't do stupid things in a plot riddled with so many potential Big Misunderstanding traps, and Wicked & Willing could be the book that delivered Harlequin from perpetual crapdom.
That is, if the plot of this book isn't so familiar and predictable that I can autopilot the story while fully sedated.
Venus Messina is minding her own business one day when a coot named Tom Collins insists that she is actually Violet Longotti. Her father met her mother when he was an actor using the Messina name, and she is the result of their brief fling. Now that her maybe/maybe-not father is dead, Tom Collins is offering her some money to go visit her potential grandfather Max. Venus is sure that this man is a crackpot but who is she to turn down money for a nice holiday in Atlanta?
Max has a young family friend named Troy Langtree who helps Max run the business. Troy is hoping to bring about a merge between Max's company and his family's, and his eyes narrow into suspicious slits when this bubbly hot Venus bursts right in through the doors. But the damage is done: they flirt pretty heavily before each realize who the other person is and now they cannot stop imagining the other person naked.
Oh boy, the plot. If you have read at least two "potential heiress came home" stories, you will know how this story will progress. Blow by blow, chunk by chunk, this story doesn't deviate from the general formula. Poor heroine from broken home, the kindly matriarch (or in this case patriarch) who takes a liking to her, the suspicious hero who can't help being charmed by her, and of course, there will be scenes where the heroine will try to leave, sure that she can never belong, only to have everybody group hug her and tell her that she belongs.
The predictability quotient is off the charts in this book. That makes it an unfortunately unexciting read. Also, despite lusting their clothes off, these two characters fail to actually sell me their grand love. Maybe in a longer novel, they might, but as it is, I still think these two people should spend time together outside the bedroom a little bit more before getting married.
Still, Ms Kelly succeeds in selling me the fact that these two characters really like each other outside the bedroom. Their chemistry is potent - if their mental lusting can get a bit repetitious at times - and yes, people, Venus flirts, she flirts and she drinks and she doesn't hesitate to make the first move in the dating game.
How pathetic is it that I should get so excited over what is actually a normal woman in a romance novel?
A mini-rant though: Venus is a normal woman with a healthy sexual lifestyle (not too indiscriminate, but she's been around). So her family isn't perfect and so she has to make ends meet, but I think her story isn't any different from many single twenty-something women out there trying to make it in the rat race. So why the heck is she considered one of the Bad Girls Club? Is it because she's not "good", ie sexually dysfunctional? If a normal heroine with refreshingly little insecurities about her sexuality is considered a Bad Girl, I hate to see what these Harlequin people consider a Slut.
Anyway, rant over. Back to this book. It's very predictable and familiar and the author failed to breathe new life into this story of hers. But her heroine and hero are so nice together they make this book worth a read at least. For the heroine alone that doesn't insult my intelligence, I'm tempted to fete this book.
Really, it's so unfortunate that this book is so boring. It has so much going for it, but plot-wise, it's pretty much running on empty. Wicked & Willing is actually too tame and safe for its own good.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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