by Jayne Ann Krentz, contemporary (2006, reissue)
Harlequin Signature Select, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-83694-5
Catching up on reissues of Jayne Ann Krentz's early category romance works can be a touch and go affair, as the author only came into her stride around the late 1980s. She was really fond of exclamation marks back in those days, and many of her heroes can be infuriatingly hot-headed and obtuse. Lady's Choice is a pretty good bet, however, as it was first published back in 1989, a time when the author was finally putting her use of her own personal clichés into devastatingly effective motion.
Of course, this book has that hero - considered cold and ruthless by many but the heroine, dark-haired, sexy scowls, and all - and that heroine - considered unpretty or unappealing (in some manner) by many but the hero, with a New Age-type quirk or a niche gourmet foodie (in this case, the heroine loves her tea and organic foods). But put together along with everything else, this one still manages to feel a little bit different from the typical enjoyable fare of this author during that period.
Travis Sawyer has a plan. It's so simple. He will avenge himself on a reneged business deal a few years ago by sneaking his way into becoming his targets' biggest creditor. A couple of folks from the Grant family led him on, even letting him believe that he will marry Elly Grant, until Travis had succeeded in helping the family business, the posh Flame Valley Inn. Then the engagement was called off, and Travis was offered payment for his services instead of a share in the business. Well, the joke is on them, because Flame Valley Inn is once again at the brink of bankruptcy, and the Grants have no idea that Travis is the creditor who is about to seize the business. Or maybe the joke is on Travis, because he just has to check out Juliana Grant, the daughter of one of his targets who had no part in this drama, and end up in bed with her.
Juliana is a woman who quickly scares off most men who are initially charmed by her, as she tends to take charge of any situation and cause those men to quickly start running for the hills. She realizes quickly that Travis is the man for her - the fact that he's not looking desperately for the exit is, of course, a plus - and she is definitely not letting a crummy revenge drama stop her and Travis from getting the happily ever after that she knows they are meant for. The card she has up her sleeve is that she has loaned a sizable amount of money to Flame Valley Inn to keep it afloat. If Travis wishes to cash in his chips, then her business will also go under. Since she has hired Travis as a business consultant for her Charisma Espresso business, it makes sense in a twisted manner that she wants Travis to extricate herself from the mess he has made. Really!
Okay, the plot looks awfully silly on paper, but I hardly notice this while reading the story, as it's a very entertaining, humorous, and engaging story. Travis is another typical hero by this author - a loner with a rather unhappy childhood which didn't give him a favorable impression of relationships, but at the same time he is determined to win the heroine's affections even if he doesn't fully understand what he wants with her - but Juliana is simply adorable. In a way, she is like the heroine of Scandal, who is determined to have the hero without having to choose between him and her family - but unlike Emily who learns to be very subtle with her manipulations of the hero, Juliana is a one-woman roller coaster in action. It's impressive how Ms Krentz manages to make Juliana come off as an adorable feisty darling instead of creepily determined. I especially love how Juliana doesn't allow anyone or anything to cloud her judgment of Travis - she trusts her own instincts and she is getting into a relationship with him with her eyes wide open, thank you very much, so nobody is going to convince her that Travis is just using her and that she's better off without him.
As usual, this story also has a theme of the hero finally finding a place where he belongs, and it's well done here. The secondary characters are also familiar, but they complement the heroine wonderfully in this amusing romantic sitcom. Really, much of Lady's Choice won't surprise readers of this author's books, but this one has the wonderful advantage of being better put together than many others to the point that it is actually far more entertaining than many of her full length contemporary romances. If you want to get into the groove with this author, I'd wager that you can't go wrong with Lady's Choice. It's a short but entertaining testament as to how this author can turn on the charm on a good day.
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