by Maureen Smith, contemporary (2010)
Kimani, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-83198-2
There are some tropes that are so common and used in often such a thoughtless manner that I can practically recite the rest of the story correctly after reading the first fifty pages of the book. Some of such tropes are:
One, billionaire hero manages to become the alpha male in his business not through diplomacy and charm, because he displays none of such. When it comes to chasing after a heroine, it's not about splurging money on diamond rings or fancy cars, because that will be disrespectful to the heroine. No, he blackmails her into sleeping with him. That's better - the heroine has no choice and therefore, she's surrendering her honey pot while remaining virtuous where it counts, wherever "it" may be.
Two, a heroine who works as an escort often does so because she needs the money. There is often a painful realism to this. What differentiates real life from romance novels is that heroines who function as escorts tend to get outraged or shocked when men forget that they are brainy as well as beautiful.
Maureen Smith's Whatever You Like, which is part of Kimani's supposedly more erotic imprint called Kimani Nights (people only have great sex at night, after all), has these two tropes, and these two tropes go together like oil and water. Lena Morrison is intelligent, beautiful, amazing, beloved, gorgeous, and so tediously awesome that the only reason she is working as an escort is because somebody has to pay off her grandfather's medical bills. In this story, everyone else, including Lena's sister, exists only to reinforce Lena's awesomeness or, in the flighty sister's case, serves as a foil to remind me of how amazing Lena is. Lena's only flaw in this story is her inability to cure her grandfather with the touch of her hand, but maybe it's because Lena is just being humble.
So, in her latest "No sex, admire my brainpower instead" escort gig, Lena sashays into Roderick Brand's life. She not only helps him win over a hesitant Japanese businessman into agreeing to sign a contract with Roderick, but also gets under his skin and make his little soldier pops into attention. Lena lets him put his finger into her private places and make her scream in delirious ecstasy, but sorry, honey, she's not putting out to him like that. Roderick, upon learning that Lena is a grant writer by day - an awesome heroine has to do something when she's not collecting admirers, after all - immediately sets in motions a chain of events which leads Lena to have no choice but to become his sexual companion for three weeks if she wants to get promoted at her day job.
Now, I know we need a conflict to keep the hero and the heroine busy because heaven knows, we can't have them get into bed without having a good reason like blackmail or treachery or something, but seriously now. By implementing a blackmail premise like this, Ms Smith obliterates any chance Roderick has at claiming that he respects Lena. A man who respects a woman won't force a woman into such a situation, and Roderick doesn't even have an excuse of being a sadistic Greek billionaire in a Harlequin Presents book to pull off such a stunt. As for Lena, she is initially furious, but she goes along with the plan anyway, an act that ruins her credibility as a woman in charge of her life. When she goes along with Roderick's plan, she is no better than the kind of woman which she spends the first dozen or so pages in this story protesting that she isn't.
For a long time, the author downplays the fact that she has reduced her characters into nothing more than a prostitute and her john. Instead, she focuses on making her characters as flat as possible. These characters barely grow - they are awesome from the start, and awesome is what they are portrayed as right up to the end. Frankly, reading about one-dimensionally perfect characters is rarely interesting, and it certainly doesn't help that Ms Smith tends to derail the pacing of the story by describing every mundane conversation between the heroine and various secondary characters in an unnecessarily long detailed manner. These conversations are rarely interesting because they all serve to reaffirm Lena's amazing perfection. I can only wonder whether the constant reiteration of Roderick's so-perfect looks and Lena's perfect looks and alleged brainpower is a way for the author to compensate for the fact that she has planted her characters into a bad Harlequin Presents plot.
Lena and Roderick do have some pretty decent chemistry, their often stilted conversations aside - this is one story where the body language is far superior to the actual language used by the characters. It's a shame about the plot. If Ms Smith didn't have the brass to tackle this kind of plot, perhaps she should have come up with a different excuse to have Lena put out to Roderick, perhaps one that allows Lena to enjoy being shagged while keeping some semblance of her dignity.
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