The suggested theme for August is erotic romance; I don’t have any unread in my digital TBR. I have a couple in print, but due to recent wrist surgery, I can’t read print books right now. (I also type very slowly and need to correct a lot of errors, so this may be a short post.) [Edited to add: not short, because I got ranty.] I chose a Mills & Boon Desire title from 2007; it was part of last year’s M&B free ebook promotion. Warning: this review contains spoilers.
The book is The Player by Rhonda Nelson, the first in her Bachelors’ League trilogy. The basic set-up is that four friends from Alabama were selected to form an elite and hush-hush Army Ranger team; one guy, Danny, was killed on a mission and the other three decide they want out of the army to run their own private security company. Their discharge is held up over a disciplinary action (they got in a fight with someone who insulted their dead friend), so their commanding officer offers them a deal: he will sign off on their discharge, but in return they each owe him one favor, no questioned asked. Of course they agree.
This book spends a lot of time setting up the trilogy; too much, in my opinion. It felt slow to get going because of all the words spent telling about the three guys and how different they were and what each one’s backstory was. Add in the words it took to set up the specific situation for this book and you’ve got a lot of exposition. Much of which is told, not shown, in somewhat clunky (to me) info dumps.
The Colonel calls in his first favor from Jamie Flanagan, nicknamed “the Player” because of his pattern with women. The members of the Bachelor Society have basic rules about not getting too involved with women (including dumping them after the third date), but Jamie racks up the conquests because he’s using sex to drive away the pain of Danny’s death. His mission is to go stay at the Colonel’s granddaughter’s resort and get her attracted to him, so that she will turn down her boyfriend’s proposal. But he is NOT to actually seduce her, as the Colonel makes clear with threats of violence.
Unbeknownst to her grandfather, Audrey isn’t planning to accept the proposal. She knows her current boy friend is not “the one,” but some of his flaws are welcome because of her history. She is an empathetic and giving person, so she attracts some very needy men. Derrick is self-centered and arrogant, but he doesn’t drain her emotionally, and she needed that after a previous relationship. But he doesn’t satisfy her sexually (of course), so she plans to tell him no when he returns from a business trip — the trip that made her grandfather (and her best friend and co-worker, who also wants her to dump Derrick) decide that the time was right to bring another man into the picture. The Colonel tells her about Danny, and that Jamie needs her special therapy to help him deal with the loss of his friend.
So a classic set-up, even if the premise is a bit short on credibility: they’re lying to each other about their goals and motives, and each has a reason to fight off any urge to get involved with the other.
The book isn’t badly written; there are some cute turns of phrase and some funny dialogue. But it didn’t work very well for me for several reasons.
The overall plot structure and resolution bothered me. The main characters are lying to each other until 90% of the way through the book; they become intimate, Jamie unloads about Danny, and the phrase “I love you” is used, but he still hasn’t told her why he’s really there, and she’s still hiding how much of his war story she already knew from her grandfather. She then ends up forgiving him quickly, and he never blames her for her part of the deception. Plus I didn’t feel that either of their sets of issues was resolved; why is this needy guy okay, when previous ones emotionally drained her? The answer seems to be her magic hoo-ha — he throws aside his bachelor promises to his buddies, he cries it all out in her arms, and all’s well. Even though his pain and need affect her powerfully, this is different. Somehow.
It bugged me all the more because the sequence goes like this: they become lovers, then she tells him about her past and he realizes that she shouldn’t be with a needy man in need of her healing. But she pushes him to tell her about Danny because she can feel his pain and it hurts her anyway, so he might as well share. He does, and by telling her how he feels and listening to her rather obvious responses (it’s not his fault, he did his best, Danny wouldn’t want him to blame himself), he feels a lot better. So they have sex again, this time without a condom, and it’s better than ever — she declares her love for him in the aftermath of their unprotected sex. That’s right.
That’s even MORE upsetting because the book took a very early and rather preachy stand on the issue of sexual protection. From Chapter Six:
“Audrey was a big girl. She was sexually experienced and sexually responsible. She didn’t share her body with just anyone and she always made sure she was protected. She had too much self-respect to do otherwise. Though she longed to have a family of her own someday and imagined raising that family on this very shore, she instinctively knew that neither the time—nor sadly, the man [Derrick]—was right.”
That passage sort of comes out of the blue, in the midst of her thinking about how irresistible Jamie is. It suggests that she’s using birth control, but Jamie doesn’t know that, and sexual responsibility goes beyond pregnancy prevention. This really pushes my buttons; I’m tired of romances where protecting yourself from pregnancy is a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship, bare-back sex is much more satisfying than sex with a condom, and everyone KNOWS these characters can’t have STDs because they are the hero and the heroine.
There’s not much of the book after that. The next night, after she has dumped Derrick, they are settling in to watch a video, they talk a little about the future, he STILL doesn’t tell her the truth, and then her grandfather barges in. She finds out everything and kicks him out, he comes back to fight for her, he tells her that he seduced her despite her grandfather’s instructions because he couldn’t help and he loves her. and all is forgiven. Nothing left but (of course) the epilogue to provide the obligatory pregnancy and the set-up of the next book.