According to the buzz at RWA’s annual conference this year, sex continues to sell like hotcakes (I don’t get the reference either) and the hotter the story, the better. Before erotica/erotic romance became the darling of publishers everywhere, Harlequin pushed the boundaries with their Blaze line.
You know, sexy premise, sexy story. And I’m going to admit it – I fell for a marketing pitch. I picked up Cara Summers’ Two Hot! Based on back cover copy alone. Part of Blaze’s “Forbidden Fantasies” flash, the book promised me a journey into fantasy numero dos – two men, one heroine.
Zoe McNamara is a Ph.D candidate doing research on sex and dating practices of urban singles. This has absolutely nothing to do with the story; she could have researched the eating habits of termites to the same effect. She apparently has a wild side that she’s trying to repress thanks to the wishes her academic parents. This wild side also seems to be rather pointless as it’s not fully explored and/or resolved.
Anyway, Zoe wants Jed Calhoun, a man she met in a previous book. Major lust going on there. Even though she’s a mousy little thing and he’s like a Greek god – okay, fine, he’s a risk-taking spy-dude who looks like a surfer – it’s reciprocated, and it’s good. Of course, Jed can’t get involved with a woman right now because he’s trying to figure out why he was left for dead in Bogota.
Summers actually crafts an interesting plot with several fun twists. In fact, had she treated this story as a suspense novel, it would have worked far better. There are layers of deception throughout the story that would have benefited from increased attention. Because so much juggling had to happen with the plot and the romance, the plot suffered.
Jed was shot by a CIA agent, and as the characters work on solving the mystery, shifting alliances lead to a clever resolution. Because Jed is officially dead (note to CIA: always make sure you have a body before putting an obituary in the Company newsletter), he disguises himself in order to suss out the clues. In his disguised form, he encounters Zoe, who is immediately attracted and soon jumping into bed with the man she knows as Ethan. She thinks she’s one wild chick.
Okay, yes, I know. There was no way that this book would really feature a heroine getting it on with two separate and distinct men. Wasn’t gonna happen. What I expected was a carefully crafted scenario that made me, the most jaded of readers, think that maybe, just maybe, it was possible. You know, perhaps by the author creating the impression that the two men weren’t one and same.
Oh no. Summers made absolutely certain that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the same man in both cases. No chance of me wondering, no chance of me mulling over the execution of the fantasy. And I have to say that hitting me over the head was really annoying – and it made me think a little too hard about what was happening on the page.
About, for example, how our intrepid heroine didn’t realize it was the same guy. C’mon, all the dude did was dye his hair, put on a pair of glasses, and fake a British accent. Now, this hero had been shot in the leg and shoulder. While I’m not technically a medical professional (meaning I can open a bottle of aspirin but that’s about it), I do know that bullet wounds leave nasty scars. Since sexual encounter one was in the broad daylight, Zoe would have seen said scars. Sexual encounter two was in the dark, okay, but, hello?, did she not run her fingers over “Ethan’s” manly chest? Did she not notice the knot of nasty scar tissue on his broad shoulder? Heck, it has to be a blow to our hero’s ego when a woman doesn’t take sufficient note of his penis to realize the next one she encounters is the same.
It gets worse. Early in the story, we learn that Zoe was formerly a researcher at the CIA (spies, sex, it’s all the same, really) and her job involved digging into an agent known as Lucifer. Yeah, well, you try to come up with a code name. She falls for her subject, meaning we have a threesome in the lust department. Now, I’m not one to give away key plot elements, but if you haven’t guessed Lucifer’s true identity then I’m disappointed. I was even more disappointed in Summers’ heavy-handed approach to signaling said identity. The only way she could have made me happy was by leading me on a wild goose chase and pulling a surprise Lucifer out at the last moment.
This book also suffers from a bad case of series-itis. Not only did we have characters from a previous novel showing up to remind the reader that they are deliriously happy…we have characters from an entirely different mini-series making the scene. All that smug reliving of previous joy really cut into word count. I am sincerely hoping that Summers resists the urge to give the only unpaired characters in this book their own story. The subplot involving these two had a nice edge to it, and I’d like to remember them as they are.
For this story to succeed, I needed the author to create doubt in my mind. It can and has been done (at this point, I am going to insist that everyone read Tiffany White’s Forbidden Fantasy as a primer…it’s the sort of thing that this “Forbidden Fantasy” aspires to but doesn’t quite achieve). Romance makes an implicit promise to me: I’m going to be satisfied with the story’s resolution. By making sure that I was safely reassured throughout the story, the author cheated me. Worse – she made me look too hard at the fantasy and it shattered before my eyes.