This book begins when Alice, the uptight boss of a group in an ad agency, discovers a sheet of paper that is part of a bet. The people in the office are taking odds on who will nail her first. At this, Alice cries and cries. That’s right, she doesn’t fight back, she doesn’t storm into the pub where they’re congregating, wave the paper in their faces and yell, and she doesn’t complain to her boss. Oh no, instead, she goes out with the office dog.
Phillips introduces us to two very unlikeable people and doesn’t start explaining why we should like them until nearly halfway through the book. By then, for me at least, it’s too late.
Alice is wound up and whiny, with a streak of self-pity a mile wide. At every turn she whines and thinks of herself first. Reasons for this aren’t given until relatively late in the book, and, to be honest, they don’t convince me. She’s irritating. She behaves badly when Harry takes her on perfectly acceptable dates, she never thinks of anyone but herself, and, although she is said to be good at her job, we never see any evidence of that. Everybody in the office dislikes her, and I don’t really blame them. When Harry takes her out on dates, she’s rude, unreasonable, and sullen. I’d have taken her home and left her alone. Instead he’s attracted to her. Why?
Harry is a manwhore, actively avoiding responsibility and caring nothing about the way he hurts people. There are far too many callous comments attributed to him for me to go any way towards liking him. For instance:
“More than a month seemed to be code for women that moving in together was a realistic next step.”
“Just sex. Just fun. No letting it run on too long—“
There are a lot more. All of them convincing me that whatever the reasons for his behavior, we are dealing with a misogynistic, rat bastard manwhore. I don’t care what makes him behave like that. The fact that he does is enough to make me hate him.
At the start of the book Harry dumps a girlfriend in a cruel and callous way, in public. It is integral to the plot and is supposed to lead to his redemption when the girl turns into a bunny-boiler. She gets her own back in predictably cliche way, and what she does would actually get her prosecuted these days.
Scenes are omitted, like the one when his girlfriend comes to his place to collect her things. I wonder if the editor asked for it to be left out, but it leaves a hole in the narrative. When Harry dumps the girl, I nearly tossed the book then. It takes a lot of skill to turn a hateful person around, and this author doesn’t do it for me. I kept hoping that the real hero would turn up.
Alice and Harry’s dates are unusual and meant to be funny, although the slapstick of falling into a lake and attending a children’s party doesn’t really strike me as funny. It reads like 27 Dresses, or Bridget Jones where Bridget ends up with Daniel instead of Mark. This is particularly evident in the boating scene, when they both end up in the lake because Alice is too worried about her handbag to care about her safety or her companion’s. And, by the way, if her flatmate is away, and she has lost her handbag in the boating lake, how did she get into her flat?
The flatmate, Tilly, is a hippie type with unkempt hair, who makes a living from face painting at children’s parties and making jewelry. And yet she can afford to share a flat with an advertising executive in charge of a department? I don’t think so, unless Alice is seriously slumming. The flatmate is such a cliché that I couldn’t believe in her, either. The hippie best friend is rapidly taking the place of the gay best friend and is just as tokenist and insulting to people who prefer alternative lifestyles. While Tilly is shown, belatedly, to have some organizational abilities, it doesn’t fit with the character already set up for her.
The author may have written historicals in the past as sometimes historical-style language creeps in. References to “décolletage” and referring to him as “London’s most eligible bachelor” when all he is is a good looking sleaze, for instance. Eligible usually means rich and well connected, which he doesn’t seem to be. Graphics director for an advertising company pays well, but not that well.
References to outdated conventions, like ASBO’s (a court order that was abolished some years ago) and the heroine having a paper organizer instead of a tablet, smartphone or suchlike dates the story.
And the sex. What sex? The biggest omitted scene in the book is the consummation scene. When an author is trying to be sassy and modern, resorting to “waves on the seashore” (in this case, the curtain falls) was a “wha?” moment for me. While I don’t insist on stacks of hot sex in every book I read, some indication that they’d enjoyed it or, well, something would have helped. It is the most egregious author intrusion, because neither character would have been shy about describing their sex life, but, obviously, the writer doesn’t wish to do it.
A line that has references to pain play and breath play on the one hand, (Kelly Hunter‘s excellent The One That Got Away) and a no-sex attempt at chick-lit is just not working for me. The Harlequin lines are supposed to have some linking factor, and I just can’t see the differences of tone, mood, and even heat working to create a cohesive line of category romances. For various reasons, I’m not the audience for this book, but I have loved some of the books in this line. Hated others. I really don’t know what to expect when I pick up a Kiss book and for a category line, that’s not good.
But the story has a happy ending. Harry and Alice deserve each other. The story would have been amusing had it involved more likeable characters, but when disasters happen to them, I could only think that it took two people who might trap perfectly nice people off the market.
Ask Alice Ford to shine in the boardroom and it’s a done deal. Ask her to go on a first date, however, and she’s a quivering mess! So, discovering that she’s the target of an office bet? To get her into bed? It’s her professional nightmare! Office legend Harry Stephens is her unlikely savior. He even volunteers to teach her just how to avoid a heartbreaker. After all, it takes one to know one… But what is Harry really after? And when his kisses throw a curve ball into the situation, is Alice ready to gamble everything for love?
Read an excerpt.