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HelenKay Dimon

REVIEW:  Mercy by HelenKay Dimon

REVIEW: Mercy by HelenKay Dimon

Mercy

Dear Ms. Dimon,

I’ve read and loved some of your small town contemporaries and there are more on Mt. TBR.  I tried one of your erotic shorts a while ago and decided that I preferred your straight contemporaries.  I thought you wrote sex scenes well but there wasn’t enough story/romance in it for me to be completely satisfied.  When I saw Mercy first listed at Goodreads, I thought it would be worth taking a punt – perhaps good sex scenes and a longer format would equal a win for me.  The blurb was certainly intriguing too.

After she infiltrated his business and betrayed his trust, a disavowed CIA agent must seek sanctuary in the bedroom of a man who will either help her, kill her, or bring her to her knees…

Becca Ford is on her own. Eight months after she headed up a sting operation to take down millionaire club owner Jarrett Holt, the other agents in her special ops team have been eliminated under odd circumstances, and she needs a place to hide.

Jarrett is a man who prefers darkness to light. He deals in the only truly valuable currency—information—and his supper club caters to an exclusive clientele. It was an uncharacteristic moment of weakness when he let a woman into his life. But it’s not luck that the criminal charges disappeared . . . as did the evidence.

When Becca returns to the club seeking his help, Jarrett doesn’t want to hear her story. But he does want her body, and demands that she give it to him. He’ll keep her safe—for now—but it’ll be in his bed and on his terms, until he says they’re done.

As is obvious from the blurb, Becca and Jarrett have history and it is really there they fell in love.  So this story isn’t so much a courtship story as unravelling a big misunderstanding (and solving a mystery). Big mis is my least favourite trope but here I could certainly understand why both felt betrayed in one way or another.  It’s that rare case in a contemporary where it was understandable why both would be mistrustful and dole out information slowly.  And, even when the truth was told, it wasn’t automatically believed.  That made sense too, in the context of the story.

Becca and Jarrett apparently always had a very physical relationship.  Jarrett was destroyed by Becca’s betrayal. She was working undercover to obtain information about him and when he was arrested, she was giving him a blowjob. The arresting officer was Elijah Sterling – a colleague of Becca’s – and Elijah didn’t even let Jarrett do his pants up before leading him in handcuffs past a parade of media.  Jarrett had deep feelings for Becca and he’s not a man to trust or love easily.  When Becca turns up at his club seeking sanctuary, he thinks he wants revenge.  He wants to get her out of his system and he thinks pure unemotional fucking will do that (as if it ever does in Romancelandia). Some of the interaction between Becca and Jarrett skirts a fine line on the consent issue – but Becca always makes it clear – both to Jarrett and to the reader that she does in fact consent.  Even when Jarrett denies her clothing for the first few days.

This is an erotic romance with emphasis on erotic.  The sex is plentiful, detailed and ubiquitous. For the first two thirds of the book there is barely a scene which does not involve sex.  I admit that I found it a bit wearing and frustrating – I wanted to get to the explanation of what had happened, the investigation of who was behind it all and to the part where they were talking with more than their bodies.  I’m a person who normally does read all the sex scenes and is quite happy to read a story which is full of them.  But here, I felt fatigued by it after a while. The narrative would progress and tantalise me with some tidbit or fact and then the sex would interrupt it.  While there were some aspects of their relationship which were played out through their intimacy – the first time Jarrett kisses Becca on the lips really says something – I felt that many of the sex scenes interrupted the story rather than helped tell it.

There is another romantic storyline featuring a gay couple and I was happy to see that in a mainstream release.  Those sex scenes were also plentiful (and there was no shying away from the gay sex which I also appreciated) but I felt a little lost as to why the pair had anything but a physical connection.

This book is a lot darker than a one such as Lean on Me  – with intrigue, spies, black ops and subterfuge being the order of the day. The sex was well written and very hot but, for me, there was too much of it and it got in the way of the story.  Jarrett and his Club Manager and friend Wade Royer, both have dark pasts which are not whitewashed.  They were violent criminals but Jarrett decided he was going legit and he insisted Wade come with him.  Jarrett is a ruthless businessman and his history means he’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty.  Becca, for all that she is a CIA agent, has used sex and subterfuge to get information and nab criminals – she’s no goody-two shoes.  She’s very tough and strong and smart.  When Jarrett was arrested for selling drugs she felt betrayed on a personal level (as she had fallen in love with him and believed him to a legitimate businessman – finding the drugs came as a huge shock) and she wasn’t thinking clearly.  So it made sense that she wasn’t in a place to ask the relevant questions and didn’t see that there were things which didn’t add up.

Towards the end, things became a little harder for me to follow but I expect that’s because I’m not very good at mysteries.  I certainly bought the connection between Jarrett and Becca, but I would have liked more character development and a little less sex. (Does anyone believe I just said that? *checks self for a fever*).

Grade: C+

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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REVIEW:  Baby, It’s Cold Outside by HelenKay Dimon

REVIEW: Baby, It’s Cold Outside by HelenKay Dimon

Dear Ms. Dimon,

I’ve enjoyed your Harlequin Intrigue Romantic Suspense books for years, I thought your recent Cosmo Red-Hot Read was great fun, and one of your contemporaries for Carina landed on my Best of 2013 list.  So when I saw your first release in a new series for Samhain I requested it sight unseen. This is always a somewhat dangerous proposition, and here the characteristics I’ve come to depend on were mixed with character traits and story twists that I found quite off-putting. My reading experience was divided between my usual feeling that I was in very good hands and “oh no, they did not just go there.” I’ll pick up the next one, because a HelenKay Dimon contemporary is basically an autobuy for me, but I might be peeking through my fingers as I read, at least in the beginning.

cover4Baby, It’s Cold Outside is the first in the Men At Work series, and the series title is a good indicator of the book’s relatively equal presentation of the hero and the heroine. This is probably a good thing, because the hero does something almost unforgivable to set up the main story and conflict, and if I hadn’t seen things from his POV I would have had a very hard time thinking he deserved the heroine. As it was, it was still touch and go.

No one writing romance today can open a book like Dimon. No one. The story begins when construction company owner Lincoln Campbell and his personal assistant, Thea Marshall throw caution and HR rules to the wind and act on long-suppressed desires when they start a passionate encounter in Linc’s office and end it the next morning in his condo. Both think this might be the beginning of something more, but on returning to the office Linc is confronted with detailed and apparently irrefutable evidence that Thea has been selling company secrets to a competitor who is using the information to undercut them in a bidding competition for a major commercial project. He immediately has her fired for cause and escorted from the building, all without directly telling her the reason. After all, she did it and she’ll probably deny it, so she must know, right?

Thea is devastated in every possible way. She loves her job, she has been attracted to Linc for months, and she’s just building up her life after the loss of her parents in a plane crash. She has support from two work colleagues who have become her friends, Becky the office manager and Tim the computer guy, and that helps, but mostly she’s torn between desolation and anger, the latter quite justifiably aimed at Linc.

For his part, Linc can’t stop thinking about her, even though he has the evidence convicting her sitting on his desk. After trying and failing to move on, he hires a second investigator to look into Thea’s situation more closely (the first investigation was to discover the source of the leak and led to Thea but didn’t start with her). After a few weeks, he decides he has to see Thea again (whether she’s guilty or not) and pursues her to where she’s taken refuge to sort out her future, her family cabin in upstate New York.

Linc’s character has to tread a fine line between acting like a jackass and being an irredeemable jackass, and he more or less stays on the right side, thanks to Dimon’s ability to write believable, sympathetic men. But he was on serious probation for me the entire story and even his honorable behavior in the second half didn’t quite make up for it. The fact that they did have strong feelings for each other, feelings that weren’t just about lust, helped a lot as did the fact that they didn’t move from insta-lust to insta-love. Thea knows how Linc thinks and she uses that to keep from being snowed by his charm:

“Nu-uh.” No way was she falling for the quick drop of a pseudo-apology.

Linc leaned forward. “Excuse me?”

She’d been Linc’s assistant for long enough to figure out he’d assessed her mood and decided a quick admission would work best to pacify her. He was rock stupid when it came to women, but off-the-charts smart when it came to business and strategies. Thanks to the lessons he’d taught her, this time she would be smarter.

“Me, this, is a challenge of some sort for you. Well, you forget how many meetings I sat in on. How many calls I listened to.” He played a good game. He could schmooze and convince expert businessman they believed one thing when they came in believing another. Now he’d turned those tactics on her. She wasn’t buying it.

Unfortunately, while Thea makes Linc take responsibility for what he did to her, the way this unfolds makes Linc the harmed one because of his childhood and family history. It made him more sympathetic, but it also shifted the emphasis to his pain rather than hers. This isn’t an uncommon strategy, but I hate the way it turns the wronged person (usually the woman) into the one doing the comforting.

The second big problem I had with the story was the revelation of the real company mole. It made sense within context, but I hated that it turned out to be who it was. I can’t say more without completely spoiling the book, but it relies on a motivation that I want to go away forever. It made me angry, and sad.

Finally, there is a standard romance-novel twist that many readers don’t like, especially in contemporaries. I thought it worked fine here and it reminded me of one of my favorite older contemporaries, Banish Misfortune by Anne Stuart (both the twist and the confrontation/reunion in small-town New York). No one does anything stupid to get into the situation or to deal with it and no information is withheld. It’s about as realistic as you can make this setup in a contemporary and it gives a richer dimension to Thea and Linc’s conversations when they meet up again. But if you hate this sort of thing on principle the book might not work for you as a result.

Overall, this is a hard book for me to grade. The characters are written well and the various relatinships are well developed, especially given the novella length, which compresses important events and character arcs. I love the way Dimon’s characters talk to each other and most act like adults, even when they start out badly. No one behaves in unbelievable ways and most story elements are well motivated. But I was left with a nagging feeling that Linc needed to grovel a lot more, or preferably undergo serious therapy, before he was deserving of a relationship with Thea, and I really wish the company-sabotage plot had ended differently. Grade: B-

~ Sunita

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