REVIEW: Whatever You Like by Maureen Smith
Dear Ms. Smith:
I’ve passed over your book several times because I thought it was a Spice Brief. I don’t generally read those because, well, they are often too brief for me. When I was trying out my nookColor, I downloaded a number of samples and yours was one of them. Imagine my surprise when I saw the book had thirty chapters. There was no way a Spice Brief had 30 chapters. I read the excerpt which prompted me to make my first purchase on the nookColor. I’m glad that I did.
I did very brief amount of research and Whatever You Like is the launch title to the Kimani Nights line. I am guessing that is a sexier version of Kimani? If so, bring it on.
Lena Morrison is a high paid escort. She does not have sex with her clients but rather serves as arm candy for wealthy men who need dates but don’t have the time or inclination (in order to avoid unwanted entanglements) to invite their own guests. Lena is recommended to be the escort for wealthy energy magnate, Roderick Brand, one of the wealthiest men in Chicago. Lena is recommended because Brand is trying to secure a Japanese contract and Lena speaks Japanese.
I did buy into the non sex escort idea, primarily because Lena draws lines early on with Brand; but also because part of the conflict is that when she started out escorting, she did sleep with a client which imperiled her boss (and friend’s) business and created an expectation with the client that Lena was a prostitute. Instead, she was a beautiful woman with a flighty sister and a grandfather who needed superior nursing care. Lena’s salary as a grant writer with a local college didn’t allow her to provide for her ailing grandfather in a way she wanted. When a friend suggested escorting and explained that it was without sex, Lena began to rely on that steady income; not to mention the thrill of attending high society events which were out of her normal league.
I liked Lena a lot. She was good at what she did, whether it was writing a grant proposal or escorting a client. For example, when Brand and Lena first meet, Lena fixes him a dirty martini with three olives, exactly the way Roderick takes his martinis.
"Mmm," Roderick murmured after sampling his drink.
"Very." He held her gaze over the rim of the glass. "You seem to know exactly what I like."
Lena smiled demurely. "If I didn't," she said, settling back against her seat, "I wouldn't be very good at my job. And I am."
Something hot and wicked flashed in his eyes. "How good?"
She returned his gaze, pulse thudding. "Good enough to know better than to answer that question."
He chuckled, raising his glass to her in a mock toast. "Well played."
Roderick and Lena have instant and combustible chemistry and against Lena’s better judgment, she finds herself pinned against the wall of yacht enjoying a very heated encounter with Roderick and his talented hands. Lena regrets this almost immediately and turns down an offer to spend the night with Roderick but he is not easily deterred. Roderick made it plain in the beginning that he is dogged in his pursuit of what he wants and now he wants Lena. In true Harlequin Presents fashion, even though this isn’t an HP, Roderick decides to blackmail Lena into his bed. Truly, we could have titled this “Blackmailed and Branded by the Billionaire.”
Left without real choice, Lena embarks on a cruise down Lake Michigan with Roderick where, alone, she really cannot withstand her own attraction to Roderick. Of course, the problem is that Lena is essentially sleeping with Roderick for money (the blackmail) and Roderick, for all his sweet words and seductive gestures, doesn’t forget that.
My biggest complaint isn’t the sex for money blackmail. It is that there isn’t a lot of character growth in this story. The central tension is the romantic conflict: can Lena and Roderick admit their feelings for each other and overcome Lena’s part-time occupation as an escort. I noticed at Amazon that several of the negative reviews complained of too much sex and there was a lot of it but I find it gratuitous. The book is very steamy (which is what I assume qualifies it for the Kimani Nights line) and I thought those scenes were not only well done but served to advance the conflict forward or provide further impediments.
What I would have liked was more nuanced characters. Lena was your standard very good girl who is responsible (unlike her sister); devoted to her grandfather; brilliant and beautiful. It was kind of amazing that someone hadn’t married her sooner given all of her obvious assets. Roderick, despite the blackmail, was also very nice. He sweeps Lena away from her mundane life to spend a week or two on his luxurious yacht that even has a designer boutique on board to serve his sisters’ (and then Lena’s) needs. He’s an attentive and inventive lover who is not afraid to give up control in the bedroom now and again. His reticence toward Lena was understandable although I wished he would have acknowledged his own hypocrisy instead of brushing it aside by saying that it was never a pay for sex for him because he fell hard for her. Overall, it reminded me of a very sexified Harlequin Presents set in Chicago. I could have used more agnst and more individual character growth but it was a very enjoyable read. B-
Let me end with a complaint about the cover. I know you have nothing to do with the cover, but when the hero is compared to Idris Elba, then I think that the cover should depict Idris Elba or some reasonable facsimile. These characters on the cover hardly look like they have a tan. It’s even worse, in my opinion, that the cover not only depicts paler people but they have their heads cut off. Come on, Harlequin.