Dear Ms. Kelly:
I think you were part of my Harlequin Presents subscription. The title is pretty ridiculous and the cover doesn’t match the book at all given that it is set in the city of Chicago and this cover gives off a certain tropical vibe. Although it is sold as a Harlequin Presents (albeit an “Extra”), this book stands outside the traditional trope. It’s more like a Blaze than anything. Yes, the hero is wealthy but his money and his position isn’t an issue.
What I liked best about this contemporary romance was realistic this romance seemed. This romance and the conflict is all about equals and the challenges a presented when two people are pursuing a career.
Calista McGovern is a corporate troubleshooter of sorts. She had been on the fast track to success and on the cusp of really making a name for herself when she gave it all up to move across the country when her boyfriend asked her. No, not just asked her, but challenged her that she could not possibly love her job more than him. She moves and then he dumps her. Worst is that Cali had called in all sorts of favors to get her job and she left the job half done and burned her bridges. It took her three years to climb back to the same position, again on the cusp of the career she has always wanted when she is sent to Chicago to get a project on track and meets Jackson Tyler. (Tyler is a surgeon but his career is only incidental to the story).
The first meet takes place in a jazz club where Cali is unwinding after her flight from NY. It was recommended to her by her boss, Amanda who found out about it from her brother in law, Jackson Tyler. Cali wants to drink her liquor and listen to some jazz, alone, when some businessman thinks she looks lonely. Jake (Jackson) has been watching Cali from across the bar and decides to step in and offer a hand. He helps rid Cali of the offender and then settles in next to her much to Cali’s dismay. Jake is gorgeous, true, but she really did just want a moment alone:
"I like jazz. I like it when others like it, too. The guy seemed to be getting in the way, so I helped him out. That's all. You and I, we can just sit here and listen together. Ignore each other completely. In fact-" he leaned back slightly, eyes focused now on the front of the club "-I've forgotten about you already."
She stared, and then a ripple of amusement broke loose from the anxiety-tightened confines of her chest. His reverse psychology teasing should have sent her fleeing for the nearest cab, only it had sent butterflies flitting around her belly instead.
She cocked her brow at him, feigning surprise. "Are you still here?"
The low rumble of his answering laughter had a seductive quality she couldn't resist, and then she was laughing too, swearing to herself it was only a momentary indulgence.
"Fine," he drawled, luring her attention to the mischievous gleam in his eyes. "Since you're so desperately chatty, I'll talk to you."
A stuttering cough escaped her as she tried to muster any emotion other than delight. "I beg your pardon?"
The corner of his mouth turned up. "No need to beg. So, what do you think? Should we talk about work?"
The two engage in witty banter and then Cali decides she needs to get the hell out of Dodge before she does something stupid like attack Jake in the bar. But one thing leads to another and they end up having a very torrid make out session in the back of the club in a phone booth.
The first chapter sets the stage for the entire book. Witty dialogue is interspersed throughout to provide the comic relief. Cali tries to stave off any contact with Jake but the more she resists, the more she finds herself having torrid make out sessions in semi public places.
The relationship has ebbs and flows. At one point, Cali starts feeling strongly for Jake and Jake, a commitment phobe not only recognizes the symptoms but prepares to run in the opposite direction. Cali pretends that she is only in it for the fling as well, trying to suppress outward evidence of her growing love for Jake and justifying her staying with him by the fact that she will hopefully be leaving soon – for London.
Jake and Cali have a very strong physical attraction to each other and it’s what draws them together initially and the excuse that they use to stay together. Jake tells himself that he has to burn out the lust he feels for Cali and Cali allows herself the luxury of being with a man, something she hasn’t done for years.
I also loved how, during a period in the book in which Jake and Cali are struggling, you show the different type of dates that they go on and how those showed us the emotional distance that was growing.
Jake’s commitment phobia isn’t just a plot crutch. You spend the time explaining how and why he got that point so that the happy ever after makes sense. The desire to remain single was hard earned and it didn’t go away over night.
Soon, though, Cali ends up where she was three years ago, with a man asking her to give up her career aspirations for the sake of the relationship. Her response was a welcome surprise to me.
This story, like Kathleen O’Reilly books, really encapsulated the challenges a career minded woman might face. Cali was a shown to be emotionally vulnerable but in a way that never reduced her status vis a vis Jake. Put together with humor and a many smoking hot love scenes, I’d say that this is a great debut. I look forward to more Kelly books and bemoan the absence of a deep and long backlist. B