Dear Ms. Howard:
I liked this book but I think it is important for a reader to view it more as an adventure book than a romance on although there is a strong romance. It lacks the emotional intensity of prior Howard works, but it was engaging. There was a certain instruction manual feel to it as you guide us through each mental connection of the heroine as she susses out the who and the why and this, I think, lends to some emotional detachment for me.
Jenner Redwine wins the lottery and it changes her life, although not totally for the better. We are definitely treated to some poor little rich girl scenes in the beginning but I sympathized with Jenner. (and secretly hope to be her some day, well, not her exactly but independently wealthy). We are taken through each and every step of the lottery winning process but then skip over the attempts to integrate into Palm Beach society. (I.e., after all the thoughtful exposition as to how Jenner picked her financial adviser and lost her friends, I am surprised we see nothing about her decision to move Palm Beach. It’s just one of those Howard mysteries as to why we get blow by blow descriptions of one facet of Jenner’s life and not others. I’d like to assume it was related to plot or character development choices but I wasn’t able to discern how.)
At eight thirty, she was watching the clock as she flipped through the phone book’s advertising pages. There was nothing under "money handlers," which was frustrating, because how the hell else would it be listed? Maybe there was something under "banks." What she learned was that there were a lot of banks in the Chicago area, and most of them advertised themselves as "full service" banks. What was that? Maybe they pumped gas for your car and checked the oil. Banks cashed checks, right? What else was there? Unfortunately, the ads didn’t say what those services were, so she was still in the dark.
She slammed the phone book shut and angrily paced the kitchen. She hated feeling ignorant, hated that she couldn’t look up what she wanted in the yellow pages, because she didn’t know how things were listed. But she’d never had a bank account, mostly because she never had much money and a bank account seemed stupid. She paid her bills either in cash, or by money order. That wasn’t the wrong way to do things, was it? Lots of people handled their bills that way-‘most of the people she knew, in fact.
Frank Larkin is a very bad man who is doing very bad things. This prompts a secret government surveillance team to set up shop on a luxury cruise ship. Cael Traylor is the point man for this operation and he is aided by two familiar figures, Ryan and Faith, as well as others. Jenner’s suite on the yacht is conveniently located next to Larkin’s (the bad guy). The secret gov’t surveillance team sweeps in, threatens Jenner into compliance by holding her best friend, Sydney Haslett, hostage, and sets up the sexual tension between Jenner and Cael. The sexual tension is there from the first. It seems almost impossible for there not to be sexual tension once Jenner susses out that she’s fairly safe and that Cael must be one of the good guys. After all, other than handcuffing her to the bed, to him, to chairs, he hasn’t done anything to harm her.
There were several scenes that showed Sydney’s hostage situation. Given that we, the reader, already knew that Sydney wouldn’t be harmed and that her incarceration was nothing more than an inconvenience, I didn’t understand the point of her scenes. There is no secondary romance for Sydney and the scenes didn’t add to Jenner’s situation because the reader knew all. It’s possible that this was all sequel bait although that’s not generally a Howard trait.
We track the internal monologue of Jenner so closely that the failure to address what would happen once the "surveillance" was over seemed strident. In other words, how did they expect for these two women whom they presumed to be airheads to keep their mouth shut about the surveillance?
The ending, though, was poignant. Not everyone was protected under the umbrella of romance safety. In the end, while this was a quick and entertaining read, it doesn’t live up to my high Howard standards. It’s hard to become really attached to these characters. That said, the book is very readable. C+