A while ago, @Jane_l tweeted that New Zealand based Harlequin Presents author Susan Napier’s back list was available in e version for cheap, so I bought a couple, and it turns out I had already had one in my TBR. Here are three mini-reviews.
All three books had very unusual and complex plots, which kept my interest because they never crossed the line into rank implausibility. And each one had an unusual sexual trajectory, with the sex taking place between the hero and heroine prior to or at the very start of the action in each book. Finally, each book has what I have come to conclude is a Napier signature … a totally bizarre event.
The Revenge Affair (1999) is my exact least favorite kind of romance. Regan is a good girl whose husband took her for granted, cheated on her, and then went and died. She decides to secretly take the place of her “professional companion” cousin one Saturday night in order to get revenge on her husband’s ghost. She wants to prove to herself, as well as to her dead ex, that she is sexy.
Of course, the john in question is our hero, “Adam” and they share a night of rapturous lovemaking. This was actually pretty interesting: Adam was way late, so Regan kind of wandered around his luxury penthouse, Goldilocks style, making herself a drink, trying out the stereo, and figuring out what she’s supposed to do. Come morning, Regan sneaks out before “Adam” awakes, expecting never to see him again.
They cross paths again a few months later, when Regan is asked to help a distant relative with her wedding. The groom? You guessed it! But instead of feeling embarrassed that he paid for sex the night before he got engaged — or at all — our hero is sure she is up to something. He lashes out at Regan every chance he gets, getting irrationally jealous, calling her a “conniving little whore” … you know the drill. To top it off, he says patronizing and hypocritical things like, “It’s dangerous to make assumptions when you don’t have all the facts”. Pot, meet kettle.
Bizarro Napier Moment: Regan runs away from the hero and hides in a tree while he wanders around on the ground below calling her name. If only she had pitched a rock at him from that height…
Price of Passion (2008) (which I believe you can read free here) [Amazon tells me I downloaded this one back in December. It is no longer available for Kindle to US customers.] is another very unusual story: Kate works for the publisher who publishes bestselling suspense writer Drake Daniels’s books. Drake is known as a party boy when he is on his book tours, and totally reclusive when he is writing. Kate and Drake have been having and on again/off again, no strings attached affair for two years, but now Kate thinks she may be pregnant (I was surprised by this, but that’s because I hadn’t read the subtitle of the book: “Pregnant Mistresses”) so she figures out that Drake’s top secret writing hideaway is in the sleepy New Zealand beach community of Oyster Beach and rents the house next door to his.
See what I mean about Napier writing complex and unusual plots?
Kate is in love with Drake, but has always completely deferred to his “no emotions involved” approach to their affair, and to his long absences due to his work and travel schedules. Now that she is pregnant, she has to … I’m not sure actually. She doesn’t want to use her pregnancy to force him to do anything, like admit he loves her. She doesn’t intend to ask him for money. Heck, she doesn’t even want to tell him about it at all. So the whole stunt of ditching her job and renting the summer house seemed rather unmotivated and murky to me.
Good sexual tension, as Drake can’t figure out why Kate is suddenly refusing to serve as his booty call. And I enjoyed the growth of their relationship — Kate becomes less of a dishrag and Drake less of an asshole — although I’m not sure the relationship ever really passed my egalitarian sniff test, even at the end.
Bizarro Napier Moment: The heroine backs over the hero’s 3 legged dog in her car.
(The setting of Oyster Bay New Zealand and the profession of suspense writer hopefully allow this to qualify as my July TBR Challenge read, a challenge I’ve been very remiss about!)
Book Binge has a full review here.
In Bed with the Boss (1998) (a bargain in the $2.50 Kindle version) was truly fun, sexy, and romantic. You had the same kind of hero, on the surface, as the hero in The Revenge Affair, but he was so over the top he was comical, and so obviously in love with the heroine, it made all his bluster ok. Kalera has been Duncan’s secretary for three years, and in the opening chapter tells him she is resigning to marry his archrival. Kalera’s beloved husband, a man portrayed as a wonderful partner to Kalera and a friend of Duncan, had died about two years prior, and in her grief, Kalera had a one night stand with Duncan. Of course, they put it behind them immediately. although she is still attracted to Duncan, Kalera feels her new fiance will be a more suitable partner. He doesn’t make her crazy or mad with lust, he;s solid, and he loves her.
Duncan, who has been waiting for Kalera’s period of mourning to end, is flabbergasted that his archrival has scooped her up, and uses every devious hero trick in the book, including making excuses to get her to stay late at work and crashing her dinners out with her fiance, to get Kalera to change her mind. Of course, it’s a Presents, so Duncan is contractually barred from saying, “Kalera, when we slept together, it rocked my world. Out of respect, I followed your wishes and stayed away, but I have wanted you ever since. There hasn’t been anyone else. I love you. Please give me a chance.”
Instead, he does all the things that seem proof to Kalera that he is absolutely the wrong guy for her — warns her off her controlling fiance (he doubts her judgment!!), crashes her engagement party (It’s all about him all the time!!), and tries to mack on her occasionally (He doesn’t think she means what she says!! He doesn’t respect her boundaries!!).
Amazingly, the fiance — an interesting, if not consistently drawn, character — is going through a bitter divorce and Napier manages to give us a kind of secondary romance where they are concerned.
Bizarro Napier Moment: It is not easy to choose, but I will pick the scene when Duncan shows up at the restaurant where Kalera and her fiance are dining in the outfit described below, plants himself at their table, rubs up against the heroine, and then takes her out onto the dance floor and practically ravishes her in front of her steaming mad fiance:
“He was dressed from head to toe in black, his sculpted silk velvet jacket cropped like a matador’s, the wide lapels and cuffs stiff with flamboyant gold embroidery.” Duncan is wearing “soft black ankle boots”, and he also sports, not just any earring, but “an elongated jet and chased gold teardrop” which bespeaks his “wickedly frivolous elegance”, much like that of “an Elizabethan fop.”
Jane of Dear Author has a full review here.
I think I need to take a break from Presents, but I scored a couple more Napier’s in my supermarket book bin, and I do plan to read them. She definitely does interesting and unusual things within a pretty tightly controlled subgenre.
EDITED TO ADD THIS PHOTO of BRIAN ORSER. IDEA COURTESY OF VICTORIA JANSSEN: