Re-release of a classic, short, contemporary, romantic comedy, originally published in 1995
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: July 16, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Treasury-Silhouette Desire 90s
Pages: 192 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Amy Abbott Allen is a 24-year-old woman who has worked as personal assistant to her father, one of the most renowned political campaign managers in the USA, for the past two years since graduating from college. Though Amy is very good at her job, and enjoys it a great deal, politics in her era, 1995, is very much a man’s game, and she has had to work extremely hard to get the men around her to take her seriously.
Because of her father’s fame, for safety’s sake, Amy travels under an abbreviated form of her name, Amy Abbott (back then, you didn’t have to display everywhere you went a picture ID which included your full, legal name). Due to the fact that she is on the road most of the time, Amy hasn’t bothered to rent her own apartment, instead using her parents’ house in Winter Haven, Florida as her home base.
At the start of the story, Amy is returning to Florida from a business trip to Atlanta, and rather than going straight to her parents’ home, she opts to make a side trip to a fancy beachside resort at St. Petersburg, Florida, near Tampa, in order to avoid some obnoxious business guests currently staying with her parents. While waiting her turn to check in at the hotel, Amy engages in her favorite hobby, closely observing the people around her and guessing their goals and motivations in life. While doing so, she spots ahead of her in line a tall, well-built, clean-cut, and extremely handsome man whom she estimates to be around 30 years of age. Her first thought is that he seems like a man her father would like. Her second thought is how much she’d like to get to know him, which is a unique experience for her. Amy is a beautiful woman, and many men have hit on her over the years, but she has never been interested in any man, romantically or sexually. Until now. Unlike most women she knows, and the vast majority of the women in this lobby today, Amy doesn’t flirt. She also doesn’t date and, unsurprisingly, as a result, she is still a virgin.
Amy manages to discover, as she unabashedly eavesdrops on the conversations around her, that most of the excitedly conversing strangers in the lobby are members of the Cougar family, who are here for the wedding of a red-headed woman named Sally, at the center of the action in the lobby. Amy also soon learns that the gorgeous stranger’s name is Charles Cougar, and his nickname is Chas.
Amy is normally a cautious, long-range planner, the dead opposite of impulsive, but Chas is so compelling, she spontaneously decides she is going to pursue him and seduce him into a weekend fling. Amy tells herself that since, as an intelligent, liberated woman, she can do anything men can do professionally, there is no reason why she can’t be like men in her personal life, acting as casually as she presumes all men do in seeking out temporary sexual flings. In fact, she decides firmly, Chas can be the first in what she hopes will be a long line of future, exciting, no-strings affairs with a variety of fascinating men. She will be a mystery woman in this casual affair, she declares to herself, and at it’s end, which will be totally at a moment of her choosing, she will vanish.
Continuing to listen in on Cougar conversations, Amy learns that the Cougar family wedding guests, including Chas, will be staying at the hotel all weekend, so she has plenty of time to execute her sexy scheme. The next morning, while at breakfast in the hotel cafe, she sits at the table next to the one occupied by Sally and her maid of honor. Amy carefully times inserting herself into their conversation about a branch of the Cougar family who have not yet shown up for the wedding. At an opportune moment, Amy drops a comment that gives the impression she hales from that side of the Cougar family, and outgoing Sally happily welcomes Amy into the Cougar fold as a long-lost “cousin,” and encourages Amy to join in on the wedding festivities. Soon after, Amy’s heart leaps when Chas shows up with Sally’s fiancé. However, when Chas passes Amy in the doorway as she is leaving the cafe, he seems to look right through her, but when she subtly glances back a moment later, she notes he is staring after her. She is encouraged that he clearly is not indifferent to her. Mere minutes later, as she is walking on the beach, she glances up from collecting shells and discovers the enticing Chas has halted in front of her. He states, in a sexy, deep voice, “With your being a third cousin, that makes us kissing cousins.” And with no more fanfare than that, he leans forward and kisses her. Amy is shocked, but very pleased. Maybe this seduction plan won’t be difficult to pull off after all.
This book was originally published in 1995. It is important to note the date of publication when reading re-released, “classic,” contemporary novels such as this one to avoid culture-shock confusion. Technology and cultural mores have changed a great deal in the past quarter century, and if readers assume a book like this is recent, they will be scratching their heads trying to figure out where the cell phones and laptops and social media are.
Fans of romantic comedy may enjoy the sly wit and repartee in this book, which is a hallmark of Ms. Small’s romance novels in general. Amy is a classic, naive, comic heroine who wrongly assumes, because she is competent in business, that she is far more sophisticated about casual sex than she actually is. As such, she reminds me a bit of heroines of the sex-farce movies of the 1960s, except in this book the heroine actually engages in sex, whereas in those movies, everyone talks about sex, but no one has any. Amy’s naiveté is the main source of humor in this book, as she travels a humbling (but not humiliating) growth arc from arrogant ignorance (what psychologists call, “unconscious incompetence”) to “sadder but wiser” knowledge (“conscious incompetence”).
Speaking of sex, the sex scenes in this book are sensitively written, very tender, but also quite sensual. Ms. Small manages an additional difficult feat in these scenes, by showing the protagonists enjoying affectionate banter in bed.
The point of view in this book is exclusively Amy’s until toward the end of the book, when we get Chas’s point of view in a few scenes. This allows a bit of suspense as to Chas’s motivation, which Amy completely misunderstands and which adds to the humor of the story. The reader will realize immediately that Chas is pursuing Amy every bit as hard as she’s pursuing him, but Amy is clueless about it, because she is too intently focused on her own seduction agenda to notice his.
There is no Other Woman in this story, but there is a brief advent of a wannabe Other Man toward the end of the book, which keeps Chas on his toes.
I was a big fan back in the early 1990’s of Lass Small’s romantic comedies. She wrote for the Harlequin and Bantam Loveswept lines of short, contemporary romances. Her books have a unique, very recognizable voice, and her form of comedy comes primarily from the witty banter between her protagonists and, to some extent, the fact that the heroine is an “unreliable narrator” in her naive perceptions of herself and other people, especially the hero. In the early 1990’s I wrote several, snail-mail fan letters to Ms. Small (the only way to send a fan letter back then), which she kindly responded to. I remember one remark she made in particular about her approach to writing romance fiction. She said she did not consider herself a novelist, but rather a storyteller. As I recall, this was in response to the critique often made of her work that she tends to employ narrative (“telling”) a greater percentage of the time in her books than dialogue (“showing”). Some readers do not mind that, but others do.
Lass Small (1923-2011) was very much a product of her era, coming of age during the Depression, and living her whole life in Indiana, in the heart of the conservative Midwest. She did not start publishing romance novels until she was 60, in 1983, and over the course of the next 16 years until 1999, when she retired at 76, she wrote over 70 books. Even in romance novels like this one, which on the surface present the heroine as an educated career woman who experiences premarital sex, Ms. Small’s conservative background, as well as the tenor of the times, shows in the frequent “slut shaming” that occurs in this book, and in the patronizing attitude of the men in the book toward women, particularly of Chas toward Amy. Though, to be fair, to some extent, Amy herself is disrespectful of men in that she has a distorted view that the way to be “liberated” as a woman is to follow the worst impulses of insensitive men, who objectify women and use them sexually, by objectifying men and using them sexually herself. And though Chas orders Amy around a lot, it’s usually when she’s about to bumble into an awkward situation he’s trying to save her from. Also, Amy has no trouble standing up for herself with Chas. She’s no doormat. In addition, comedy is created out of incongruity, and in the case of this story, incongruity mainly occurs in this manner: In spite of her intelligence, higher education and career success, Amy’s naiveté about the reality of what is involved in actually pursuing a promiscuous lifestyle is both poignant and humorous at the same time.
Each decade, from the early 1970’s to the present, has ushered in new trends in romance fiction in the USA. While there have been from the beginning plenty of overt sex scenes in historical romance novels, starting in in 1972 with The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, until around 1983, contemporary romances tended to be “sweet,” with virginal heroines and no sex. Then, around 1983, Harlequin moved beyond G-rated romance, creating the Harlequin Temptation line. At the same time, Silhouette (purchased in 1984 by Harlequin), created their Silhouette Desire line, and Bantam created its Loveswept line, all of which offered sexy stories containing blatant descriptions of premarital sex. This book was originally published with Silhouette Desire. Compared to the utterly graphic sex scenes larded with foul language these days in contemporary romance novels, the sex scenes in old books like this one are relatively quite tame, and they never contain any foul language. Which for some of us, such as myself, is a refreshing alternative.
Today, the rigid, controlling, arrogant, alpha hero continues to be popular in historical romances as well as the Harlequin Presents, contemporary romance line. Therefore, romance fans who enjoy that kind of hero will not be displeased by Chas in this book, who is a fairly mild form of that type of alpha male. Chas is not disrespectful of women in general, never bullies or sneers at Amy, and has not been, whatsoever, a “man whore” before meeting the heroine. Also, though he is a very successful businessman running his family’s business, he is not portrayed as a “tycoon,” which is a big plus as far as I’m concerned, in this era of the romance marketplace being saturated by billionaire heroes (and extremely rich heroes were not at all uncommon in the 1990’s either). Even though she began her career in the 1980’s, Ms. Small never created heroes who are rigidly controlling to the point of being dangerous to the heroine, and her heroes do not sexually harass their heroines or outright stalk them, as was the case with many contemporary romances of the 1980s, most especially many of Jane Ann Krentz’s heroes in her short, contemporary romances from the 1980’s.
Recently, Harlequin has been re-releasing some of Ms. Small’s books in Kindle format, including this book, but compared to her full backlist, it is only a very small portion. Hopefully, they will re-release more of her books in the future. I am rating this book according to what it is, as a product of the era in which it was written, rather than rating it as to how it stacks up compared to romance novels as they exist today. Thus, I rate this book as follows:
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 4