by Adrianne Byrd, contemporary (2011)
Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-53445-6
King's Passion is the first book in a series called House Of Kings, and I have to warn you: right from the get go, this story is obviously not a nice politically correct type. The hero Eamon King is a rather sexist playboy who co-owns and manages the Dollhouse, a supposedly tasteful strip joint, oops, gentlemen's club in Las Vegas. There is also a side business, Bachelor Adventures, which gives those who cough up the dough a bachelor night in the Dollhouse that they will remember.
At least, it's one Marcus Henderson will remember, because he gets up the next morning and marries Delicious, the sexy lady who gave him a lap dance of his life. As you can imagine, the bride-to-be, Vanessa Gregory, is not amused. Not only does she have to endure the humiliation of being stood up at the altar in front of 300 of New York's most uppity folks, the blogs and tabloids have a field day with her. Vanessa's the daughter of one of the richest men in the country, and she already has a reputation for being an uppity ice princess with a temper. Her detractors definitely have fun coming up with the most insulting headlines to underscore her dumping. By an accountant, of all people, and for a stripper!
So what does Vanessa do? Slap the owners of the Dollhouse, including Eamon, with a lawsuit for fifty million dollars. Well, it's no big deal according to the word of Eamon: he'll just wine and dine his way into her good grace and all will be fine in the world again. He knows women, after all. Unfortunately, he doesn't know Vanessa. Her reputation is true: this lady may be the hottest thing Eamon has set eyes on, but she has a temper, alright.
The romance is of a "slap, slap, kiss, kiss" variety, with the lady actually doing the slapping now and then. But it's hard to be offended, because Eamon deserves it each time the lady shows her the palm of her hand, and besides, for these two crazy people, a little pain and a sting in the ego is the hottest kind of foreplay ever. And in Ms Byrd's hand, the whole crazy kind of courtship between these two is actually pretty scorching. These two are so obviously and madly in lust with each other, it's actually pretty cute to see them in action, like two silly puppies nipping at each other before cuddling close to sleep once they are tired from playing.
The characters are not too deep and the angst is pretty superficial. But Victoria is an actually adorable heroine, although I can easily see how her behavior here can get on some readers' nerves. She is spoiled and used to getting her way, but that's to be expected as she is the pampered daughter of very rich people. But her behavior is reinforced by the fact that she doesn't have many close friends and she has been burned too many times by people who only pretend to like her because of her parents' wealth and social cachet. I also love how she doesn't take crap from anybody, and if she has to do, watch as she plays dirty. Let me put it this way: ten seconds into her introduction scene, she's in an outright brawl with her arch-nemesis. Everything about Victoria is an outrageous package of fun, fun, fun.
She does grow up a bit as the story progresses, and Eamon does too. He is the most mature of the King brothers, it seems, but he's not exactly wise where women are concerned.
And that's why the whole premise is actually subversive in nature. You may be put off by the whole "hero owns a strip joint and objectifies women" thing, but think about it: that hero in the end gets turned into a well-behaved gentleman who gives up his share in the club. It's the ultimate triumph of a woman over the basest instincts of men, heh! And the story never takes itself seriously, which makes the premise palatable. Here, the author walks the thin line between over the top flashy humor and outright farce, and the whole thing works like a charm. I find myself laughing out loud so often that my sides are aching by the time I reach the last page. The secondary characters are a hoot, and I especially love how in this story even the female secondary characters can get as raunchy as - sometimes even raunchier - than their male counterparts when it comes to talking about booty calls.
If I have one complaint, it's that I don't really believe in the love thing here. I can see how these two want to rip each other's clothes off, as the sexual tension here is combustible, but these two start talking about love abruptly later in the story. And I am still not sure how they get from angry-sex to oh-sweetheart-I-love-you sex.
But they've had fun, and I definitely had fun, so in the end, there's really plenty to adore in this outrageously funny no-holds-barred free-for-all of a romp.
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