by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2003)
Harlequin Temptation, $4.25, ISBN 0-373-69148-3
Trick Me, Treat Me is a cute lighthearted Halloween story that's sexy as well as amusing. Normally a book that has everything from ghosts haunting a big scary mansion to amnesia to secret agent can be a train wreck in motion, but Leslie Kelly manages to wrap everything up in one enjoyable trick-or-treat bag.
Gwen Compton is a familiar Harlequin Temptation heroine: she's the buttoned-down Miss Prim heroine looking for a chance to seize life, so to speak, with both her hands. She used to be more outgoing, but her parents' deaths have caused her to retreat into a shell, so much so that she can't even bear the thought of going without a bra once in a while. One night on Halloween, she gets a surprise visitor. Miles Stone walks into the mansion-turned-inn because Gwen stupidly left the back door unlocked. He tells her that he is a secret agent and Gwen, whose going without have caused her brain to function on less than average capacity, no doubt, buys everything he says. Miles and Gwen succumb to the sexual tension between them, kiss, and wham! Gwen's aunt Hildy whacks him in the head with a bag of pennies and he goes down. When he wakes up, he has amnesia. Imagine his surprise when lovely Gwen tells him that he is a secret agent.
Actually Miles Stone's real name is Jared Winchester and he is a very rich true crime writer, not a secret agent. (Why is it that male characters that write in romance novels are invariably true crime authors?) What happened was that while he was away on his writing/muse-seeking trips abroad, a maid messed up the correspondence and Jared mistook a Halloween costume party invitation from last year as an invitation for a party this year. There is no party at Gwen's place this year, needless to say, but Jared doesn't know that. He thinks that Gwen is also in a role when he meets her so he spins her the story of his party alter-ego Miles Stone. So what we have is a writer that pretends to be a secret agent, only he can't remember that now and believes himself to be really a secret agent now. Oh boy.
There are ghosts and one dotty woman in this story to add to the mayhem, but everything comes together very well. Gwen is a gullible dingbat but this is a plot that doesn't take itself seriously and her gullibility sets in motion this cute story, so she's okay with me. She has her contrived sexual baggage as she is, after all, a series novel heroine, but Ms Kelly succeeds in making Gwen come off more like a naive but well-meaning woman than the walking nosebleed from hell. Miles or Jared, now he's hot. Really, really hot. Funny, sexy, and did I say hot? The sexual tension in this book is so sharp and thick that one can make an aphrodisiac cake out of it. The sexual tension is complemented nicely by the humorous (and increasingly implausible) turns and twists in the plot as Jared starts seeing plots where none exists (remember, he's a secret agent now, snort).
It could have been ghastly and over-the-top, but Ms Kelly deftly moves her story along to ensure that the humor doesn't shoot right off into the next galaxy or that the wackiness in any way distorts her main characters into grotesque parodies of their former selves. Which is to say, while the main characters can do some stupid things, the comedy never comes off as forced or contrived to me.
Humor is subjective, of course, and there will be readers that find this book too implausible to be enjoyable. But me, I really like Trick Me, Treat Me. It's not a heavyweight book in any means, but as a fun and lighthearted sexy romp with a Halloween theme, this book is a treat in all the right ways.
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