by Elaine Overton, contemporary (2007)
Kimani, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-373-86036-4
His Holiday Bride is part of the multi-author series Three Weddings & A Reunion, which from what I can tell revolves around the four Lockhart sisters finding loves and mayhem come Christmas. This one tells the story of Amber Lockhart, the youngest sister.
Our hero, Paul Gutierrez, is a former Navy SEAL fellow - I know, aren't they all? - who is now serving as the "mastermind" of G-Force Security Systems. It's a fancy name for a team of ex-Navy SEAL dudes who find themselves carrying assignments like watching over pop stars and keeping the pesky photographers at bay. At the start of the story, Paul and his team are to keep tabs on famous diva Lacy Hill as she arrives at an A-list party at Mondrian Hotel. As it happens, Amber Lockhart is also at the party, trying her best to hook up with a professional basketball player, and Paul's former boss (who is a family friend of the Lockharts) has asked him to keep an eye out on Amber as well. Paul's mood is not exactly full of sunshine, especially after catching one of his employees red-handed in accepting bribes from a tabloid photographer, and he's therefore not keen on having to deal with someone that he believes to be another spoiled privileged brat.
Amber has been trying to seduce Dashuan Kennedy, convinced that she and he are meant to be, only to crash upon an orgy taking place in his penthouse. But that isn't so bad compared to how she throws open the bedroom door to catch her so-called boyfriend getting freaky with his personal trainer. That explains why they have never become intimate despite her various attempts to take their relationship past first base. Because Dashuan and Amber exchanged some harsh words when Paul found her, including an implied threat on Dashuan's part should she reveal what she saw to anyone, Paul decides to take her to some place safe. There is no place safer than his home, of course, what with all that fancy security system that is the prototype of the one he's about to release into the market soon. Wait, is that supposed to be a good thing?
After learning that Paul is indeed a nice guy that her family can vouch for, Amber decides that this is an opportunity as good as any to kick back, relax, and enjoy some time away from her sisters. Dashaun, however, is not going to take any chances on Amber blabbing away his secret and destroying his career in the process, while the employee Paul fired for taking bribes is bent on getting back at Paul.
His Holiday Bride is a readable story and the main characters are smart and admirable types. Amber isn't a bad girl as much as she's this woman who has made many silly and sometimes regrettable mistakes when it comes to men. Her track record is pretty lousy and she recognizes that Paul is a good catch, but she wonders whether she's the person Paul needs. There are many opportunities for Amber to play the "I'm not good enough for you" song here, but fortunately Ms Overton doesn't let Amber indulge in that same old tired routine too often. Paul is a nice guy. Really, he's a dream. He's a little too perfect at times, even, but at the same time he's also an interesting guy with a discernible personality instead of just a one-dimensional Mr Perfect Catch. The last few chapters of this story see the two characters talking and even fighting with each other over their feelings and insecurities, and I have to say, Ms Overton handles these scenes well enough to have me believing that these two really know each other well enough at the end of the day to make it good and keep it real for a long time.
Paul's brat is cute too. I'm normally allergic to babies that do cute things that make me cringe, but this one is too cute for words. If that baby is a dog, I won't mind adopting it.
My only quibble is with the set-up. Perhaps I am missing something here, since this is the first book in the series that I am reading and there is a possibility that I have missed some developments that took place in previous books, but I find Paul's decision to take Amber from the hotel all the way to his place a little on the extreme side. Why doesn't he just send her back to her place? Because the entire story revolves around this set-up and Amber falling for Paul as she stays at his place, I find myself again and again distracted by that question. Also, and this is one common complain I have with this author's books in general, the villains are cardboard characters whose presence in this story are very jarring considering how well-written and realistic the main characters are. The cartoon aspects of the suspense subplot go some way in bringing the story down in my opinion because they really feel out of place in an otherwise well-written story.
Still, all in all His Holiday Bride is a pleasant and enjoyable read. I do feel though that this story would be much better if the author has found a way to make the villains menacing and real rather than cartoonish.
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