MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2200-9
Contemporary Romance, 2005
I am intrigued by the fact that the heroine of Skintight, Treena McCall, was a topless line-dancer in Vegas. Unfortunately, as is mostly the case, she turns out to be some nice little girl who does what she did because she has to, especially now that she is 35 and is desperately trying to keep the money coming after using nearly all she had to pay for her sickly old coot husband Big Jim. Now that Big Jim is dead, she has her hands full trying to stay employed when there are always younger and, er, perkier young women around. Then the son of Big Jim, Jackson Gallagher McCall, shows up in her life. While she thinks that Jax here is a scum for not attending his father’s funeral, she is attracted to this man nonetheless. She has no idea that Jax is a gambler who sets out to seduce her for the 1927 World Baseball paraphernalia that Big Jim left in her possession. See, Jax has very stupidly wagered the baseball to a Russian cartoon character who dresses up like Elvis and collects baseball stuff.
Without irony, Jax considers Treena on sight unseen that she is a money-grubbing slut so it’s okay that he seduces her for something belonging to his father that he actually had no right to wager away. This dodgy reason for his seduction of Treena continues even when there’s really no need for him to pretend any longer, which taints his relationship with Treena with distastefulness and paints Jax as a cowardly hypocrite (after all, he sleeps with her while pretending to be something he’s not).
Still, this story won’t be so bad if Ms Andersen isn’t such a cop-out. She chooses to give plenty of convenient sob story justifications for Jax’s actions and makes Treena such a sweet and selfess lady surrounding by what seems like the last dotty And sweet folks of Vegas that it is given that Treena will forgive Jax for anything, because Ms Andersen is working overtime to make sure that readers will understand and love Treena despite Treena being a topless dancer. It is as if, ironically, Ms Andersen fears that I’m as judgmental as Jax about Treena’s occupation, only that unlike Jax, I don’t have a sad story about guilt and alcoholism to make me as “heroically tragic” as Jax.
This is a pity because on Jax, on his own, could have been a likable flawed hero who learns to love slowly but surely. But Treena is too much of a one-dimensional fake tart with the heart of gold to bring out the best from him – she can be quite an enabling character – and Ms Andersen spends more time justifying Jax to me than redeeming him in my eyes. And for too long, I find myself all coiled up inside waiting for Jax to grow a set of testicles and come clean with Treena, and ultimately my frustration and annoyance can only mount at his unnecessarily prolonged deception. Skintight is too timid for its own good when it comes to owning up to the hero’s flaws and this is ultimately the anchor around its neck that causes it to sink.