Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-230470-4
Contemporary Romance, 2014
To get to the good stuff, one needs to nod and play along with author Laura Simcox’s idea of what a “bad girl” is like. In Various States of Undress: Virginia, Virginia Fulton is that daughter of the President of the United States that is stuck with the “party girl” label. Oh, she is a bad girl, if you listen to the author. Virginia is considered by many to be an airhead bimbo with a poor reputation because she snorts coke, threw a party in the White House that turned into an orgy (several donkeys brought in from Tijuana were said to be the main attractions), took a dump on the desk during a live interview on CNN… okay, I’m just kidding.
Believe it or not, it’s worse: Virginia was caught making out with a man close to her age in a museum, oh the horror. She wears trendy clothes that show skin, oh my god. She goes to clubs, drinks, and writes something on a bartender’s chest. Oh dear, what is the world coming to when a twenty-first century adult woman behave in such an immoral manner? Why can’t we all be good virtuous women, live in our kitchens, and come out only when our lord and master, our husband, gives us permission to do so?
Of course, if her image is such an issue, I’d expect her father’s retinue of PR and media people to sit her down and have a long talk, but no, all I’m told is that Virginia’s behavior, as described above, is so scandalous and shocking that she ends up being featured regularly on TMZ. The fact that she’s the daughter of the POTUS would naturally cause her to be placed under more scrutiny than most people, but come on, if Ms Simcox wants to write about a party girl, how about giving me an actual party girl and not someone who behaves like a typical adult woman these days? Even at the end, when Virginia comes under some social media scandal, it is far less “shocking” than some of the mildest celebrity melodrama these days.
I just spent three paragraphs on this point because Virginia’s “party girl” image is part of the conflict in this story, in that the hero Dexter Cameron’s grandfather considers Virginia a liability to the family business brand due to her “spoiling” the image of the brand. Okay, the old coot is 90 and he probably thinks that a bared table leg is the height of obscenity, but the author also has the digital and print media going all agog over the fact that Virginia is doing shocking things like dating and going to clubs. If you cannot get past this feeling that everything about Virginia is blown out of proportion, it may be hard to get into this story.
Okay, the story. Virginia discovers when this story opens that she has been left a real estate agency by her late employer. I’m not sure why this happens, but hey, maybe the old coot was not exactly all together in the head when he made the will. At any rate, the agency was in its last legs, and its death is now accelerated when word got out that the party girl of the millennium is the new owner. She decides to talk to the last client left on the list – one Dexter Cameron – to see whether he’s stay on as a client.
She ends up meeting the grandson – also Dexter Cameron – instead of the 90-year old coot, which is a good thing as this Dex is looking for ways to convince his grandfather to make him the new CEO (the grandfather is pitting him against his sister for the post). He wants to rejuvenate the family retail store Lilah, which over the years had never changed one bit and, therefore, fell out of relevance to the point that even dowdy people wouldn’t be caught dead buying anything from there. What better way to rejuvenate the store by having Virginia, who is trendy and fashionable despite her awful behavior of going to clubs and having a good time with her friends, being placed in charge of jazzing up the brand image and all?
Of course, Dex and Virginia fall in love. I have to say this: the romance is generally well done. I have a good time catching up with these two, as there is a charming, easy-going chemistry here that is free from weird angst or contrived trust issues. Virginia doesn’t make any apologies about her past, another thing that I enjoy about this story, and she is determined to show the world that she is more than what they think she is, rather than trying to convince them that she is apologetic, ashamed, or wanting to “become a better person”. I’m not sure about Dex being a good CEO, as he often appears a bit too passive and content on delegating duties and letting things be for someone who claims to be driven and dynamic, but I like that he doesn’t act as judge and jury of Virginia’s moral or behavior, and he even comes to her defense a few times.
No “she wears sexy clothes so she must be a ho” drama here. Just two people who seem normal, enjoying one another’s company and having fun in the process. No “Oh no, I’ve put out to him so let’s start acting like I’m an immoral ho unworthy of him” nonsense, no “I’m not good enough so I will never marry him” drama, nothing. Just two adorable people having fun exploring their developing feelings for one another.
My biggest issue with this story is the portrayal of Dex’s sister Ariel. She’s a hissing, scheming, flailing, screechy stereotype of the female villain, done to such an embarrassingly awful degree that I actually cringe each time she appears in the story. I do like that the grandfather is not passed off as a benevolent asshole figure because that man is an asshole through and through, but I am not sure why Dex keeps wanting to give that asshole another chance. It’s not like he needs the asshole’s money, and family only go so far – that man treated his late wife like dirt (according to Dex) and has no problems trying to tear Dex and Ariel apart, so, as far as I’m concerned, that guy is toxic. Oh well, he’s 90, he’d drop dead any day soon, so whatever.
Various States of Undress: Virginia requires considerable suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part, but I personally enjoy the romance even when it’s wrapped up in all kinds of “What the…?” stuff. I adore the main characters, and I have a great time following them all the way to the happy ending. It’s a good state to be.