I have read every book that Susan Andersen has written. In fact, way back in the early 90’s after she went for a couple of years without a book, I actually sent her a snail mail letter asking her if she was going to have any new releases. Ms. Andersen still writes the type of books that I want to read with saucy heroines and brooding heroes, but not all her plot devices work for me. Three best friends being mentored by an elderly Auntie Mame type is not one of my favorites. One reason is that I have some fond memories of watching this movie, and Andersen’s Agnes Wolcott never came alive for me. Still I am glad that HQN released Ava Spencer’s story and the last book in the series.
Ava Spencer and Cade Calderwood Gallari have known each other since birth so you might expect them to be friends. That wasn’t the case since Cade is part of the “in crowd” that delights in ridiculing anyone dissimilar . After being assigned as lab partners for their year-end senior project, Ava finds that he is a lot more sensitive than he lets on. Soon the proximity leads to sexual awareness, which leads to making out, which leads to sex. Ava is floating the next day only to be shattered to find that Cade slept with her after making a bet that he could “bag the fat girl”. While Ava retaliates by casting aspersions on Cade’s lovemaking capabilities her humiliation and hurt is huge. Vowing to have nothing to do with him, Ava has kept that vow for thirteen years, ignoring Cade’s numerous apologies.
Ava, and her two best friends, Poppy Calloway and Janie Kaplinski, befriended and were befriended by Agnes Wolcott. Agnes became the girls’ mentor, helping them realize their strengths. After her death, they then discover that she left them the Wolcott Mansion. After updating and remodeling it, they soon comprehend that the market is flat for real estate in this price range. Cade, now an up and coming producer of unsolved mysteries documentaries, is planning one on Agnes Wolcott and her never recovered stolen jewels, missing since a 1985 burglary. Cade knows beforehand about Ava’s financial difficulties, so he is somewhat optimistic that he can convince her to let him rent the mansion even with their past history. However, he is still dismayed to find out that Ava’s name keeps coming up as the best local contact. He needs the finest to get this project in on time, so he offers her a big incentive if she will work as his concierge for seven weeks. Ava reluctantly agrees but only because she has a big balloon payment coming due on her condo, and her funds and personal concierge business have taken a hit with the recession. Even with Ava’s expertise, accidents and delays keep happening on the site. Soon there is more going on than just trying to get the project in on time.
As Ava and Cade work together, the simmering sexual attraction between them grows. Cade has done everything except walk on broken glass to apologize for his youthful misdeed. Ava struggles with wanting to believe that he is a different person than the young man who publicly humiliated her but maybe the hurt runs too deep? It took years for her to accept that she is attractive even if she is not a size six.
Ava and Cade’s love story worked well for me. While I not sure that I would ever to be able to forgive someone who pulled Cade’s stunt, I enjoyed the conflict that this provided. Ava is an interesting character. I especially enjoyed her kindness and competence. I was fascinated by her choice of career. Too bad there is not much demand for her type of work where I live. I did get tired of her self- doubts about her attractiveness, but then I have never enjoyed stories centered around the heroine’s weight issues. While it didn’t impact my grade, there definitely is a difference in the way I talk around my friends, and the way Ava, Janie, and Poppy talk. It could be just regional differences between west coast lingo and the southern way of speaking. Still it brought me out of the story at times.
Even though Cade did an extremely ghastly thing, Ms. Andersen is able to make him likable, not an easy feat. While I enjoyed Ava’s career, I never could overcome my preconceptions, the result of me actually watching a docudrama on television, about Cade’s career and the market for a film about Ms. Wolcott. The ending is sweet, almost too sweet, since it brought up doubts that a real man would act that way.
Still, there is plenty of sizzle between Cade and Ava which is able to overcome the little things that brought me out of the story. While not one of my favorite books, Ms. Andersen’s talented storytelling kept me turning the pages of Playing Dirty.