Desert Isle Keeper
An Invitation to Sin
When an author takes several romance conventions that are quite well-worn and creates a book with sparkle, vividness, and energy, then you have a winner. The winner in this case is Sarah Morgan’s An Invitation to Sin, the second installment in Harlequin’s Sicily’s Corretti Dynasty.
The novel starts at a society wedding in Sicily. Hollywood actress Taylor Carmichael is attending in a too-tight dress and too-high heels, feeling thoroughly uncomfortable. She is a former child actress who went through a very wild phase in her late teens and early twenties, after which her career stalled. Now she is desperate enough to return to acting (her true passion) that she will put up with making a radiant impression for the press at a wedding at which she knows no-one except the producer of her new film, and at which she has not the slightest desire to be. In an attempt to gain some minutes of privacy, she hides in the garden maze, where she comes across Luca Corretti, cousin to the groom and notorious playboy. Their glances have crossed earlier, but Taylor is determined to be a good girl, and Luca is about as far from good as it gets. She resists his offer of champagne, but gets drawn into a heated kiss.
Two days later, a photo of the embrace is published in the yellow press, with a lurid story, and Taylor is about to be thrown from the set. She discovers that the picture was taken by a jealous former one night stand of Luca’s, and that Luca was offered to buy the picture, but was refused. Furious with Luca and desperate to salvage the situation, Taylor claims that Luca and she have been secretly involved for a time, and that they are actually engaged.
When Taylor asks Luca to go along with her lie for a while, explaining what damage the picture may still do to her, he refuses at first. But soon he finds out that the board of directors of the Corretti family holdings is so delighted with the engagement, seeing it as an important step towards responsibility on Luca’s behalf, that they are now prepared to let him take on a project that he is really keen on, and that is enough for him to agree to a fake engagement for a limited period.
The delight of this story lies in the execution. First, Taylor and Luca are equals. He comes from a ridiculously rich clan, and runs a very successful fashion house himself. She has made buckets of money with her movies. While she enjoys his fast car and lovely mansion, she is not impressed by them. And while Taylor has lived chastely in the recent past, both are sexually experienced and sure of themselves in this area.
Luca is charm personified. Even in the first scene, in which he tries to impress on Taylor how irresistible she finds him, his arrogance is tempered by a lively sense of humor. He is very self-assured and more than a little macho, but the one area in which he truly orders Taylor around is food. While he is experienced, he is never jaded, and his joie-de-vivre is catching throughout. When he discovers a strong streak of protectiveness for Taylor, leaving behind some preconceptions on the way, I was ready to swoon.
Taylor seems a bit too set on behaving respectably and bowing to the demands of her producer at the beginning of the novel, but as it is slowly revealed where she comes from, her attitude becomes understandable, and I developed a lot of sympathy for her. Otherwise, she is strong, self-assured and no-nonsense.
The setting is fabulous. I have never been to Sicily, but I wanted to travel there instantly. And while Sarah Morgan describes the food, landscapes and buildings lovingly, they never overwhelm.
What is best about the novel, however, is the dialogue. It sparkles. Luca loves puns, some of them quite bad, and when he and Taylor squabble, each gives as good as they get. This is as close to a screwball comedy in a romance as I have read in a very long time, and I loved every line of it. At appropriate moments the author deftly shifts into a more serious mood, giving the characters depth, and then back into comedy. Delightful! In addition, the book is proof of how banter and humor can be used to enhance sexual tension.
A number of minor characters make an appearance, no doubt to pop up again in another installment of the continuity, but none of them in a pushy manner. I have to say that Santo the producer (hero of the first novel) comes across as a prig so far, but I can’t wait to read more about Luca’s grandmother and Taylor’s friend Zach. Close to the end, there is a Big Mis – and then the author resolves it so quickly, with a lovely twist that made me smile, that even this otherwise dreaded device turns charming in her hands.
An Invitation to Sin is that rarity among romances: A book that surpasses one’s expectations in every way, and that I, for one, couldn’t put down again. For a short, easy (but not superficial) read, I recommend it most strongly. I plan to read more by Sarah Morgan, and I may even pick up the story about Santo the prig.