Bad Influence is the third and final book in the trilogy of stories involving the controversial website/app called Bad Bachelors, a means for women to honestly rate the men they date. It’s a sexy, second-chance romance between the site’s creator, Annie Maxwell, and Joseph Preston, the man she loved and had planned a future with until circumstances forced them apart three years earlier. I haven’t read the other two books, but there’s enough background detail here for the newbie to be able to read this instalment without feeling lost.
On the eve of their leaving the US and moving to Singapore, where Joseph had accepted a highly prestigious banking job, Annie learned her mother had breast cancer. Instead of talking to Joseph about it, she shut him out of the decision-making process and decided she needed to stay at home to support her family and be with her mum. It’s a decision that anyone would make in a similar situation and Joseph understood that – he was close to Annie’s family, too – but what hurt him so badly was that Annie made her choice without even consulting him.
Annie barely kept herself together after Joseph left, but it wasn’t until a year later – when she saw a photo of him with a glamorous woman on his arm in a gossip magazine that proclaimed the couple’s engagement – that Annie decided to channel her anger and hurt into something that might help other women to avoid similar heartbreak. So Bad Bachelors was born.
Speculation is rife as to who is behind the site, and Annie has become used to the volume of mail she receives – both thanking her for creating it and calling her every kind of hateful bitch under the sun. Some threats are worse than others, but Annie has not, so far, reported them to anyone, not wishing to compromise her anonymity. Now though, one particular angry commenter has taken things a step further; when Annie receives a photo in the mail that was clearly taken by her own laptop camera, she realises that someone is actively stalking her, and that whoever it is has somehow managed to hack into her computer. Which makes her wonder – what other aspects of her life has this person gained access to? And what are they planning to do? Blackmail? Worse?
Ms. London does a really good job of conveying Annie’s fear and sense of isolation when she realises she’s being stalked. If she files an official report, her identity will be revealed, and she doesn’t want to worry her friends or family by involving them if it all turns out to be a stupid hoax. There is literally only one person she can turn to for help – and he’s the last man on Earth she wants to ask.
Before taking the job in Singapore, Joseph had planned to use his expertise in IT to set up a company specialising in online security. But he allowed himself to be persuaded by his cold, exacting father that the move abroad would be the best thing for his career – and he stayed in Singapore for three years before realising it was the wrong move for him. He’s returned to New York, where he’s the youngest ever CIO at another major bank, and has decided it’s time for him to start pursuing his own ambitions and life-goals rather than to continue the attempt to win his father’s approbation.
He and Annie might have a lot of baggage between them, but there’s no way he’s going to turn down a request for help, not knowing how much it must be costing her pride to ask. Annie tries to tell Joseph as little as possible about the stalker and certainly isn’t willing to own up to the reasons behind it – until another message makes it clear they’re not messing around and that they’ve hacked into Bad Bachelors and uncovered some very damaging information.
The time Annie and Joseph spend together of course enables them to thrash out their issues and for them both to finally admit that they each bear an equal weight of blame for their break-up. They are still strongly attracted to each other and have never really fallen out of love, but Annie can’t help being incredibly wary; she knows Joseph is a decent guy, but the weight of his family’s disapproval of their relationship (Annie’s mum used to be the wealthy Prestons’ domestic help) and the long shadow cast by his father only added to the pressures on their relationship – and she isn’t prepared to go back there. But Joseph has changed. The years away have given him more confidence in himself and his abilities, and have shown him what he really wants from life. And what he really wants is Annie.
Ratings sites and apps are nothing new or unusual, and the anonymity offered by the internet gives those determined to be unpleasant a place to hide every day (you’ve only got to look at Twitter to see that!) I appreciated the author’s exploration of the online world we now inhabit, and the way she shows clearly how something that was originally intended to be helpful has grown beyond its creator’s original vision and become something that is probably hurting as many people as it has helped.
If you’ve been following the series, Bad Influence rounds things off nicely. Joseph and Annie are well-drawn, complex characters, they have great chemistry and I was (mostly) rooting for them to get back together. I say mostly, because my opinion of Annie in the early stages was coloured by the fact that I found her view that the break-up was all Joseph’s fault to be immature – especially as it was her decision not to go abroad with him. As the book progressed, however, and I saw her character growth as she began to let go of her anger and to own up to her part in what happened, I started to come around and to think that perhaps she did deserve Joseph after all. That said, the reasons for their separation are really flimsy, so I had to do a bit of hand-waving away in order to accept it and get to the meat of the story. Also on the negative side, the identity of the stalker is just … an odd choice, and the reveal is contrived and anti-climactic.
Otherwise, though, Bad Influence is an enjoyable contemporary romance that combines a look at some very relevant issues with a sensual love story and a hard-won HEA. It earns a recommendation.