After having read and reviewed From Boardwalk With Love, the first novel in the new B.L.I.S.S. series (and giving it an F), I was a bit hesitant when asked to review this one as well. Luckily a change of author made all the difference, and I found myself enjoying this installment much more than the previous one.
Rachel Calais dropped out of a PhD program and now works as a tour guide in Nepal. When she is approached via a mutual friend by a representative of a secret international crime-fighting organization named B.L.I.S.S. – an exceptionally gorgeous man with a British accent – she is taken aback, to say the least. Rachel feels threatened by her overwhelming attraction to her would-be co-conspirator, but she also realizes that this may be her only chance to do something truly exciting with her life, and perhaps even pull herself out of the slump she’s been in since her parents died in a car crash eighteen months earlier.
When she agrees to join B.L.I.S.S., however, she soon comes to conclusion that her troubles have just begun. B.L.I.S.S. wants her to accompany a dangerous criminal into the Nepalese wilderness on his quest to find a legendary plant which, in drug form, can transform any woman into a willing sex slave. What they don’t tell her is that the “criminal” is one Dr. Alan Archer, formerly the shy young man to whom she lost her virginity years before. Now Alan is making it clear he wants to renew their relationship. But all the while, her impossibly handsome colleague, Harrison Wiles, lurks distractingly in the background – and in her fantasies.
Harrison Wiles is one of the few male B.L.I.S.S. agents, and a man who’s dedicated to helping women. His past has given him plenty of reason to believe most men are deceptive and abusive in one way or another, and most women are eager to swallow their lies. When he meets Rachel, he sees a woman of strength, intelligence, independence… and pink hair and a nose ring. Although taken aback by her forthright nature, and undaunting determination to make him blush, he nevertheless finds himself falling in love. It’s painful for him to see her seemingly want to pick up where she and Archer left off.
Both Rachel and Harrison are interesting and contradictory characters. Harrison, in particular, is full of contrasts, being a beta hero in alpha’s clothing. Early on, he seems commanding and competent, but as the story progresses, he displays a great deal of insecurity and self-doubt – and he blushes at any mention of sex or a related topic. Their relationship would probably never get off the ground if left to him. Yet Rachel is very similar to him in that both are often lacking in self-confidence, and both try to hide it with different forms of bravado. They are well-matched, yet don’t possess an overwhelming amount of chemistry, probably because they both spend a lot of time torturing themselves with the fact that the other is probably not attracted to them, anyway. Nevertheless, they’re a very nice couple that quite obviously belong together, and it’s satisfying when they finally get their Happily Ever After.
In my review of From Boardwalk With Love, I spent a great deal of time disecting the attempts at humor, which strongly influenced the style of that book. I’m happy to say that this book is much less forced, and much more enjoyable because of it. It eschews the Bond-ish names and over-the-top-ness (which sort of left me hoping that later books might find a happy medium in this area), yet it’s funny in a much more relaxed way. The characters are witty without seeming like they’ve sprung fully-formed from a sitcom-banter generator, and their humor underscores the protagonists’ personalities and their deepening relationship in a very realistic way.
While not an overly suspenseful novel, there is a bit of mystery involved, and Cach manages this with a deft hand. There are just enough twists to make the non-romance portion of the plot interesting, and few enough that it doesn’t steal the show, or detract from space better spent in relationship building.
While beta heroes aren’t my thing, I did like Harrison. He was a nice guy, even if he wasn’t the most exciting to me. Readers who like betas and the sort of plotline where the hero realizes his love before the heroine does will enjoy this book best, but there’s something in it for the rest of us, too: a pleasant love story between two people who desperately need love in their life, and a fun background mystery, too. A worthwhile read.