If you’ve read books by Naima Simone (for example her erotic romance series Lick or Sweetest Taboo), you know she can bring the heat. So Heated, the first book in her Burned Inc. series, definitely lives up to its forebears. The story idea is unique, contains some classic romance tropes (fake relationship, opposites attract), and while it’s her most memorable work (and the beginning has a few tics that grated) it was overall a pleasant afternoon read.
Zora Nelson and her siblings Levi and Miriam run a company called Burned – Breaking Up, Reversing Nuptials & Evading Disaster. Essentially it’s a company that will break up with someone for you, for a fee, by text, video, dinner or whatever the client wants. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family with parents who would have been better off divorced but instead are still married and subject their children to ongoing feuding, Zora hopes to head off that disaster for other couples.
When Burned is contracted by socialite Val Summers to break up her dating relationship with lawyer Cyrus Hart, Zora ends up taking the case personally. Which means she’s the one who reads a ‘Dear John’ breakup letter to Cyrus on his doorstep and sees the shock and devastation in his eyes.
She’s also the one who has to endure a sit down dinner with another client’s soon-to-be ex, one who is turning nasty until Cyrus, who happens to be dining in the same restaurant, comes to her rescue. Cyrus mistakenly thinks that Zora happens to be a kind friend who has taken on the job of helping her own friends break up their relationships, and Zora doesn’t correct him and tell him about her company. She knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of disdain for her business and can’t bring herself to see that same look in Cyrus’s eyes. So she plays along.
Cyrus has his future all mapped out – perfect wife, perfect job, etc. And being dumped by Val has definitely put a kink in those plans, including his ambitions to become a partner at his law firm. The ones in charge have a criteria for admission into their upper echelons and being single doesn’t fit as well for them as being in a relationship. So when Cyrus is put on the spot and needs a date to a weekend work-sponsored retreat, his mind goes to the stunning and unforgettable Zora, even though she’s partly responsible for his current problem. When another chance meeting puts them in contact with each other again, Cyrus proposes she pretend to be his girlfriend as a chance to assuage some of her guilt for her part in the end of his relationship with Val. Even though Zora knows she should refuse (never date a client’s ex!), her attraction to Cyrus gets the better of her and she agrees. Spending time together starts out fake but soon begins to feel all too real. But when Cyrus finds out the truth of what Zora’s business does, will he be the deliverer of the worst breakup news of all?
Though I’ve read some romances about divorce handlers, a breakup company is a new story idea for me and Zora, Miriam and Levi each have their own roles in the company and making it a success. I enjoyed all three of these characters, their unique personalities and of course Zora, as the heroine here, takes center stage. She’s strong, confident (most of the time), and proud of the work she does even though she knows society as a whole isn’t impressed with the concept of their work. Their parents, of course, disdain the whole idea (not seeming to realize that it’s because of them that their children are in this line of work) so each sibling has their own fractured relationship with their parents, and it makes Zora all the more determined to succeed.
The relationship between Zora and Cyrus is one of mutual lust, leading to several steamy scenes. Since Cyrus didn’t have any deep feelings for Val (she was more a means to an end, though when he finds out she had been cheating on him he realizes he dodged a bullet), his heart is free to move on to new territory. Zora and Val are clearly opposites in body type (Zora is Black and curvy while Val is white and thin) and character, but for Cyrus that’s definitely part of the attraction. Zora is like no woman he has ever dated and that makes her stand out in a crowd.
The things I had trouble with were mostly a writing style issue (maybe the author has used it previously and I was able to ignore it, but I found somewhat irritating here) – she has a tendency to use overly descriptive language or purple prose. For example when Val shows Zora a picture of Cyrus in their initial meeting to discuss details of the breakup, there are two pages describing Cyrus’s Greek God-like appearance:
‘I stare.. at a face that once upon a time would’ve been carved into marble and worshipped in a temple. Or pressed into a bronze coin. Or extolled in a tale that would be passed down from generation to generation to become myth.’
Or describing his eyes:
‘They’re not your run-of-the-mill blue. His eyes are the deepest, hottest heart of a flame. The brilliant blaze of a sky when the sun is at its highest. Those eyes are dazzling in their intensity, damn near blinding, and difficult to look at.’
Even simple sentences get this treatment:
“Again, no verbal ‘I told your ass so’ but the room rings with it like the Ebenezer First Baptist Church’s choir on Easter Sunday.’
It just gets a bit tedious. There’s less of this in the latter parts of the story, and the insta-lust does evolve into insta-love to give our two main characters a happy ending. There are some secondary characters introduced who I’m very curious about and intrigued to see if they become part of a future story, so I’ll probably keep reading the series to see what Miriam and Levi get up to. I just hope that a little editing nips the over embellishments I found distracting here.
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I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.