Jo Leigh wrote my favorite Harlequin Blaze to date, Scent of a Woman, so I always make a point to buy her Blazes, even if they’re very hit or miss. Hush, the first installment in the multi-author Do Not Disturb miniseries, is more hit than miss, although there are some weaknesses in the execution.
Piper Devon is a hotel heiress known for her scandalous behavior in the tabloids. From the rock star boyfriends to her notorious partying, she lives under the constant glare of the media. Think of a smarter, sexier, less vapid version of Paris Hilton. On her twenty-fifth birthday, she received a 50 million dollar trust from her father, with the stipulation that she make a profit on the money in five years. If she does, she’ll receive the rest of her inheritance: more than half a billion dollars.
Hotels are in her blood, so it’s only natural that she would decide to open one of her own, and she does, calling it Hush. Hush is nothing like the stately, stuffy Devon hotels, however, but a deluxe Manhattan getaway catering to lovers. Every elegantly furnished room comes equipped with a wide variety of toys, costumes, oils and a personalized video selection. From the sensual dance performances in the club downstairs to the couples massages offered in the spa, every aspect of Hush is geared toward setting the mood for amore. As Piper says, it’s a hotel for the young, the rich, the horny. She has no doubt it will be a smashing success. Then Devon family attorney Trace Winslow arrives with the predictable news that her father is furious and an ultimatum: lose the sex aspect or he’ll cut her off from the Devon fortune for good.
Trace doesn’t approve of Piper’s behavior or her hotel, and he moves in for a week to convince her to remove the sexual elements from Hush. Piper is just as determined to prove to him the value of the concept. There’s always been an attraction between them, even when they don’t get along. She decides that in order to appreciate Hush, Trace has to experience it as it’s intended. It’s a hotel for lovers, and she offers to personally show him exactly how much fun a stay at Hush can be.
The concept of the hotel is a great one, which is a good thing since an entire series of books will take place here. The premise of this particular story offers the perfect way to introduce readers to Hush. We get to see all it has to offer as Piper shows off the place to both the press and Trace. The hotel is very well thought-out, with numerous interesting details and nice touches. While the sex itself isn’t as hot as in some of Leigh’s other books, the story has a nicely sensual feel throughout thanks to the hotel that compensates. As usual, Leigh’s story has a more contemporary feel than some Blazes pull off. These characters felt very modern, like people you could believe are really living and loving in 2005. The author’s storytelling is warm and smooth, making this an easy, enjoyable read.
Piper is very strong, savvy and likable, much more than that you might expect from a character who on the surface seems reminiscent of Paris Hilton. However, it did bother me that the author remains coy about a key part of her character for too long. The smart, driven woman the reader gets to know is a stark contrast to the drunken party girl she’s purported to be, and it was difficult to rationalize these two very different perceptions of the same person. There are moments where the truth is hinted at, where Piper alludes to the fact that the media can’t be trusted and that there’s more to her “beyond the facade,” but we don’t know why she plays into that image if that’s not who she really is. Even with all the long passages of introspection, that’s one area where the author stubbornly keeps us out of Piper’s head. It’s more than two-thirds of the book before the author finally reveals the answer to the reader. In retrospect, I couldn’t help thinking how much more powerful her responses to Trace’s judgments would have been for the reader had we been given this information upfront. While I always liked her, it wasn’t until the final third when I fully empathized with her, especially in some crucial scenes down the stretch.
As is often the case with first books in series, the author spends time setting up characters who no doubt will appear in future books. Most of it’s unobtrusive, but a running thread about Piper’s best friend who’s always lived in her shadow is boring and unnecessary. This storyline ultimately comes to so little I’m not even sure it qualifies as an actual subplot, but it takes up so much room that could be spent on the main characters that it certainly is a distraction.
The story often moves slowly, especially in the introspective sections. It doesn’t help that when it comes to the hotel, the characters keep having variations on the same conversation for much of the book, with Trace criticizing the sexual elements of Hush and Piper defending them. They just seem to be talking in circles, making little progress past that basic disagreement for a long time. As a result, Trace comes across like a sanctimonious prude for too long. While we can see why he thinks what he does about her, the way he keeps judging Piper and putting her down is easily the most annoying part of the book. The moments where they talk to each other and slowly get to know another are much more enjoyable. They have an easy, low-key chemistry that’s very effective. Eventually Trace stops being such a dolt, and the story builds to a series of nice moments, with an ending that’s more satisfying than I might have predicted at earlier points in the story given his attitude.
I had a very hard time assigning a grade to this book and actually read it a second time before deciding. In the overall scheme of things, the weaknesses aren’t dealbreakers and I liked it enough to give it a qualified recommendation, mostly for the heroine and the hotel itself. It’s a fluffy, mostly fun read. While it would have benefitted from better development all around, Hush is a pretty good beginning to a promising series.