Lovers reunited, friends turned lovers, second chances of any kind – these are all themes that just do it for me. So when I saw that Instant Temptation featured a heroine reunited with her high school crush, I was ready to settle in and enjoy it. The romance itself was actually pretty fun, but there a side plot that really didn’t need to be there detracted from the flow of the story.
Harley Stephens really wants to get the heck out of Wishful, California. Her parents and sister all redefine the term “feckless,” so she has been working hard as a mechanic, helping to support them while putting herself through school. Her passion, however, is her work with a group that tags and monitors coyotes in the wild. They need some work done near Wishful, and this could be Harley’s ticket to a permanent job with the group’s out of state office. Though Desolation (a wilderness area outside Wishful) is dangerous, Harley is determined to go it alone and land the job of her dreams.
Gorgeous wilderness guide TJ Wilder comes along in time to complicate things, and insists on accompanying Harley so that she doesn’t go into a dangerous wilderness alone. Harley had a crush on TJ in high school, but now feels decidedly cooler toward him. Though he still has the power to attract her, she does not want to deal with him. There’s definitely an air of “shouldn’t you have gotten over high school years ago?” about this story, but Shalvis writes the romantic tension and conflict between the leads well and makes the heroine’s hangups over her high school memories actually believable. For that reason, I was more than able to get into this story and not judge the characters for being a little closer than usual to their high school selves.
The relationship between TJ and Harley builds slowly from argument to “bickering as foreplay” and then went from there. The author maintains the chemistry between these two very well, and the mix of humor with drama works in this story. It takes Harley and TJ a while to get from attraction to physical intimacy, but there’s plenty of steamy buildup along the way. The couple and their story are both lively and likable. I also appreciated that the conflicts between them weren’t entirely contrived.
The wild has been TJ’s refuge; he isn’t in a hurry to tie himself down and has no interest in relationships. For her part, Harley not only has gotten fed up with her living situation but she also has issues with TJ related to a high school incident that upset her even though in those days TJ spent so much time drinking and partying that he cannot remember anything at all. TJ and Harley take a little too long to reach the point of genuinely communicating with one another, but they’re still a very enjoyable couple to follow.
In addition to Harley and TJ taking a bit too much time to just get over themselves and start communicating, the author also throws in a side plot in the form of a suspense thread that goes nowhere. It starts off fairly strong, but just as the reader hits a point where danger seems imminent and we wonder who’s up to no good in Desolation, the book changes direction. It’s as if the author changed her mind about using a suspense subplot, but forgot to take out her initial foreshadowing. This muddies up the story arc, and doesn’t really enhance the book.
If the story arc of the romance had been a little cleaner, Instant Temptation probably would have gotten a higher grade from me. However, the book just felt a little disorganized and, even with a likable couple, I have to qualify my recommendation because of that. The author has a very strong voice, though, and I fully intend to read more of her books.