Most Eligible Bastard
Annika Martin has a backlist that spans multiple romance genres. Under the pen name of Carolyn Crane, she’s written a taut and exciting romantic suspense series, The Associates, as well as an urban fantasy series The Disillusionists. As Annika, she’s gotten to explore a more erotic style, with Taken Hostage by Kinky Bank Robbers (which is exactly what it sounds like) and a darker, edgy mafia style series, Dangerous Royals Romance as well as some standalone romances. Most Eligible Billionaire is billed as an enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy, but as it’s a Martin book, there are still some more serious scenes to balance out the laugh out loud ones. I didn’t know what to expect from the blurb but I am quite happy with the result.
Vicky Nelson has left her small town life and her scandalous past behind and settled into life in New York City with her teenaged sister Carly. She creates funky dog accessories to sell online and at small craft fairs which brings in just enough income to make ends meet. While working her sale booth at a fundraising event for a local animal shelter, she volunteers to be the ‘dog whisperer’ in the pet psychic booth when the real volunteer for the job doesn’t show up.This brings her to the attention of an eccentric older woman, Bernadette Locke, and her dog Smuckers. Bernadette is convinced that Vicky can read Smucker’s mind and tell her what her dog is thinking. Though Vicky tries to tell her that she’s a fake, Bernadette doesn’t believe her. She hires Vicky’s sister to walk her dog and Vicky finds herself with little choice but to humour the lonely old lady and convey Smucker’s ‘thoughts’ to her. Three years later, Bernadette passes away, and it turns out that she’s actually a wealthy woman with a majority stock in her family’s international construction conglomerate. In her will, Bernadette names Smuckers as her heir, leaving him controlling shares of Locke Construction and a seat on the board of directors with Vicky named as Smucker’s representative.
Henry Locke, one of New York’s most eligible bachelors, can’t believe that a scam artist managed to get herself and a dog named in his estranged mother’s will. Hoping to pay her off with a couple of million dollars, he’s shocked when Vicky does the unthinkable – she refuses his bribe and helps Smuckers take his rightful place in the board room. It makes no sense at all to Henry, and while he seethes inside, he knows that he needs to be on Vicky’s good side so that ‘Smuckers’ will side with the decisions that need to be made to ensure the business thrives. Plus, the PR nightmare that would ensue if their shareholders knew a dog had a controlling interest in the company keeps him up at night. Yet the more time he spends with Vicky, the more he discovers that she’s nothing like he expected. And to his chagrin, he finds himself more and more attracted to her. But when the private investigator hired to dig up dirt on Vicky finds the secret of her past, will Henry use it to take back the company or protect the woman who is stealing his heart?
Eccentric old lady bequeaths fortune to her dog is the kind of headline you might see in a tabloid newspaper so it’s amusing that the author chose this as the backbone to her plot, and it certainly makes for some fun reading! No one knows how absurd it is as much as Vicky, who never wanted the role as Smuckers psychic and now seems stuck with it while she figures out how best to honor Bernadette’s wishes. Most people would take the offer of the money and walk away, especially one in Vicky’s financial situation. But Vicky isn’t like most people in that respect; in the past she was offered money to hide what someone did to her and she refused it, believing that her day in court would come and justice would prevail. But it didn’t. She wasn’t believed, her name was dragged through the mud, and she was forced to leave her home with her baby sister and become a whole new person. Henry’s offer to pay her to sign over the inheritance infuriates her. She’s vowed that never again will she let a rich person bully her and Henry is in for a fight.
Clearly the past trauma is the heavier side of the story, while the situation with Smuckers is the lighter one, and the strong characterisation of the two leads enables the author to shape the story into an enjoyable – if not wholly believable – romance. They have a sizzling chemistry from their first meeting to the annoyance of both of them, because Henry really is a bastard at the start and Vicky hates that she finds him attractive. The more the reader learns about Henry though, the more likable he becomes. It was never his choice to be estranged from the mother who cut him off from all affection early, and kept him at arm’s length. He puts his heart and soul into the company and at every turn shows that he cares about the well-being of his employees, and they respect him equally in return. He’s passionate about the buildings they design, down to the smallest details. There’s a really lovely scene where an architectural model gets damaged and he and Vicky repair it together. It’s the first time that they see one another as something other than enemies. It’s also what fans the flames of attraction between them and leads to the first of several steamy scenes.
This is one of those stories where the characters seem cut and dried at the start but are revealed to be much more than the image they present to the world as the story progresses. The conflict comes about naturally and sets up an ending that is ultimately quite sweet. One of New York’s top ten most eligible bachelors is felled by a sweet and spirited woman in this decidedly unique and sexy romance that is definitely worth the read.