An accidental pregnancy and miscarriage cost Zarley Halveston her shot at Olympic gymnastics gold. Now she pole-dances at Lucky’s under the stage name Lux, and Reid McGrath, recently fired from the company he founded for “being an asshole,” is Lux’s most loyal fan. Every night he watches her set and then drinks himself stupid, until he gets food poisoning and Zarley gets him home. Suddenly, the seductive athlete seems within Reid’s reach – which would make her the first woman to get there. If “near-Olympian turned pole dancer meets laid-off drunkard virgin tech tycoon” at a “burning” sensuality level doesn’t at least pique your interest, then move along. It piqued mine, and I’m so glad it did. This book has flaws, but damn, I had fun reading it.
Both main characters are engaging and fully developed, and Reid in particular shines. Tycoons are almost never wholly realized characters – like Prince Charming, you get a vague outline. Not so with Reid. Reid is absolutely, categorically the asshole he is fired for being: manipulative, volatile, temperamental, autocratic, and emotionally tone-deaf, fixated on good outcomes to the point of not noticing what he’s doing on the way. His workaholic and obsessive personality explains the virginity, too; as we see with him and Zarley, he’s not capable of a halfway relationship, and he could never have built his company while dating.
Zarley is the perfect match for him. She understands what it’s like to obsessively pursue perfection, and to spectacularly derail yourself and lose everything. She’s seen all types of assholery from coaches before, so not only can she take what Reid dishes out, she can actually talk him through it and help him understand both why and how to do better. Which he does! A tycoon jerk who experiences character growth? Be still, my heart!
I love athlete heroines because it seems like one area in which authors don’t shy away from letting women show ambition and authentic toughness. (Reid loves this side of her, too – the author tells us that while he loves her body and what she does with it, “what he craved, what made him almost sick with desire was the iron discipline, the determination and single-mindedness that led her to master these skills.” How can you not fall for a hero who loves the heroine’s work ethic?) I don’t know a thing about pole dancing or the world of gentlemen’s clubs, but the author’s characterization seemed credible.
I expected the plot to unfold in a predictable way, with Reid retaking his company and Zarley competing in for an exotic dance/stripping scholarship (yeah, felt silly to me, too). But the author surprised me. The plot is less about the characters attacking these external obstacles and more about addressing the issues which made the obstacles. How can Reid become the sort of person who can lead a company – or can he at all? If Zarley wins money, is that going to give her a vision for her future? On the negative side, it felt for a long time like Zarley was resisting Reid’s money just to maintain plot tension, although the author gives a satisfying explanation near the end of the book.
Sex is front and center in Reid and Zarley’s evolving relationship and personal growth, and the author fills their sex life with character and personality, including realistic awkwardness. Zarley doesn’t orgasm when Reid loses his virginity. There are sex scenes in which people accidentally catch each other’s’ hair or bop each other. The author shows both hot and sweet sides to sex, with Reid’s fantasy being falling asleep holding Zarley. It nicely balanced some of their adventurous sex, which involved exhibitionism and a second man.
What holds this book back? The last third feels meandering at times. Zarley gets jealous, overreacting to something involving Reid that I felt wasn’t his fault at all but which the author clearly disliked. I liked Reid’s friends at his company, but Zarley’s friend Cara seemed superficial by comparison. The book rallies for a solid ending but it needed edits.
And there are significant writing issues. Australianisms abound in this Los Angeles setting, from the fire brigade (vs. fire department) to the bedhead (vs headboard) to the dinner suit (vs tuxedo). There are occasional typos and misplaced modifiers. What really stuck out to me, though, were sentences which I actually went back and reread over and over because I genuinely could not make sense of them. At one point, Reid’s “smothered smirk could’ve provided sustenance to the starving it was so self-righteous.” You can eat self-righteousness? A stripper comments, “If [having a bad husband is] what success looks like call me, call me patient zero of the zombie apocalypse.” I cannot come up with any plausible relationships between the two halves of that sentence. And once, Zarley’s sexy appearance is described as a “cock-pricking image.” Aren’t cocks already pricks? How could her image pierce a penis?
But but but. This is a lot of book for your money (346 pages) and those instances don’t happen frequently. Amidst the writing mistakes and weirdness, there are also some wildly fantastic sentences. My favorite was Reid’s reaction to hearing Zarley say she loved him: “This woman could make him weak and desperate, bring him to his knees a thousand different ways, but hearing her say that made him bulletproof.” UGH I WANT TO MAKE SOMEONE FEEL LIKE THAT.
A great, unusual hero, hot and character-driven sex scenes, a solid heroine who is great for much of the book, a plot that defies predictability, some wonderful moments of writing. On the negative side: a long denouement and some writing issues. My head says B+ for Offensive Behaviour, but it was very close to an A-. It’s just addictive and fun.