Red-Hot and Reckless
I’ve read a good many contemporary romances purporting to be about bad girls, but I do believe I actually encountered one of those rare critters in Tori Carrington’s Red-Hot & Restless. Nicole Bennett isn’t a bad girl because the author told us she was, then threw in a few over-the-top acts of ballsiness to add ballast to her claim. Nicole Bennett oozes bad-girl-ness from every pore. She’s outrageous, and I mean that in the best possible way. She’s brassy and bold, and a smart cookie, to boot – at least when it comes to her abilities as a professional thief. She’s still on something of a learning curve when it comes to men, although recent experience has driven home the lesson that hell hath no fury like a man accused of being a one-minute wonder; you’d think a guy could take a little constructive criticism in stride instead of vengefully ratting her out to the police.
Disappearing into the night and reappearing in Baltimore, the location of her next job, Nicole senses she’s being tailed. It’s a little unnerving since she’s not accustomed to being pegged – as a low- profile thief whose specialty is robbing the robbers once they’ve secured their prize, she has fading into the woodwork honed to a fine art. Still, a girl’s got to have a little fun, and when she finally gets a gander at the man who is shadowing her, she decides to indulge her weakness for sex gods and toy with him a little. As her favorite saying from Rita Mae Brown goes, “Lead me not into temptation; I can find the way myself.”
Alex Cassavetes, an ex-cop now working as an insurance investigator, has met his share of sexy women, but Nicole’s unapologetic lack of subtlety in sexual game-playing has thrown him totally off balance. He finds himself waging an inner battle between professional ethics and responsibility on the one hand, and the baser appeal of indulging his lust-crazed fantasies about Nicole. When he should be turning her over to the law, he’s groping her. When she agrees to help him track down the murderous thief, Dark Man, essentially becoming a co-worker and thus falling into the “hands off” category where his ethics are concerned, she blind-sides him in his office with a determinedly provocative seduction that has him considering variations on the term “desk jockey.”
I really enjoyed Nicole’s and Alex’s story, though it didn’t always work for me, most notably when it came to the believability of Nicole’s backstory and the pursuit of Dark Man. First of all, Nicole is shown to be a very unique thief, with a strange tendency to return the items she has stolen and a sort of “widows and orphans” motivation. Maybe I’m in the minority when it comes to romance readers, but this felt like a cop-out; I would rather that her character had been as unapologetic and self-serving about her stealing as she was about her sexuality. Although there’s a somewhat sweet denouement of her fascination for Tiffany jewelry at the end of this story, the rationale for her benign modus operandi was all a bit lame. And since Alex sought Nicole’s help because of her uncanny knack for anticipating where the action is going to be, it detracts from the flow when he completely disregards one of her conclusions until it’s almost too late.
Some of the dialogue rang painfully untrue. First, in a bar scene in Baltimore, where Nicole strikes up a conversation with the female bartender and a female patron, and they swap bad girl stories. It might have worked had it been played with more subtlety, but it smacked of a conversation between teenagers in which the participants are trying to establish their “coolness”: if you have to ask, or trot out examples of why you’re cool, you probably ain’t. The dialogue between the workers from the insurance office, which Nicole and Alex overhear in the coffee shop, sounded sufficiently contrived to yank me out of the moment, as well. Also, Nicole’s character was unrealistically outrageous at times. While I can certainly buy a heroine who goes for the “look ma, no panties” effect, it was pure contrivance for Nicole to do so in a short dress, on a professional job that will require her to be crawling around on the floor, just so she will be conveniently….er….accessible when our hero makes his surprise appearance. I was already more than convinced that Nicole was wickedness personified, and I felt like this setup, along with the bad girl conversation, was unnecessarily heavy-handed. I much preferred the subtlety of Nicole’s unspoken disappointment when Alex later attached the other end of her handcuffs to his own wrist instead of to the bedpost.
What I did enjoy was the relationship between Alex and Nicole. Aside from the usual annoyances that seem to be typical of romances these days, like the main characters’ lustful preoccupation with each others’ body parts at inappropriate or unlikely times, it was handled surprisingly well. There’s a danger with books like this one that notch up the sexual heat, but the author just managed to avoid the usual mindless-sex-overkill with a timely scene which nicely showcases that pivotal point where “all about sex” becomes “something more.” And though the inevitable conflict occurs that pulls Nicole and Alex apart, it fit in well enough with the storyline that it did not seem excessively contrived, and their reconciliation was more than satisfying.
All in all, Red-Hot & Reckless falls short of being a keeper for me, but was an entertaining and very sexy romp into bad girl territory.