Slippery When Wet
Slippery When Wet is the kind of book I’ve been hoping for in the Harlequin Blaze line. There’s hot, envelope-pushing sex, yes, and it’s very well done (yummy, even). But the sex enhances a surprisingly realistic story of two people falling hesitantly in love. Blaze books can be fun, and some are more successful than others at melding erotic sensuality with romance, but one that made me feel like the hero and heroine were people I might actually know? That was a nice change of pace.
Taylor DeWitt is the owner of a small, struggling travel agency in Baltimore and the landlord’s renovation of the office building has dragged on, underming her revenue stream. Taylor is more than overdue for a vacation herself. Before she can get out of town, though, she has to deal with an angry customer. Dev Carson booked his Cozumel honeymoon through Taylor’s agency. The wedding is off and Dev wants to cancel the trip as well, but Taylor holds firm on her no-refund policy.
Several weeks later, guess who Taylor runs into on her own long-awaited vacation? Dev the ex-groom of course, traveling alone on what should have been his honeymoon. They are attracted, but neither wants a commitment right now, and a week of hot sex with no strings commences – if you’ve read any Blaze titles, you know the set-up. Where so many of these books lose steam, however, is when the relationship must jump the hurdle from temporary fling to emotional connection. In Slippery When Wet, that’s where the book really caught my interest.
I was already enjoying the story. Hardy crams a lot of descriptive imagery into a relatively short book, and I caught enough of the look and feel of sunny Cozumel that I was ready to book a trip there, even in July. But more importantly, the return to the slushy streets of late-winter Baltimore, Taylor and Dev’s “real world,” is equally believable: from the weather, to the continued construction delays in Taylor’s office, to Dev’s hassles with relatives of the ex who want to try to patch up an unpatchable break.
Hardy has chosen to keep the conflicts and emotional dilemmas on the real-world level too, and in a season where it seems like romantic suspense has invaded every subgenre, it’s a refreshing approach. No life or death scenarios, just everyday dilemmas that feel huge to the characters: Taylor has built her business from the ground up but isn’t sure she wants to continue down her current path; Dev wants to continue the fling when they return to Baltimore but Taylor doesn’t; Taylor believes that Dev can’t possibly have a real relationship when he is rebounding from a broken engagement. Because the characters talk and act like real people, the smaller scale of the conflicts is interesting rather than boring. Taylor and Dev were like people I know, whose relationship I’m pulling for even though I can’t intervene.
And I was pleasantly surprised when the story went down less obvious paths. Because of a previous bad marriage, for instance, Taylor hesitates about getting involved again. The easy choice would have been to have an overtly abusive ex-husband, but the situation was not that simplistic. Another subplot involving a larger chain trying to buy out Taylor’s agency had me expecting another variation of “plucky small business owner standing up to evil conglomerate.” Instead, the resolution surprised me, but fit perfectly with other events of the story.
The only place that this realism falters is in a segment where Dev and Taylor go off to the wedding of Dev’s sister, the heroine of a previous book in the series. The chapter of visits with once and future heroines, giggly bonding, and something about a bed that brings about committed relationships for its owners changed the feeling of the story from something that could happen to real people into, well, something that could only be in a romance novel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the tone shift was distracting and felt a little obligatory. Fortunately the book recovers and neatly picks up its previous tone after the digression. In the real world, romances, even fabulous, life-changing romances with the Best Sex Ever, don’t happen in vacuums. Real people have baggage from the previous relationships. Real people have jobs, family, and other things that continue to occupy their time even when they are starry-eyed. Kristin Hardy does a great job of showing that balance in Slippery When Wet, and makes the giddiness of falling in love even more appealing as a result. Ms. Hardy is definitely one to watch.