Desert Isle Keeper
Too Hot to Handle
I’ve been hearing a lot of good buzz about Tessa Bailey lately, and when I dug into her backlist, I wasn’t disappointed. Too Hot to Handle is fast-paced, emotional, and blisteringly sexy. I highly recommend it.
Chef Rita Clarkson has never been able to live up to her late mother, culinary legend Miriam Clarkson, and when the restaurant Rita inherited burns down, she decides to do one thing she knows won’t let her mother down: fulfil her last wish, that Rita and her siblings jump into the ocean at Coney Island on New Year’s Day. Her siblings reluctantly fall in line, but their road trip gets off to a flying stop when their car breaks down outside Hurley, New Mexico – and Jasper Ellis finds them.
Jasper has spent a decade as the town man-whore, and has come to despise being a good-time dirty secret. He’s desperate to be different with Rita – take his time, treat her well, show her his personality and not just his skills in bed. There are just a few problems with that plan. First, their chemistry is so explosive that it’s harder for Jasper to stay out of Rita’s pants than it is to end up in them. Second, Rita’s only there until the car gets repaired. And third – Jasper and Rita’s insecurities (he wants to be more than a good time; she’s convinced nobody could find her attractive) are completely in opposition.
I loved Jasper. So often, the promiscuous man or rake is held up as the pinnacle of romance novel manhood, author shorthand for ‘this heroine is awesome because she can satisfy a man whose bedpost is just one big notch’. Jasper, however, doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels like a loser and a joke, and part of his reason for wanting to delay sex with Rita is that he’s convinced she’ll be gone after she gets what she wants from him. After all, everyone else always is. Rita is not as memorable as Jasper, but I still enjoyed her as someone working through feelings of failure without having A Traumatic Big Event in her past. The two of them stumble into mistakes, which are reasonable for people who are so newly acquainted, but both are motivated by a desire to do good for their partner.
Yes, do good… and do It good. Since it’s what a lot of people look for in a Tessa Bailey novel, let’s talk about the sex scenes. Frankly, they’re spectacular. If you like your heroes dominant, but don’t want to go all the way to someone who owns a sex club and shows up with a flogger, tune in for this book. Jasper’s a big dirty talker, and Bailey is fantastic at devising things for him to say. His lines are always explicit but never degrading (most of them involve praising Rita, her body, and her responsiveness, just in really graphic terms). Plus, the sex scenes do the remarkable, which is stay hot over the course of the book without needing to escalate by adding toys or other people or changing the type of acts.
I knocked off a few points for the slow opening sections, and for the fact that the ending is a little too pat. I liked the characters, as I said, but they’re a bit simplified – maybe more novella-style than full length novel. Still, the author sold it to me that people who have known each other for only three days had found exactly what they needed in each other, and I had a great deal of fun reading about it. Clearly, Tessa Bailey is going to be my next binge.