I don’t usually read contemporary romance, but I liked the premise of Lyssa Kay Adams’s The Bromance Book Club and was curious to see what book the guys would pick up next. My hope was that each novel would deal with a different sub-genre of romance, and in Undercover Bromance, the Club has some insights into romantic suspense. However, the story was something of a mixed bag, and not quite up to the high standard of Ms. Adams’ debut.
Braden Mack wants to prove to his friends in the Club that he can get married, as opposed to being a perennial flirt. He takes his girlfriend to a fancy restaurant and orders their thousand-dollar cupcake, intending to propose to her afterwards. Unfortunately the pastry chef drops the cupcake in his girlfriend’s lap by accident, and the evening goes downhill from there, since his girlfriend can tell that their date is a performance designed to achieve a certain goal. So she dumps him.
The pastry chef, Liv Papandreau, has a problem too. Royce, the owner of the restaurant, is furious, so Liv goes to his office to face the music. But she overhears Royce pressuring another chef, Jessica, for sex. Liv goes ballistic and storms in to help, only to find Jessica refusing to admit that anything inappropriate happened, because she needs her job. And then Liv is fired.
Mack stumbles across her moments later, and when he gets the truth out of her (about the firing, not the harassment), he offers her a job in a bar he owns. Liv shoves him out of her way, but later thinks that Mack could hire Jessica. Like her, Mack is enraged when he hears about what Jessica endures to remain employed, but he also realizes that they need to stop Royce. Which means working together, no matter how much Liv snarls that she hates men in general and him in particular.
So, let’s start with the characters. Mack has a lot of baggage regarding his past, which is one reason he’s determined not to allow a man to prey on women if he can help it. He’s also smooth, successful and good-looking, which is a winning combination if readers can get past the winking. This is his go-to gesture when he flirts, and since he does that almost constantly, he winks over twenty times in the story. It became like a nervous tic. Still, he’s good hero material. I especially liked the fact that he checked in with one of his employees to ask if he was making her feel uncomfortable.
Liv, on the other hand, is… difficult to like. Readers who don’t mind a prickly heroine might find her palatable, but I found her exhausting. She was angry a lot of the time, which is understandable, given her circumstances, but it took her some time to realize that other women might have reasons for not rocking the boat. She gets better towards the end, but before that, I wouldn’t have confided in her about sexual assault unless I wanted to deal with an explosion.
Mack has it worse, though. Rather than telling her his father is abusive, he lets her believe his father is dead, so when she discovers the truth, she takes this as more evidence that men can’t be trusted and breaks up with him. This is clearly the Obligatory Separation, as the book club would put it, which didn’t make this part of the story seem either original or well-plotted.
Speaking of the book club, just as they do in the first book, the guys flip each other off, and the Russian is a comic relief character defined by his bowel functions (good thing he wasn’t called, say, “the Pakistani”). But he gets a name at the end, which brings me hope that he’ll have some character development soon. And I enjoyed reading the men’s take on a sub-genre where women are often placed in danger so men can rescue them. I just wished there had been more of this, because the very engaging discussion was confined to a single scene.
Ultimately, while Undercover Bromance wasn’t a bad read, it wasn’t outstanding either. The author should be commended for tackling the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, but the serious plot where the hero and heroine team up to bring down a predator often clashed with the humor, and I can’t say the romance worked for me. The story did make me want to read the next in the series, though, and I hope Ms. Adams will have another hit with that one.