Wicked and Willing
I¹m a sucker for both bad girls and bad boys. I have to admit it and be shameless about it, otherwise I can’t in good conscience write such a positive review of Wicked & Willing because the “bad” characters in this book are the best thing about it.
If you’re going to read a series romance, you have to suspend some disbelief, accept some stereotypes, and swallow some formulas. In my case, I’ve learned that if I like the hero and heroine enough, that can be an easy assignment. Such is the case with this book, my first by Leslie Kelly. I just plain liked the “bad” girl and “bad” boy I got to know in Wicked & Willing, and for that I can overlook a number of plot contrivances.
This entrant in the Harlequin Temptation series begins a new three-book arc, The Bad Girls Club, which hinges, obviously enough, on each of the heroines being bad girls. While I might quibble about the meaning of such a term (what is a “bad girl” really and who gets to decide?!), I’m willing to go along with it if all the bad girls are this much fun.
Venus Messina is our heroine with a heart of gold and an armor of attitude to keep it from being discovered. A secondary “best friend” character in a previous novel of Ms. Kelly’s (Into the Fire), Venus steps onto center stage here and she occupies it well. She’s a bold, sassy, vulnerable, imperfect, and sympathetic character.
Temporarily working as a bartender at her uncle’s pub in Baltimore, Venus is approached by a stranger who tells her that she may be the long-lost granddaughter of wealthy Atlanta businessman Max Longotti. Venus, who was raised by a foster mother after her real mother died, never knew her father, and doesn’t believe a word the stranger Leo is trying to tell her. She shoots down every one of the possible reasons why she might be the “Violet” Max has asked Leo to track down. Leo persists, however, and finally offers Venus $5,000 to visit Max. Venus doesn’t feel right about accepting, since she doesn’t believe she is the man’s granddaughter, but she needs the money, so off she goes to Atlanta.
Troy Langtee, who hails from a family considering buying Max’s catalog company, is our bad boy hero. Troy is also the twin brother of Trent, the hero of Kelly’s Two to Tangle and he joins the story in Atlanta where he has accepted a position as an executive working for Max.
Troy has a reputation as a heel who dates women casually and drops them like hot potatoes when things start to get serious. He’s in a soul-searching mode, however, after the last such episode, and is currently determined to examine and break his patterns professionally and personally. While in his office one day, he sees a gorgeous redhead sunning herself on the balcony off the office next to his, and he’s pretty much caught hook, line and sinker. The chase is on, but no one is running very far or fast.
The sexual tension and chemistry between these two “wicked and willing” characters is potent. That’s good news for Ms. Kelly, since the plot itself is kind of weak when you get right down to it. The DNA test that would prove/disprove Venus’ relationship to Max takes forever to come about. The single piece of paper from Venus’s childhood that might have the name “Violet” instead of Venus on it (and would, therefore, clear up the matter), takes forever to arrive. Frankly, the mystery itself is kind of weak, since not even Max seems to care if it’s actually true or not; he treats Venus as if she is his granddaughter. None of this ultimately matters, though, because this book is really about two characters, both used to loving and leaving, who suddenly aren’t sure they want to do that anymore. It’s about the flirtatious dance of teasing and seduction that can occur between two people who are on the same page about what they want at least for the moment.
Readers who don’t like their characters to jump into sexual relationships should beware. This couple only knows each other for a few short weeks in this book and it’s not a platonic relationship. There is a lot of double entendre-filled banter, and it’s extremely provocative, playful and snappy. The love scenes are intense, and hint at even more spicy occurrences than they actually depict.
In some series romance novels, I can feel manipulated when a couple gets together physically very quickly because I don’t believe it would happen that way to those particular characters. I didn’t have that trouble with these two. Venus and Troy are well matched and act believably, if a bit precipitously. Each has areas of insecurity covered by bravado and each is searching for their next life step. I enjoyed watching their relationship develop, both emotionally and physically. True to the Bad Girls Club arc, this book is really Venus’ story, and she is more fully drawn as a character, even though Troy is a very appealing hero who more than occupies his place in the tale.
Overall, you could do far worse than to spend a few hours with these two “wicked” main characters and their secondary cast. If you enjoy the series romance version of bad girls and boys as I do, then Venus and Troy will probably suit you just fine.