Desert Isle Keeper
I love Jayne Ann Krentz books from the 1990s. Her earliest books don’t work for me because they seem a bit dated now, and her most recent books seem to have lost the spark that characterizes her best work. But my hardback keeper shelf is heavily weighted down with books like Trust Me, Absolutely, Positively, and Deep Waters. I thought I’d already read all her best stuff from the nineties, so you can imagine my excitement when I found Wildest Hearts, a Krentz book I’d never read, in a library book sale. Given the title (I mean, could it sound any more like a 1970s bodice ripper?) it’s not surprising I first assumed it was a re-release of a much older book. But by the time I’d skimmed over the first two pages I had no doubt – this was Krentz at her best. I plunked down my quarter, brought it home, and happily devoured it.
Many of the elements of this story are familiar to anyone who’s read Krentz. The hero is Oliver Rain, an arrogant, domineering, highly successful businessman. He’s rumored to be the richest man in the Pacific Northwest, and quite possibly the most dangerous. The heroine is Annie Lyncroft, the proprietor of a small business (in this case a curio shop called Wildest Dreams that sells items teetering precariously on the thin knife edge of tackiness). Oliver is a controlled, apparently passionless man “with the natural arrogance of a jungle cat” who does yoga and has a Zen rock garden in his study. He was the glue that held his family together when his father ran off with all their money, long years ago, and he’s become the self-appointed patriarch of the clan – no one does anything without his approval. And on the roof of his penthouse, he’s cultivated a rainforest of ferns, a plant he identifies with because they are a primitive throwback to a distant time.
Annie’s brother, the founder and head of an electronics firm called Lyncroft Unlimited, is missing and presumed dead in a plane crash. Now the investors are panicking. In order to hold the company together and calm the investors, Annie decides to propose a marriage of convenience to Oliver (who happens to be the biggest investor) and who is, of course, a well-known businessman in the community. She also has an ulterior motive – she spotted Oliver at a party six weeks before, and immediately “something deep within her reacted to his presence with an acute sense of awareness”. In other words, he’s hot. Oliver, who in typical Krentz fashion has also developed an “acute awareness” of Annie even though they’ve never spoken, is perfectly willing to go along with this scheme. Of course, it isn’t long before their marriage of convenience becomes something more. They forge an emotional connection almost immediately, at least partly through plenty of hot sex (something that has been sadly missing from recent Krentz novels), and before long Annie realizes she’s in love. But what about Oliver? Is he too emotionally repressed to ever say those three little words?
Annie is a pretty standard Krentz heroine. She’s chipper and relentlessly optimistic, refusing to believe her brother is dead despite all the evidence pointing in that direction. She bonds with Oliver’s family, all of whom are at first wary of her, but who are rapidly won over. She immediately clashes with Oliver’s stiff servant Bolt (whose name is glaringly symbolic, since Annie thinks of him as a robot), but before long she’s won Bolt over to her side, too. She’s a bit on the flaky side, but she isn’t dumb; she’s simply convinced of the hero’s innate goodness, despite his tendency to manipulate and spy on those around him. Indeed, she attributes most of his difficult behavior to a problem with “interpersonal communication”, and her unshakeable faith in his goodness eventually forces him to reevaluate and amend his actions. In other words, Annie’s love changes Oliver for the better.
This isn’t to say that Annie is a pushover who puts up with a lot of nonsense. At one point, annoyed to discover that Bolt has been following her per Oliver’s orders, she asks with justifiable irritation: “Are there two of you? A nice Oliver and a nasty Oliver?” Oliver also annoys her in bed because he insists on maintaining his iron control, making love to her for hours (can anyone explain to me why this is a problem?), but Annie manages to convey her concerns to him clearly – and in a wonderfully sensual scene, I might add – without hurting his feelings in the process.
Since this is a Krentz novel, there is also a suspense plot. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say that there is more to the apparent death of Annie’s brother than a simple equipment failure. Eventually, Annie finds herself in danger from an unexpected source. I was pleased to note that the suspense plot in this book didn’t overtake the romance, as it’s tended to do in most recent Krentz novels. This book is a romance, first and foremost, and there’s just enough suspense to add excitement.
The novel was published in 1993, but it’s almost as modern as any romance being published right now, although Annie does to rely on Oliver to save her a bit more than I’d like. There were a few other hints of the book’s age. That “marriage of convenience” plot device, although it’s handled well here, still seems a little out of date in a contemporary romance (although it was frankly just as out of date in 1993). Despite her age, Annie is a semi-virginal heroine who’s never really gotten a lot out of sex – fairly typical for romance novels heroines the early nineties. And then there was that hideous phrase that I sincerely hope was buried back in the nineties… “throbbing manhood”. Indeed, the sex scenes are often slightly overblown in an effort to avoid printing blunt words that wouldn’t lift an eyebrow today. For example, Oliver “laid siege to her body and stormed the soft, warm citadel”. Yikes.
But despite these minor concerns, Wildest Hearts is representative of Krentz at her very best, with action and love mingled together in one fast-paced story. The hero is a sexy, alpha guy who’s redeemed by the love of a smart, decent woman who believes in him. Who could want more from a romance?