Sometimes, a romance is like a souffle. It’s all delicate and airy: there’s some fat and egg white for structure, and it’s sweet and light, and it can be satisfying, if not the most rib-sticking, satisfying thing you’ve ever eaten. But sometimes, because it’s a souffle, one little thing will break it, and the whole puffy thing that until that moment was fun and simple and pleasing will collapse while you stare in horror because there is NO WAY THAT JUST HAPPENED.
An Unlikely Setup was following the path of one of my new favorite forms of category romance plot: girl returns to small rural town and finds community, home, and a really hot guy with a supremely excellent bum. Hot Bum is Quinn, who runs the local pub, and returning girl is Maddie, who has recently inherited the local pub building and a house from her godfather. She’s in deep financial trouble after losing her job as a reporter because she thought flipping houses would work as a way to earn money quickly – even borrowing money from her best friend’s IRA – and when the bottom fell out of the housing market, she found herself way, WAY under water.
I must say, financial idiocy is not admirable in a heroine, but I sort of admire the risk that the author took, because Maddie is fully cognizant of the fact that she has fucked up and is on the cusp of fucking up even more. She’s been dumb, but is still somewhat sharp, and hasn’t let her own idiocy get her down.
She returns to Otter Tail (yes, that is the name of the town. Yes, I giggled and made lots of “nice tail!” jokes in my head) to sell the house and the pub, and finds out that her godfather had promised to leave the pub to Quinn, who was a close friend of his, but neglected to change his will in time. Maddie needs cash, and lots of it, for the sale of one or both, but when she finds she likes Otter Tail and wants to stay, she has to get more for the pub than Quinn is offering so that she can keep the house.
Meanwhile, she’s working at the pub to help earn off the costs of repairs to the pub to get it ready for sale or something – I lost track of the explanation but the upshot is that Maddie’s working for Quinn but she owns the building the business is in. Owner/tenant vs. boss/employee with the added benefit of an Irish pub and building Guinness. The situation places her in daily proximity of most of the town – of course there is only one pub! It’s Otter Tail for God’s sake! – and sure enough, folks like her, and want her to stay, and want her to sell to Quinn. Trouble looms in the form of a corporate agent from a large conglomerate superstore that is desperate to open a store in that county (think WalMart) and waving the promise of many, many dollars in front of Maddie, even though bringing the NotWalMart store to town will pretty much destroy everything she likes about it, and screw up many of her new friends’ lives.
Seriously, all this conflict stacked up fine for me, and I was going along for the ride with no problems. Quinn is too chest-thumpy at times, and Maddie is very sharp – so sharp I wonder how she found herself making the decision to flip houses after not nearly enough character exposition that would reveal WHY she’d think that was a solid time and financial investment. The dialogue, particularly Maddie’s smart mouth, is cheeky and fun. The ancillary characters are distinct, and some seem like very ripe sequel bait, while others are potential nemeses of the protagonists for one reason or another. The writing is solid and at times clever. Gatherings at the bar, which are nightly, make for interesting chapters, and even if I lose patience with Quinn and Maddie and their inconsistencies, the rest of the community provide entertaining reading.
Then: whoomp, there it was. More than one person has made vague or specific threats against Maddie and Quinn in the course of the story, and one night, after an evening of working at the bar and exchanging flirtatious, heated comments despite the issue of the sale and the boss/employee thing and the person who left her the property but meant the world to both of them hanging over both their flirty, goofy heads, Quinn drives Maddie home.
Maddie notices the porch light isn’t on. She left it on.
Quinn, a former cop, gets extra more chest poundy and they check it out… someone has busted the porch light and scrawled “BITCH” on the porch floor. A moment later, they see tail lights driving away in a real hurry from the woods adjacent to her home.
So: if you were in this situation would you:
2. Find somewhere else to stay that night.
3. Call the actual police and not just the former police officer currently standing next to you.
4. Go inside, have a glass of wine, take a walk on the beach next to the house, make out on the beach next to the house, get to sca-rumpin’ on the sand all turned on because someone might be watching… while REMARKING that there’s NO WAY the person who defaced the porch could still be around because they saw him drive away.
Right. 1, 2, or 3, or all of the above, maybe. But 4? 4 is what made the souffle go PFFT and my jaw go WHAAA and my eyes go HURRR and my entire brain go NUH UH NUH UH NUH UH. Then my mouth went, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” I expected Quinn to say, “Don’t worry, this is a Harlequin Superromance, not an Intrigue – we’re in no danger going full moon under the full moon!”
Seriously, I’m so irritated. I was perfectly happy enjoying a light and somewhat friendly read, hoping to see the potential of the future relationships that were possible in the community members, enjoying the talent that created distinct characters with a handful of lines and scenes…and then the hero and heroine have to do something so boneheaded I want to scrawl words across their porches, and by “porches” I mean “foreheads.”
The setup of the romance wasn’t so unlikely, really. It’s not as if Maddie’s godfather left her the property contingent upon the fact that she marry the sherriff and lose her virginity on the night of the crescent moon while wearing a red halter top. The setup was somewhat normal, even daring, given that the heroine is aware and straightforward about the fact that due to her own mistakes she’s in deep financial trouble that’s about to get a lot worse.
What was unlikely was the nookie, and the idea that they’d go get sand in intimate places on the night of a full moon (full moon! Ha!) after someone defaced a home that means a lot to both of them, that belonged to someone whom they are both grieving for, is just freaking looney, barking mad. I was grieving for their intelligence as I finished the book, and regardless of the resolution, remain frustrated that someone tossed a baseball made of boneheads into a perfectly nice souffle.