Tina C. sent in this rant about a novella that made her twitchangry in a number of ways. When a story rubs someone wrong, the book rants commence.
The anthology is Bad Boys in Black Tie, (Kensington Publishing Corp., 2004). “Good With His Hands”, by Lori Foster, wasn’t bad. I’d give it a B-. I liked “Miss Extreme Congeniality”, by Erin McCarthy, even more – a definite B.
“Last Call”, by Morgan Leigh, is the last story and, even without my serious problems with the hero and heroine, it would have had a hard time overcoming the oil-tanker-sized plot holes and the fact that the hero is a walking, talking Southern stereotype.
The “hero”, Fletcher Graham, is the hottest, former-juvenile-delinquent-turned-mayor that the small town of Justice, North Carolina has ever seen. He’s also the youngest mayor they’ve ever elected, too, so of course, no one calls him “Mayor” because they all fondly remember him as the adventurous scamp that he was in his youth. He’s divorced (and wary of women) because his “money-grubbing gold digger” ex didn’t want to settle down in a small town. Well, and she cheated on him, got pregnant, and left him for another, much wealthier, man. (However, he knew that the marriage was in trouble before she cheated because she “went so far as to take a consulting job that took her out of town on too many occasions. And she never asked her husband to join her, even though he cleared his schedule…to be able to accompany her.”) Oh, and he’s a “dyed-in-wool Southerner”. You can tell that he’s a “dyed-in-wool Southerner” because he says “darlin’” a lot and he speaks in metaphor, constantly, even when he’s just thinking to himself:
“The woman on the small stage was the center of attention, and she had his like a pit boss watches for cheats in his casino.” (Who talks like that??)
Meanwhile, the heroine, Tess Braeden, formerly from New York, is the sultry blues singer in The Last Call, despite the fact that Southerners don’t like such “contemporary music”. In fact, it’s rather strange that she got hired to sing at that bar, given that Fletcher, “the odd duck in the heart of Dixie”, is the only one in the entire South who likes other genres of music, in addition to country. After all,
“Country music was like breathing down here; you couldn’t do without it. And in Justice, it was as sacred as the hymns that could be heard from the Southern Baptist choir every Sunday morning during church services.”
(Yes, that sound you hear is my eyes rolling right out of my skull. Dear God – has this author ever visited any part of “the South”, even once, or did she do all of her “Southern” research by putting Mayberry, RFD, and Sweet Home Alabama dvds on repeat?)
Singing sultry “contemporary music” is Tess’s night job. Her day job is heiress of a dilapidated Victorian house with a mountain of debt and harasser of the Mayor’s office. She became an heiress when her long-lost grandfather, who she didn’t know existed, died a couple of years ago. However, since the executor only found her a few months prior to the beginning of the story, the house that she inherited is all but falling down due to neglect. If she wants to keep it, she has to come up with a lot of back taxes and pay the outstanding loans. However, she only has two more months to come up with the money before the bank forecloses and then, because it’s a historical building, turns the property over to the town. (I didn’t know that worked that way, but okay.) She can’t afford to clear the debts on the house and she is not allowed to do any repair on it or touch it in any way until she does. Meanwhile, neither the historical society nor the mayor, who she’s been calling incessantly, will even talk to her. (Why is she not calling the bank? Who knows?)
At this point in the story, I was perplexed. Tess is info-dumping all of this while staring at the sex-magnet that is Fletcher, who is leaning up against her car. (More on that, later.) Moments earlier, she’d asked her boss who he was after she seeing Fletcher in the bar, and he’d told her his name and that he works for the (very small) town and she, for no real reason other than it serves the plot, jumps to the conclusion that Fletcher is a mechanic for the town’s vehicles. This is explained by the fact that he’s all jean-clad, and grubby because he was helping a buddy rebuild his car.
Yet, how could she not know that Fletcher is actually the mayor? It’s not like “Fletcher Graham” is a common name and if this town is as small as we’re told it is, how the hell could she not say, “Isn’t that the mayor’s name?” The publishing date is 2004 and we’re supposed to believe that she’s never gone online to look up the person who keeps ducking her? That there is no website for the town? That there’s no picture of him anywhere or any mention of him in the local newspaper? (The same local paper that Fletcher specifically mentioned-in-thought that he didn’t want to draw the notice of — in what I can only guess was an icy cold blast of foreshadowing.)
Are we supposed to believe that she’s called his office repeatedly but couldn’t be bothered to go a few blocks over from the house she’s desperate to hang onto to try to catch him at his office? And when she calls his office, the secretary doesn’t call him by name, as in “Mayor Fletcher Graham’s office. How can I help you?” How about the incessant gossip that they’ve both thought about multiple times – not one person mentioned the mayor whenever she’s been out anywhere?
So, yeah, there’s all that, but that’s not even the worst problem.
All of the above is bad, no doubt. It’s almost, but not quite, “Yeah, I’m done.” bad, but I could have kept going to the finish if not for one thing. The part that made it a big DNF for me is that I found myself getting more and more anxious because the “hero” kept making these moves that read, to me, at least, as “DANGER! Stalker and possible rapist ahead!” and it pissed me off that the author has the heroine rationalize it all with, “Oh, this would normally concern/upset me, but since he’s soooo sexy, it just makes me hot instead.”
Within the first 10 pages:
1. After his best friend/partner in the bar refuses to give him any information on Tess, even her name, again for no other real reason than to serve the “mistaken identity” plot, Fletcher tries to find her name/info from her employment info. (He couldn’t find the info because of …hell, I don’t know – because all of these people are plot-stupid?)
2. When that doesn’t work, he lurks waits in the bar parking lot for her to finish up for the night and to come out of the bar. When she sees him – a complete stranger – leaning against her car door and “effectively blocking her from her car”, she doesn’t even hesitate for a second, because her boss (his best friend) vouched for him. She just heads right over to exchange some flirtatious sass. Then, when he insults her house and she gets annoyed enough to say that she’s leaving, he replies,
“As for moving, so you can get in your car and drive away, forget it.”
Okay, so the guy who “watched [you] intently while [you] sang” and who you didn’t actually meet until you found him leaning against your car door in an empty parking lot in the wee hours of the morning just told you that you aren’t leaving because of the “connection” you made when you made eye-contact inside the bar. Even if the boss you’ve known for a couple of months vouched for him, do you: A) Back away slowly while pulling out your keys and maybe some pepper spray before scurrying back to the bar as fast as you can; or B) Flirt with him some more and then kiss him? Personally, I’d go for A, but Tess, bless her heart, goes for B.
3. When he finds out who she is (the woman who is about to lose her house who keeps calling all the time), he doesn’t tell her who he really is because he is going to find out “what she really wants” before he sleeps with her. This will somehow protect his town. (No, it doesn’t make sense to me, either.) Note that he knows he will be sleeping with her, even though he’s only spoken a handful of words with her, due to that “connection” that they have. Yep, that’s not creepy.
4. He shows up at her house – without invitation, either overt or implied – three hours after the parking lot thing, and bangs on the door until she gets up. After laughing at how grumpy she is in the morning and making fun of her accent, he points out how little clothing she’s wearing. She “shrieks” and “slams the door in his face” so that she can run upstairs, brush her teeth, and put on clothes because, despite him just showing up at her house, she STILL thinks he’s SO hot. Meanwhile, good-ole Fletcher…
5. LETS HIMSELF INTO HER HOUSE!! Yes!! Her response?
“She could hear him puttering around down there, and oddly, she didn’t feel a bit of angst that he’d come on in, making himself at home in her kitchen.”
(Well, I do, you stupid woman! I do! What! The! Hell! Holy God! This woman is dumber than a bag of hair!)
She goes on to think to herself:
“She hadn’t paid any mind to the bag in his hand when she’d opened the door…” (That’s the bag he’s going to put your dismembered body in, you moron!) “…his body was too distracting to notice anything else, except that tool belt.” (I bet lots of serial killers have tool belts! There’s probably a Serial Killer Tool Belt club!)
blah blah blah (more blather about how hot he is)
“Her last boyfriend had cheated on her, and she’d had an inkling beforehand; her instincts were more attuned to trouble than she was. She wished she hadn’t had to go through all that drama, but it gave her confidence that this time, she was interested in a man who could be trusted.”
First of all, Miss Good Instincts didn’t have “an inkling beforehand” that said ex-boyfriend would cheat on her or else, hopefully, she wouldn’t have gone out with him to begin with. Her “inkling” happened as he was cheating her. So her “instincts” were just her subconscious picking up on the clues he was dropping when he was running around.
Ergo, all she really knows for sure about Fletcher is that he’s not cheating (raping/killing) on her in the present time. And considering that she isn’t the slightest bit concerned about this guy’s behavior, for no other reason than because he’s SOOOOOOOOOOO HAWT, I don’t find her “instincts” particularly trustworthy. In fact, I wouldn’t trust her instincts to tell me water was wet.
Look, given a good author, I don’t mind me some aggressive alpha-bullshit as long as there is an adequate pay off. I’ll even put up with an alphole hero, as long as he redeems himself with sufficient groveling, but this is some textbook stalker behavior here. Having the heroine pass it off as not only okay, but not even momentarily disconcerting, because the hero is really smokin’ hawt and her “instincts” aren’t “ringing her alarm bells”, makes her appear far too stupid to have ever survived this long out alone in the world.
Yes, I know – we see his narrative and while he’s a walking stereotype, he’s not going to rape or kill her but Tess’s character doesn’t know that! All she knows is what she’s seen and what he’s told her in the far-too-few moments that she’s actually spoken to him and he’s lying to her about who he is! (So, where’s those “good instincts” that she’s patting herself on the back for there?). I realize that there is a specific story here that the author is trying to tell but I’m not getting “bad-boy” Alpha and sassy heroine. I’m getting “creepy stalker/potential rapist hero” and “ridiculously stupid heroine”, which indicates a fairly epic fail in communication, at least for me.