Ms. Match was my first book by Jo Leigh, and cliche upon cliche, it won’t be my last. My experience with Harlequin’s Blaze line is largely hit-and-miss. I’ve followed it sporadically since the line’s inception (2004-ish?) and have cringed over the tepid sex-centered plots and characters who definitely were not “hip” (God I hate that word) or modern. Despite my so-so experience, I continue to give Blaze a chance because fun and sexy contemporary romances are difficult to come by. When Harlequin offered each Test Driver $25 to splurge on HQN titles, I went immediately to the Blaze’s, figuring that if I got burnt again, it was no skin off my nose—or my wallet.
Instead of buying Ms. Match from Sony’s bookstore I went to Harlequin’s ebook site to experiment with purchasing and downloading books directing from them. After fiddling around with other releases, the whole Adobe Digital Editions thing is a breeze, and five minutes later, I had Ms. Match on my Sony Reader. At its heart, Ms. Match is a “what’s on the inside counts” and Leigh skillfully manuevers through this theme without bludgeoning it to death.
This being a Harlequin, the hero is of course, a high-powered millionaire. Paul Bennet owns a public relations firm based in L.A. that scoops up the entertainment industry’s hottest clients. He is cool, sexy and intelligent—the perfect package, natch. He also has it easy with the ladies—except Autumn Christopher, a drop-dead gorgeous jetsetter who toys with his lust for her by not giving it up. She’s in Rome, teasing him over the phone, when she lays a challenge on him: take her plain younger sister Gwen to the family’s celebration of their parents’ fifty year anniversary. Paul figures being nice to the sister with the “nice personality” will give him an in to Autumn’s pants and agrees to this pity date.
The set-up occurs fairly early on in the book, which is what I like about category romances—none of that meandering to get to the plot. Gwen Christopher is plain and intelligent, but extremely likeable. I especially enjoyed how Leigh did not make Gwen to be this moody, wallflower with low self-esteem—she has a witty tongue and views her lack of blinding beauty with perspective. Granted, during the first half of the book Paul and Gwen’s perceptions of one another were a pain—he was incredulous that he could have such a great time with a plain woman, and she moped that whenever they went out everyone would wonder why they were together—but Leigh’s characterization lifted them out of irritating mundanity.
Now let’s get to the sex (I know that’s what you read romance for, haha). It was hot and dripping with sensuality. It was also realistic how they got into bed with one another—most books would have the two wringing their hands over their lust. The sports angle to the book didn’t add anything spectacular, though it did help to flesh out Gwen’s character and nudge Paul towards self-realization of his shallowness. What dropped Ms. Match to a B was the trite manner in which Leigh threw a wrench into Paul and Gwen’s relationship. Her gorgeous family was drawn in such broad caricature that I called Autumn’s reappearance at the worst time from page one. Ms. Match was fun and sexy, and a credit to the Blaze line. Now I’m going to be busy glomming Jo Leigh’s backlist!