Every now and again I get irate email from readers who are absolutely hair-pulling livid about a book they just read. We romance readers take our book reading very personally, and if a book doesn’t live up to the expectations of a reader in the most basic of ways, there is fury like furies have never furied before. This is especially true when there’s infidelity, moral weakness, or a completely unhappy ending. Nina is PISSED about this book. She is IRATE. And she has a LOT to say about it. Behold: A Guest Rant Review.
This book made me sick. And not only because the heroine of the story cheats on the hero, but because she’s cheating on a man who’s risking his life in a dangerous, scary place thousands of miles from home.
Don’t get me wrong— I’m not saying that infidelity can’t be addressed in an entertaining and intelligent way. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s treated in Tori Carrington’s Reckless Pleasures.
Now this isn’t the first Harlequin Blaze I’ve read that featured a woman who cheats on her boyfriend. It’s not even the first time Tori Carrington has dealt with this—see Reckless.
In Reckless an engaged woman sexes up her fiance’s best friend—because their sexual attraction is so strong, you see. But really it’s not so bad because her fiancé was actually cheating on her before she started cheating on him (she doesn’t find this out until the end of the book, though the best friend knew all along).
In some ways Reckless Pleasures is a rehash of plain ol’ Reckless. We have the woman (Megan), the man she loves (Darius or Dari), and his best friend (Jason). But this story kicks it up a notch. All three are Marines, though Megan and Jason have retired. Jason, Megan and some fellow ex-servicemen have formed Lazarus Security and soon become involved in searching for a missing child in Florida. This is the backdrop and non-romance subplot to the story, but frankly I was too distracted by the horrible behavior of two of the main characters to much care.
Dari is a reservist who has been called up to serve eighteen months in Waziristan. Jason, being the good buddy he is, promises to look after Megan while her guy is away. Trouble is, he’s attracted to Megan and perhaps secretly a bit in love with her (you saw that coming, right?). Oh, did I forget to mention he’s survived a terrible childhood? We’re not given much detail about this, but we’re sure to find out in an upcoming installment of the “Pleasure Seekers” series. Looks like Jason is sizing up to become the “hero” of another book.
In addition to being something of a replay of “Reckless”, this book has elements of Carrington’s “Shameless” as well. Jason, like Gauge, had a shitty childhood and can’t connect emotionally. He doesn’t let much—even bad orthodontia—get in the way when he wants some sexin’. Megan is like ditzy Nina. She can’t deal honestly with the fact that she has the hots for two men and has to invent excuses why it’s okay to sleep with both of them. And Darius, well, I won’t say he’s like Kevin. He’s not the passive-aggressive wimp that Kevin was. In “Shameless” Kevin imagined he was the wronged party, even though he never had the guts to admit his feelings to Nina. In “Reckless Pleasures”, Dari really is the wronged party.
So, even though Darius is his best (possibly only) friend, and Jason’s so hot he can have any woman he wants, he has to fixate on his buddy’s girl. And Megan is not completely unaware of Jason’s charms, either. After all, her guy has been gone four months and even though they’ve been talking and sexting, hey, she’s only human. It’s been a week or so since she’s received any calls or texts, so you’d think she’d be scared shitless for her man’s safety instead of thinking “me so horny”, but what do I know?
Now I do not mean to make light of women and men missing their loved ones serving overseas. And I can certainly sympathize with someone being lonely and horny due to such a separation, but come on. The guy’s been gone four months, not four years. Why not just break out the vibrator? But that’s not good enough for our heroine, so here’s what happens next: Jason proposes he and Megan have “just sex” and she agrees! You see, it makes perfect sense—since they’re not in love, it’s not a threat to Megan and Dari’s relationship. And since Jason is Dari’s best friend, it’s like he’s helping them out, see? Yeah. Whatever.
“No one needs to know,” he said quietly. “Just you and me. And it will only be once.”
The unsaid word hung there.
Yep. Jason won’t mind going again if the chance arises. And since Megan is not exactly a fortress, you have to wonder how often they’ll comfort each other if Dari is gone the entire eighteen months.
Anyway, to make it less intimate, they agree no kissing. In fact, they won’t even face each other while they do the nasty.
This is the point where the reader might ask herself “This is a romance I’m reading?” It’s also the point where she might decide to stuff the book in the shredder. Not only are these people cheating on a man who is risking his life for his country, they have convinced themselves it’s okay because they’re using each other like fucktoys.
However, if you’re sick like me, you keep reading because you have to find out what happens next. Is it possible that Jason and Megan will end up together?
That’s part of the problem with the story. Just who the hell is the hero, anyway? Ostensibly, it’s Darius, but he’s absent the first seven chapters of the book. Asswipe Jason gets as much or more attention. I’m not even sure which guy is getting his shirt pulled on the cover. Is it Dari or Jason? It’s pretty sad if the hero can’t even make the cover of his own book.
So Jason and Megan do the deed and all is well until later that day when they both get the message that Dari is returning home. Megan starts getting the guilts and Jason tries to tell her no big thing.
But very big thing, because Dari returns with his leg in a cast after being injured by an IED—improvised explosive device. He’s in physical pain and dealing with horrible memories of what he experienced. Megan gets a double dose of the guilts.
If you haven’t shredded the book yet, this is where you’re again tempted to do so. Why were the characters okay with cheating when they thought Dari would be gone longer? Did they think the episode would just fade away and they’d forget about it?
And of course there’s the whole conundrum created by infidelity: to confess or keep your big mouth shut? If you say nothing, it’s a lie of omission and there’s always that secret between you and your partner. But spill your guts and you’re just unloading the guilt at someone else’s expense. Not to mention you risk getting your ass dumped.
She pushed from the table and paced. “This…You and I just talking like this feels like a betrayal.”
“We didn’t betray him.”
“How can you say that? Of course we betrayed him!”
“Now you’re just talking stupid.”
She’d never seen Jason so upset before. At least not with her.
“It was sex, nothing more.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m going to tell him. I have no other choice. Not now that he knows something’s wrong.”
Well, Dari’s not stupid. He knows something’s up, considering Megan can’t look him in the eye. But Jason starts to lose it:
“Damn it! Don’t I have a say in the matter?”
He paced across the room and then back again, looking like a caged animal desperate to escape.
When Megan starts to leave the room, Jason grabs her arm.
He took a deep breath and released her. “Sorry.”
She didn’t say anything.
“I just don’t understand how telling him is going to make anything better.”
“It will clear my conscience.”
“And rip his heart clean out of his chest.”
She winced at that.
The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Dari. But she couldn’t keep this from him any longer.
“Look,” Jason said quietly, “he’s the best friend I’ve ever had. My only true friend, if you want to know the truth. If you tell him…”
Arghh! God, how I hate these people! They’re only thinking about themselves. But that’s why cheating sucks so royally. Once it’s done, you’re an asshole, and there’s no way out of it without becoming an even bigger asshole.
Of course, Dari learns the truth and it all goes to hell. Here are his choices: dump Megan’s ass and look like a hard-hearted SOB or take her back and look like a wimp. Another reason why cheating sucks. Not only does it turn the participants into assholes, it places the injured party in a no-win situation. (Think Silda Spitzer and the wives of all those other politicians who got caught with their pants down.)
The fallout: Megan is sorry and still loves Dari. She and Jason, both guilt-ridden, studiously avoid each other until we reach this cringe-inducing scene where Jason apologizes:
Megan ultimately shook her head. “Apology not accepted.”
She turned to walk away and he lightly grasped her arm.
“I’ve already lost one goddamn friend over this. I don’t want to lose another.”
She smiled. “You’re not. Losing a second friend, that is. I don’t accept your apology because you have nothing to be sorry for.”
He stared at her as if unsure she was telling the truth.
“Seriously,” she added.
“So what you’re telling me is that this is the first time I’ve apologized to a woman in my life, and there was no reason to…”
How sweet, they’re still friends. Though Jason is no more responsible for the affair than Megan, this whole scene makes me want to puke.
Just when you think Jason can’t be any more of a creep, there’s this scene, when he shows up at Dari’s apartment:
Jason advanced on him. Only this time, he was clear-eyed and determined, whereas in Florida, he’d been suffering a hangover. “Will you climb down off the cross already? We need the freakin’ wood.”
Dari wanted to hit him so badly his knuckles itched.
“What happened was unfortunate. It wasn’t a purposeful crime against you or anyone else.” His onetime friend seemed to have a death wish. “God, are you so stupid you can’t see how much the woman loves you?”
Dari opened his mouth to respond.
“I know what happened was wrong. Hell, we all do. But we can’t take it back. But we can move forward.”
Jesus, I can’t stand this guy! He won’t even let his friend grieve—no, he has to make stupid remarks and hound him so that everything can be the way it was.
Dari, who’s always had a grudge against his mother because of her infidelities, has a talk with his father and learns a family secret. He also learns that “Love isn’t about who you can live with, it’s about who you can’t live without.” (That must rank up there with “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”) In any event, this enables him to forgive Megan, though he knows it will be a long time before he can forget.
This would all be some long-ago, faded memory, a wound that had healed but left a scar behind as substantial as the one on his leg. But just as he would push forward and not let his physical injuries impede his progress, he didn’t intend to let this emotional one keep him down.
Makes me want to cry. Darius has to soldier on, wounded physically and emotionally, while the other two merely have to wrestle with a few icky feelings.
In the end even Jason the jerk is accepted back into the fold. This is your “happy ending,” folks.
Oh, by the way, there’s a bit of a twist in the subplot, but it didn’t ring true to me. In a community where a child has vanished, wouldn’t people be hyper-vigilant and suspicious of that “harmless” guy who attracts kids like the Pied Piper?
But the book was not a total loss. It really got me thinking. How do people in the military and their partners deal with such long and difficult separations? (Better than Megan did, I’m sure.) They have my utmost respect.
And I was inspired to look up Waziristan on the internet. So I learned something.
But maybe I’m too hard on the characters. Am I just a judgmental bitch? After all, people get lonely. They make mistakes. Isn’t forgiveness possible? Well, of course. And so is growth, maturity and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Otherwise, you’re just another guest on Jerry Springer.
Megan for the most part is sorry for the affair (although the orgasm Jason gave her was “exactly what she needed at the time.”) So all right, I guess I could accept Dari forgiving her. I don’t expect her to follow in the footsteps of other famous heroines and wear a scarlet letter or take poison or throw herself in front of a train.
But no way can I accept Dari forgiving Jason.
We’re told over and over how tough Jason is, how smart and sexy. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a total fucking coward and a great big pussy. He was only sorry he got caught and after he got caught he behaved like a complete ass. I hated his guts.
In fact, I’d like to throw him in front of a train.