Once, long ago, I had a guy friend ask me out to dinner. Now, we were pretty much “just friends”, but I thought he was sweet and cute and I enjoyed his company, so I happily agreed to what sounded rather date-like (especially since he told me to dress “nice”). Off we went, with him telling me that where we were going was a “surprise”. Then we pulled up in front of a church. I asked him why we were stopping and he said he needed to run in really quick and asked if I would mind coming along. Once inside, as he was guiding me down an aisle to a pew, I realized that he’d tricked me into attending his Wednesday night church service. Surprise! And it wasn’t just any kind of church service—it was the type of church service where the entire front row knelt on the floor, swaying back and forth, yelling “Amen!” at random intervals the whole time! Towards the end of this two-hour long service, the pastor asked if there was anyone new to the church attending that evening. My former friend all but pushed me up out of the pew and a bunch of people I DID NOT KNOW started HUGGING me! (Why yes. I do have some personal space issues. Why do you ask?) Afterwards, as if he hadn’t just conned me into attending his church, he asked, “So, where do you want to eat dinner?”. The reason why I mention this story is because Shameless, by Tori Carrington (Lori and Tony Karayianni), is rather like that evening—I went into it thinking I was going to have sexy good time and, instead, I got conned into a morality lesson in the Old School vein that sometimes made me uncomfortable and a little creeped out.
(Be forewarned: SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Shameless is a Harlequin Blaze and is the second in the Best of Blaze 2008 compilation that I picked up at the Sony Bookstore. It opens with Nina Leonard, Kevin Weber, and Patrick Gauge, best friends and co-owners of a bookstore/music center/cafe in Fantasy, Michigan, sipping an after-closing-time coffee and talking about Nina’s love life, or lack thereof. It’s been six months since she broke up with her last boyfriend. She’s getting a little horny and it’s getting a little dangerous for any semi-attractive man to wander too close to her cafe. Her friends point out that this is her usual pattern—get horny, find a likely customer/candidate, make the ill-considered, hasty choice to sleep with him, and then, because she’s slept with him, be in a relationship with the guy until she can figure out how to extract herself from it. She ends up breaking the heart of some poor schlub and they, Kevin and Gauge (as he’s called since he’s a musician and apparently far too cool to be called Pat or Patrick), end up having to shoo her heartbroken stalkers from the stacks, all because she needed to get laid. At some point in this conversation, she also mentions that she’s thought of “dating” both of them at one time or the other. I put “dating” in quotation marks because so far, that seems to be the agreed upon euphemism for “screw like bunnies”. The conversation is also used as an opportunity—via an eavesdropping senior citizen—to introduce Nina’s grandmother, Gladys, who is apparently played by Sophia from the Golden Girls. But then, all grandmas in these books are played by Sophia lately. (I’ll give you a minute to imagine thinking of your own feisty grandma during a conversation about your sex life with two acknowledged hotties, even if they are your bestest of best friends.)
At this point, we get Kevin’s point of view. He wants her. He longs for her. He pines for her from afar. He knows everything about her, from her favorite color to her preference for white cotton underpants (and that’s notcreepy, huh?). However, does he admit that he’s fantasized about her when asked directly? Of course not. Instead, when she asks him if he’s ever thought about sleeping with her:
“I’d better go take care of the last customer,” Kevin said in lieu of answering the question.
Meanwhile, during all this talk of fantasies and such, Gauge is strumming his guitar and thinking about how this is the longest he’s ever lived anywhere because Papa was a rollin’ stone and wherever he laid his hat was his home. Thus Gauge was born a ramblin’ man. Because, really—who doesn’t think about their backstory while talking sex and fantasies with a hot blonde? Apparently Gauge can multi-task, however, because when Kevin returns, Gauge presents a solution to Nina’s problem:
“Hey, Nina, why don’t you let Kev and I arrange that night of hot, anonymous sex you said you were looking for?”
Kevin all but falls into a prudish faint but Nina is intrigued. She takes pains in her inner dialogue to stress that she is only intrigued because “the last thing on earth [she] wanted was to be predictable”. (Really? That’s the excuse they’re going with?) She asks what exactly Gauge means by his statement. He reiterates that she needs to get laid and that Kevin and he can help her. Now she asks the question that we all want to know:
“How did you convince Harlequin to let you write a threesome story? I know that there is no way that you could have bent the laws of the Universe quite that much and that this is all a tease, but, hey, did you actually convince them?” (Well, it’s close to that, anyway…)
Both Kevin and Nina dither for a moment or two. Then Kevin tells Gauge that it’s the most asinine idea he’s ever heard and then reads from the initial rejection letter that this story must have received, “While pop culture may have become more pornified in the past decade, that’s way crossing the line for most people.”
Gauge concedes the point, but insists that he can come up with a better plan.
Kevin is having a meltdown, but Nina is all, “Hold on, Kev. Let’s see where he’s going with this.”
So, Gauge comes up with The Plan. Sex with someone completely anonymous, no names allowed. Kevin has more vapors. Nina has more interest. Blindfolds are mentioned. Kevin hyperventilates. Nina, who apparently has a limited vocabulary and doesn’t understand the word, “anonymous”, asks if the man will be one of them. Gauge tells her that if it is, she’ll never know.
Nina contemplates the idea for a few chapters and stares at the guys a lot and thinks about her sexy dreams of all of them together (but never actually describes them) and that time in Kevin’s parents’ pool when they rubbed up against her and she flashed them and nothing happened. She spends time with Gladys, who got around back in Detroit in the Motown era and still gets around on a regular basis and who sexually speculates about both Kevin and Gauge to Nina. (And isn’t that the lunchtime conversation you want to have about your male friends with your Grandma—especially in public?) However, since Grandma is played by Sophia, it’s played as funny instead of gross or a sign of incipient Alzheimer’s.
Of course, we all know that Nina decides to go through with this. Incredibly, she actually does agree to leave her door unlocked and wait, kneeling on her bed, naked and blindfolded, for some guy to come and sex her up. (And doesn’t that sound like the beginning to a really melodramatic movie where the poor, unpopular girl thinks the star quarterback is going to come to her room and she is, instead, humiliated by the popular kids, who point and laugh and then send the video of it to all their friends on their cell phones?) We also know that the mysterious man has to be either Kevin or Gauge because it couldn’t be anyone else, right? Of course, the sex is so mind-blowingly awesome that Nina can’t stop thinking about it, so she badgers the guys about which one it was. Of course, neither of them will tell. Of course, she then decides that she knows which one it had to be and she seduces the Wrong One, just to have the Right One walk in on them. Of course, Gladys had a heart attack that same night and no one could get in touch with Nina, which was why the Right One came looking for her and walked in at such an inopportune moment. (And, you know the reason that the heart attack happened was because Nina seduced the Wrong One and, thus, had sex with two different men in the same book! And enjoyed it! Nina’s lucky Gladys’s heart didn’t just explode!)
This leads to chapters of angst and heartache and, eventually, Nina grovels enough and wins the Right One and they have unprotected sex because she “wants…needs to feel [him]…” and if she gets pregnant, she “can’t think of anyone’s baby [she’d] love to have more”. (Okay, I’m queasy now.) Nina becomes the subservient little girlfriend who happily defers to him at the business because the Wrong One has left town, leaving a power of attorney behind and she doesn’t want to provoke the Right One by mentioning the other’s name. They decide to get married, lickety-split, and Nina secretly invites the Wrong One to the wedding and the two guys hug and make up and rainbows form and unicorns carry the bride’s train and an angelic chorus sings her down the aisle.
This story really pisses me off! When I first finished it, I was just annoyed at the ending, but the more I contemplate it, the more it bugs the ever-loving crap out of me!
Oh, Shameless! How I dislike you! Let me count the ways:
The info dump in the opening is annoying and detracts from the mood that the author(s) are trying to build.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m sitting around, flirting and tossing around sexual innuendo, I never once think about my grandmother and her wild life as a Motown groupie. Nor do I contemplate how my relationship with my father might have influenced my life choices.
Please don’t use a celebrity to explain how your hero looks.
Kevin looks like Hugh Jackman (thanks for completely ruining Wolverine for me, by the way—really appreciate it!) and Gauge looks like John Mayer. Frankly, I cannot stand John Mayer! As soon as I read that piece of information, it became one of those “Don’t think about a pink elephant” moments and, try as I might, I couldn’t stop myself from picturing Mayer whenever I read anything about Gauge. It was off-putting.
Both of the guys were treated as The Hero until mid-way through the book. Both of them have sections written from their point-of-view, for instance. Be forewarned…Until now, I’ve made a point of not revealing which one ended up being The Hero with the HEA so that I didn’t completely spoil the entire book. However, I cannot explain exactly why I don’t like these guys without revealing that information. Read further at your own discretion.
Kevin: I REALLY DON’T LIKE THIS GUY. REALLY REALLY REALLY! First, Kevin doesn’t even hint to Nina about how he feels. He’s so good at hiding his interest, in fact, that Nina has tried to set him up with her friends and has seriously asked if he were gay. From the beginning, he complains about Gauge suggesting The Plan and gets angry and storms about and makes it clear to all and sundry, including Nina, that this is a Very Bad Idea. He later claims that he was always worried that The Plan would destroy “the very framework of the friendship between the three of [them]”. Yet he still steps up and is the one to have the Awesome Blindfold Sexxx with her. He later thinks to himself that he did it because “a part of him had believed their one night together would assuage the desire he’d always harbored for her”.
So let me get this straight…
He’s her best friend. He’s always wanted her but tells himself that he is sublimating it to preserve that friendship. But given the opportunity to “assuage his desire” in a way that will allow him to risk absolutely nothing emotionally—to essentially take what he wants without even giving back his name, he’ll take the chance of “destroying the very framework of their friendship”. (Now that’s heroic!) And after the night of Awesome Blindfold Sexxx, when Nina’s all aglow and wanting to know who it was so they can be together again, first he hides from her and avoids her. Then, he not only refuses to tell her—because he’s afraid that Nina might want to dump him at some future date and he just couldn’t bear it—he smacks back at her, verbally, with that “destroying the framework of their friendship” line with the inference being that the destruction will be because of her persistence. (Emotional abuse is sooo sexy!) And when, due to his own behavior, Nina guesses wrong and thinks it was Gauge and seduces him, Kevin is furious at her for not realizing how he felt about her. He responds to her “betrayal” by first lashing out verbally and then by refusing to speak to either of them—even when it’s about the business they own together—and acting like he can’t even see them standing there. He does this in front of their employees. (Passive-aggressive assholery is sooooooo hot!)
After all, how could Nina not know that it was him that night??? Just because he spent the first four chapters or so making it clear he was far too superior to ever entertain the idea of Awesome Blindfold Sexxx and just because he never told her that he was interested in her and just because he wouldn’t even answer a direct question from her about whether or not he was even attracted to her, either before or after the Awesome Blindfold Sexxx, HOW COULD SHE NOT KNOW??? Obviously, she needs to be punished! And he does punish her, first with the silent treatment and then with “punishing” kisses and gripping her arms so hard it leaves marks and taking her with no foreplay, hard, against the wall. His internal dialogue makes it clear that he needs to hurt her because he needs to give her some of his pain and “heal them both”. (And I thought I was queasy before.) So, he goes from a wuss to a passive-aggressive, emotionally-stunted jerk to an aggressive-aggressive asshat. MY HERO!
(Note: I concede that I don’t understand how she couldn’t have known that she had guessed wrong about which of them gave her the Awesome Blindfold Sexxx the first time she kissed Gauge, let alone when anything else happened, since I’ve never met two people who kiss alike or smell alike or taste alike. And these guys aren’t body doubles, so their hair would be different and their arms would feel different, etc etc. However, I believe her lack of mental acuity was established when she agreed to this asinine plan. I also stand by my assertion that if the girl pleads with the boy to tell her whether or not it was him because she wants another night and his response is to tell her that she will “destroy the framework of their friendship” if she doesn’t quit asking, he has no leg to stand on later if she is with someone else.)
Gauge: While my dislike isn’t nearly as virulent with Gauge as it is with Kevin, I’m not very fond of this guy either. First, there’s this whole Iago-like speech that he gives Kevin that is completely illogical.
”…we’ve talked about this. We knew she’d try to alter the deal. It’s just the way she’s made. And it’s the entire reason we came up with this to begin with. I mean, if she were capable of rational decisions once she slept with a guy, then we would never have proposed what we did.”
Supposedly, the whole reason for The Plan was because Nina makes ill-informed decisions about guys that she doesn’t know while sexually-frustrated. Now the reason for The Plan is because her brain turns to mush when she is sexually-satisfied? Not that the first part isn’t insulting enough, but wuh? Consistency much? Second, while Nina didn’t know that Kevin had it bad for her, Gauge surely did. He knew that and slept with Nina anyway, knowing that she thought that he was the one that had come to her room. Therefore, if anyone is guilty of betrayal, it’s obviously Gauge who betrayed them both. Finally, afterwards, when the shit hits the fan, Gauge runs off in the middle of the night with his guitar in hand and leaves Nina to face Pissy!Kevin all alone after she’s already spent several days in the hospital by her grandmother’s side. What a guy! Good thing these guys were her very best friends, eh?
Frankly, I came away with the feeling that both of them kind of set her up.
Speaking of which, for a book called Shameless, the heroine spends a hell of a lot of time feeling ashamed.
The author(s) have Nina ask in the very first line:
“In this day and age, is it bad for a woman to yearn for some good, hot, anonymous sex?”
Given how the story turns out, I’d have to say, “Yes, apparently so.”
She’s stalked by ex-boyfriends and that’s taken as a matter of course, as opposed to something creepy and potentially dangerous. Her so-called best friends both have sex with her—one thinking that he’s never going to have to admit that he did it and the other more than willing to reap the benefits of mistaken identity but she’s the one that is punished emotionally and physically and she accepts it as her due. For instance, after Kevin fucks her very roughly to punish her for what are, essentially, his own failings, she finds that:
Kevin’s cold, hard lovemaking had left her a willing victim to his selfish desires, yet an equal participant as a shadowy side of herself responded to his rough attentions, as if perhaps believing she was deserving of his punishment.
Obviously, the same old stereotype is in play—it’s okay for the hero to be sexually experienced but if the heroine is, she must be brought back to the “proper” path. She has to be “healed” (to take a word from Kevin) because Nina’s grandmother, Gladys, is Nina’s future if she doesn’t do so—in her 70s, still single and chasing after men, not respected by her own daughter, and did I mention still single? Gladys has her heart attack while sitting in a restaurant, but Nina actually tells her that if she’d spent less time chasing after men and having sex, she might not have collapsed! Nina then thinks to herself that if she hadn’t lived like her grandmother, she wouldn’t be going through what she’s going through and neither would her grandmother. That is the lesson you’re supposed to take away from this—it is very much a bad thing for a woman to “yearn for some good, hot, anonymous sex”. If you do, you, too, will be struck down by God/the universe/fate/whatever when you least expect it—like, with a heart attack while sitting in a restaurant—after living a long, lonely life of meaningless sex.
I don’t believe the HEA.
He’s a guy who expects her to know his deepest feelings, even if he does all he can to hide them from her, and then blames her for not knowing. He’s a guy who’s willing to say shitty things to make her back off of things he doesn’t want to talk about. He’s a guy who’s willing to hurt her, physically and emotionally, to make her share his pain to “heal them both”. She is then the one who begs for forgiveness and there is not one word that indicates that he should apologize, also. Ain’t no way a happy ending is coming out of that. I especially don’t believe that over-the-top tripe where Nina has unprotected sex with Kevin because she would love to have his baby, presumably as soon as possible, defers to all his wishes at their business, and marries him within weeks in front of the hot bad boy that she threw over for him. Frankly, it sounds like some fantasy that Kevin spun up while pouting alone in his room.
For me, a book has to be all but unreadable—either so incredibly awful that I can’t finish it or full of proofing errors and typos—to get an F. Even though I didn’t like this book due to the issues I listed, the first two sex scenes were pretty hot and the writing isn’t that bad, stylistically speaking, even with the initial info dump. Therefore, my grade is a D-.