I loves me some romantic suspense; it's probably my favorite sub-genre of romance. The problem is, a lot of it isn't done well. It's hard to balance the competing tensions of “Omigod I'm gonna die” and “Omigod I think I'm love.” Helenkay Dimon nails it in Switched.
The book is a homage to the original Die Hard movie, which is just awesome. I've got a not-so-secret crush on John McClane, receding hairline and all. Switched opens up with Aaron McCain (McCain/McClane–I figured that out on my own!) working security for Lowell Craft, doucebag CEO extraordinaire. Lowell hired Aaron after receiving death threats, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to hurt him. I mean, he alienates his only child, invites his wife and his mistress to the same event, throws a shitty company Christmas party in lieu of bonuses or raises, and hosts the party in the middle of friggin nowhere because it's convenient for him. I'm assuming he also hangs out in the Wonder Assholes clubhouse with Michael Vick and John Edwards in his off hours and clubs baby seals for fun.
Lowell has chosen an isolated but brand new conference center for his Christmas party, and Aaron is on alert to make sure none of Lowell's disgruntled employees try to bludgeon him to death with a fruit cake. During the party Aaron notices two super scary looking dudes get into an elevator and it sets off his spidey senses, so he follows. On an unfinished floor of the building he finds a woman hiding from said super scary dudes.
Risa Peters is there scoping out the center for work function of her own when she runs into the thugs and scurries into a bathroom to get away from them. She's a little surprised to see Aaron because 1. he's in the ladies' room, hello? 2. they went out on a couple of dates and then he never called her back and 3. he just kicked the shit out of the scary dudes who have returned to kidnap her.
Aaron immediately realizes that the Bad Guys are there to abduct Lowell's mistress who looks a little like Risa, and chaos ensues. It's hard to describe the plot more fully than that without giving the story away, but Aaron and Risa are stuck in the conference center with some very bad people between them and the exit. Also someone probably is trying to kill Lowell and Aaron should go deal with that, but…eh.
Risa's immediate reaction to the whole debacle is holy shit and also, hey why didn't you call me back, asshole? Aaron trying to soothe Risa's hurt feelings while also saving the day made for some genuinely funny moments in the book. The truth is he really liked Risa, but the dangers associated with his job have torpedoed his past relationships. He wasn't even honest with her on their two dates; he told her he was a tax attorney. Aaron isn't willing to take the steps to move forward into a relationship, but Risa has her own trust issues too. Her ex left her with a boatload of debt and a single digit credit score, and she's trying to put her life together. All this while people are shooting at them.
Dimon pokes a little fun at the genre in a good natured way, which I loved:
“She suspected the churning in her chest was more like dread. 'I don't think I can kill anyone.'
'Even if they're coming at you?'
Forget being girlie. She wanted to live. 'I just squeeze the trigger, right?'” (Dimon 49).
Adding to the humor is the fact that Aaron's assistant, Royal (who I am choosing to believe is named for the delicious DQ sundae) is listening in on Risa giving Aaron shit for blowing her off. The banter between Royal and Aaron was great, so much so that I was sad Royal was married and likely won't get his own book.
Since they are trapped and in immediate danger, the speed with which Risa and Aaron begin forming a relationship is fairly compressed. The majority of the book takes place within a 48 hour time span. Still, I was able to believe that they start falling in love. Part of it was suspension of disbelief required by the romantic suspense genre (personally if someone is shooting at me I'm more likely to wee myself then think about falling into bed with anyone) and part of it was the adrenaline that both characters admit heightened their feelings for each other. Also given the dire nature of the situation, they are forced to work through their issues pretty damn quick or end up dead.
Dimon uses the kidnapping plot to move the romantic tension along and force her characters toward a resolution in their relationship. The fundamental conflict separating Risa and Aaron is that neither one is ready to trust. Without the whole kidnapping plot they would have forgotten about each other, but now they don't have the luxury of running away. Aaron wants to take control of the situation and rescue Risa, but he has to trust her to be able to help her. Risa is hurt by Aaron's prior rejection of her, but she has to forgive him long enough to make it out of the conference center alive.
The fact that Aaron and Risa's relationship is born out of the external suspense threatening them, not in spite of it, was a big plus for me.
Dimon also sums up the appeal of the action hero nicely:
“Even with the cut at the corner of his mouth and the faint hint of a bruise around his eye, he was the most handsome man she'd ever seen. She didn't know if that was objectively true, but when a guy threw his body on top of yours to save your life…well, was there anything sexier than that?” (Dimon 101).
Who can say no to a hot, banged up hero, humor and some pretty tight pacing? Yippee Ki-Yay, motherfucker.