Fast & Loose

Elizabeth Bevarly
April 2008, Contemporary Romance
Berkley Sensation, $7.99, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425220850

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

I don’t know if it is just simply a lack of really good historicals or the fact that I haven’t read all that many contemporary romances, but I really enjoy a simple, well written, romance set in the present day. Though it's not without flaws, Fast & Loose is just that: A simple, well-written contemporary romance.

Lulu Flannery, a Louisville glass artist, decides to rent out her house for two weeks to visitors coming into town for the Kentucky Derby. Though hesitant, the possibility of paying off her Home Depot bill convinces her that it’s the right decision. Leaving the realtor’s office, she has an unfortunate meeting with the legendary horse-trainer, Cole Early, and, when it appears that her house may be rented by the very same darling of the horse racing world, she is concerned.

While unimpressed with the façade of the rented home, Cole is strangely intrigued by the unnamed woman who owns it. To him, she is Delilah. From the care and interior, he knows that she is sensual and passionate in nature – the type of woman he can imagine being with and a place he could call home. At the same time, Cole finds himself strangely drawn to a local woman (he calls her Craggedy Ann) he met at the realtor’s and by chance at other times. Even though she’s the opposite of the women he normally dates, he decides she’ll be the perfect “buffer” between him and his fans.

For Lulu, Cole is a temptation she'd prefer to avoid; she wants a simple life without anything that could possibly bring attention to her outside the world of art. When Cole asks her to be his paid companion in order to hold fans at bay, she must consider what the position will do to her tightly controlled emotions and invisibility. When Cole discovers Lulu’s real identity as the homeowner, he puts on the charm, leaving her to calculate the risks to her heart and tightly constrained life.

What I most liked about this book were its secondary characters. I found myself rooting for the relationship between Bree, Lulu’s best friend, and a character named Rufus far more than that of the main couple. I felt more sympathy for Bree with her problems and concerns that seemed more real to me than Lulu's, while Rufus' actions toward her were more heroic - or at least romantic - than Cole's toward Lulu. It’s not that I didn’t like the main couple, but that I found their relationship less believable: Rich, famous horse trainer meets local, shy, normal-looking artist. The fact that they make life-altering decisions after only two weeks (love at first sight or not) was also less than believable.

My biggest complaints, however, are the fact that Cole is unaware of Lulu’s true identity until a little more than halfway into the book and, even though they meet early on in the story, the interaction between the couple is delayed longer than I like. Because of the delay, I felt that the resolution was rushed. Cole falls in love with the idea of Lulu and gets to know her through her surroundings and art, not Lulu herself.

However, for those seeking a solid contemporary romance that is engaging and light, Fast & Loose is certainly one to consider. You can feel Bevarly’s love for her Kentucky origins shining through in the descriptions of surroundings and in the story itself. For one who’s never been really interested in the Kentucky Derby, I’ll have to check it out this year – for the horses, the setting, and the people.

-- Heather Brooks

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