Shaken and Stirred

Kathleen O'Reilly
March 2008, Series Romance
Harl Blaze #382, $4.99, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373793863
Part of a series

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Hot

I have to give Shaken and Stirred credit for one thing: It has one of the most believable plots I've ever seen in a Harlequin Blaze. All too often, the Blaze stock-in-trade seems to be an outlandish plot that exists solely to give the hero and heroine a reason to get hot and heavy. In this case, it's simply a hero and heroine who become roommates and get involved sexually before they've really thought about the ramifications. On the plus side, I had no trouble buying this scenario. The downside is that toward the end I became impatient while I waited for them to iron out all those messy details.

Tessa Hart made the mistake of trusting the wrong guy once, and all she has to show for it is his name - tattooed on her butt. When her relationship dissolved, she moved from Florida to New York, determined to make a new life for herself and prove her independence. Because she was so sure of her old relationship, she never bothered to complete her education or think about what career she might like. Four years later, she's still taking accounting classes and tending bar at Prime, dreaming of the days when she will own her own apartment. Unfortunately, she seems to be perpetually moving and looking for roommates. When she's stuck with no place to go yet again, her boss Gabe suggests that she move in with him as a temporary measure. He figures that he has an extra bedroom, and if she bunks with him for awhile she'll be able to search for a new roommate at her leisure. Initially, Tessa is dead set against this plan, but desperation forces her to take Gabe up on his offer.

Almost immediately, Gabe's brothers and some of the bar patrons start a betting pool on how long it will take Gabe and Tessa to have sex. Tessa cheerfully participates, entering a bet for "when hell freezes over." Silly Tessa, this is a Blaze! Naturally, they have sex almost immediately. Gabe entices Tessa to go a a party with him, she has a little too much to drink, one thing leads to another, and all their good intentions go out the window. But while both of them enjoy having sex, they aren't exactly sure what they want from each other once it's over. Matters are complicated by their long-standing friendship and work relationship, but the bigger issue is Tessa's uncertainty. Having been burned by a bad relationship, she is determined to avoid any serious commitment until she's proven that she can make it on her own. While Gabe wants to be patient with Tessa, he has trouble understanding why they should wait. Not only is he sure of his feelings for her; he's also mindful of his brother Daniel, who married the love of his life, only to lose her on 9-11, before they'd even celebrated their first anniversary.

While Tessa tries to come to terms with her feelings for Gabe, she has other important choices to make as well. After failing an important exam, she starts to think she's on the wrong track with her career choices. A chance meeting with a real estate agent awakens her to a new possibility, and she starts to think that perhaps her encyclopedic knowledge of New York apartment buildings might lead to a career that pays the bills. But how will Gabe fit in to her new life?

Well, it takes her quite a while to decide that, which is why I lost patience with her (and this book). We know that a relationship with Gabe is inevitable, not only because it's a romance with the requisite HEA, but because they are great friends who clearly have a steamy more-than-friends sex life. Not only is Gabe hot, he's kind and understanding. Would Tessa really let a guy like this get away? Of course not, but she does her level best to do that before she finally gives in. It's a short book, and I still lost patience with her endless hand-wringing. Though I liked the book quite a bit at the beginning, I felt my enthusiasm fading as it wore on.

That said, the reason I enjoyed it so much at first was that Tessa really seemed believable. Her failed relationship and struggle to define herself really humanize her, and her somewhat premature sexual involvement with Gabe provides both sexual tension and natural conflict. It probably sounds a little wishy-washy, but all I can say is that it works very well at first, until it all drags on for too long. So while Shaken and Stirred gets points for trying, in the end it doesn't quite make the grade.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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