April 2008, Series Romance
Harl Blaze #388, $4.99, 214 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373793928 Part of a series
I'd definitely classify Sex: Straight Up as a buried treasure. Why buried? Well, the title is more than a little embarrassing. I get that it's called that because the hero's family owns a bar, but still – you read it and think that the book is just about tawdry sex. Straight up. It's not, though; the characters are well-rounded, and there's definitely more than sex going on here.
Daniel O'Sullivan has always been the quiet brother. Unlike gregarious bar owner Gabe and flirtatious lawyer, Sean, Daniel is an accountant who is happy working with numbers. The other thing that sets him apart is that he never dates. His wife, also an accountant, died in the September 11th attacks, and though it's been seven years, he is sure he can never open his heart to another.
When Daniel's brothers strong-arm him into attending a week-end house party in the Hamptons, he meets Catherine Montefiore. She's an art appraiser working for her grandfather's auction house, and when she sees Daniel brooding alone on the beach, she simply can't wait to draw him. Though it's atypical for both of them, they end up spending the rest of the weekend together. It ends badly when Catherine spots Daniel's wedding ring and assumes that he is cheating on his wife. They part, thinking they'll never see each other again.
Of course, they see each other again. Damning e-mails surface that seem to indicate that the Montefiore auction house is conspiring with a competitor to artificially inflate commission structures. All evidence suggests that Catherine's grandfather is the one responsible. An independent auditor is called in, and naturally Daniel is on the team. At first, Catherine and Daniel successfully avoid each other (although she quickly finds out he is a widower rather than an adulterer). But of course, their strong chemistry keeps pulling them together. Initially, Catherine is okay with the no-strings-attached sex, but as their relationship grows, she knows she wants more. Daniel will need to come to terms with his wife's death before he can truly explore a relationship with Catherine. They will also need to discover the truth behind the shady commission practices.
Even from a brief summary, you can tell this is about much more than sex. Catherine and Daniel are tenderly drawn characters with realistic problems. Initially, I was afraid Daniel would be the brooding "why me" hero we've all seen a million times before. While he does struggle with the guilt involved in moving on, he's never a jerk, and he (thankfully) spends little time feeling sorry for himself.
Catherine has her issues too. She's an introvert working for charismatic, strong-willed family members, and she often struggles to live up to their expectations. And though it's not a major theme of the book, she also wrestles with body issues. One of Daniel's nice features is that he finds her irresistible, cupcake enhanced hips and all.
The accounting subplot is surprisingly fun and different. Its relative lack of glamour (compared to the legions of SEAL, covert something or other, and sheriff plots) is actually refreshing. Watching people solve a problem through numbers rather than guns has a lot of appeal.
It all adds up to a quick, enjoyable read. If you're a series fan, this is one not to miss. And if you only read series romances now and then, Sex: Straight Up is a good one to pick up...embarrassing title and all.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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