June 2008, Series Romance
Harl Presents #2737, $4.75, 192 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373127375
I usually avoid the Harlequin Presents romances at the bookstore because the titles make me cringe, which means I would have missed Natalie Anderson's His Mistress by Arrangement and that would have been a shame, for I really liked the way the author told the story. In the future, I will have to remind myself "not to judge a book by its title" because I don't know what I may be missing.
Emma is an accountant with an hotel chain. All her life she has worked hard to please first her father's high expectations, and now her boss'. When she overhears some of her staff gossiping, she learns they view her as a slave driver and ice princess. Emma doesn't mind the workaholic assessment because it's true, but the other stings - also because it is true. Having to face the gossips at an office gathering, she is more unsure of herself than usual. Then she runs into Jake Rendel.
When they were younger, Jake was a neighbor. In order to help his mother and invalid sister, he quit school at a young age to work. Despite warnings that he was throwing his life away, he succeeds beyond expectations, and is now the head of a construction company, the same company contracted to do some renovations at Emma's hotel. They run into each other, and he's happy to see her. After a hello kiss that tingles her toes, Emma tells him about the gossip she overheard, and Jake agrees to help her gain a sexier reputation. What starts out as a game of pretend romance soon turns into a full-fledged affair. Both parties know that Jake is only in town until the renovations are complete, and each pretends that it is a casual fling, but they are fighting their deepening feelings.
Jake is a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of his passion for Emma. He is a man who fixes thing, both by nature and career. He is also weary of commitment, not wanting to take on more of the responsibilities that drove him so hard when he was younger. Emma's passion before Jake was reserved solely for her paintings. She views her art as nothing more than a hobby but Jake sees something greater in her work and cannot understand her desire to keep it hidden. The awakening of Emma's newfound passions is very well handled. The love scenes are well done, and even though the author describes a weekend of lovemaking, it is not overkill for there is a nice balance between the romance and sex.
I found both Emma and Jake to be interesting characters. The author allows the story to center around them, so the secondary characters are not as well developed - but they don't really need to be. The story is set in New Zealand, and I learned some Kiwi slang when reading it; "stuffed up" means "goofed up" (I hope I am translating correctly). So, even though I feel the title was stuffed up, the story is well worth the read.
-- Carolyn Esau
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