The Italian Tycoon's Mistress

Cathy Williams
July 2008 reissue of 2004 release, Series Romance
Harl Presents Extra #13, $4.75, 192 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373823592

Grade: D+
Sensuality: Warm

Cathy Williams is my favorite Harlequin Presents author, a guilty pleasure mostly because she appeals to the junior high schooler deep inside that I should have left behind thirty years ago. Her books are anything but subtle and my favorites to date are The Greek Tycoon's Secret Child, Riccardo's Secret Child, and Rich Man's Mistress. The Italian Tycoon's Mistress is noticeably missing from that list, and in fact, I didn't like it at all. The lead characters constantly antagonize each other and that they could ever live happily ever after is something my brain cannot imagine.

Rocco Losi, a New York-based businessman, is in England as a result of his estranged father's ill health. If he's going to look after the old man's business concerns, he's going to bring them up to his standards, and that means construction projects benefiting the community while not contributing to the bottom line can no longer be standard operating procedure. This position puts him in direct opposition to Amy Hogan, who runs the pro bono arm of his father's company.

Amy's worked for Losi Construction since her teens and makes up for her lack of a university degree through hard work and her ability to bring people - both in the company and the community - together. She loves Antonio Rosi and cannot fathom why his son despises him.

The two are clearly at odds, but there's that whole chemistry thing, even if Amy is dating Sam, a local community organizer who distrusts people with money. As fond as she is of him, she doesn't feel the same sort of passion for him that Rocco engenders. When Sam proposes, she plans to turn him down, but Rocco, in his jealousy, interrupts their evening. And later, when he inexplicably appears at her front door claiming a headache, she must confront the actual, physical passion that flares between them. Multiple orgasms ensue, but there is no afterglow since Amy tells him the experience was nothing more than rebound sex because she's convinced Rocco slept with her simply to prove a point.

On its face, there's nothing about this plot line that is worse than those of other books I've liked by Williams. All of her novels feature incredibly arrogant, mega-rich heroes who ooze sex appeal while her heroines are generally feisty, not-nearly-as-gorgeous working-class women whose lives are upended after their heroes come onto the scene. So why did I definitely not like this particular book?

It's a combination of factors. The story's business aspect, prominent through much of the book, was never fully explained. Further, I haven't a clue what precisely Amy did on a day to day basis and, given how critical her job was to her, this was a major problem. As for the characters, Rocco wasn't necessarily any more of an alpha ass than other Williams' heroes, but Amy's feisty spunkiness went completely over the top. She always seemed to yell at Rocco rather than speak to him, which made little sense given her general ability to mediate between people. And her jumping to the conclusion that he slept with her to make a point didn't verge on tstl thinking...it crossed the line and left it behind.

Cathy Williams remains a major guilty pleasure for me. After an extensive buy-glom a few years ago, I've got much of her backlist still tbr. But as a result of my reaction to The Italian Tycoon's Mistress, I can't say when I'll pick her up again. When I am ready to give her a try, I hope the book won't derail as this one did.

-- Laurie Likes Books

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