Make It Hot

Gwyneth Bolton
September 2008, Series Romance
Harlequin Kimani, $5.99, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373860838
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Hot

The second installment to the Hightower Servicemen series, Make It Hot, is a nice, sweet read. Sweet in terms of the relationship dynamics, not the love scenes; those were as hot as the title.

Joel Hightower is a fireman and is proud to continue the generational tradition of Hightower men following the service careers of police officers or fire fighters. At his brother Jason’s wedding (Jason was featured in the first installment, Protect and Serve), Joel gets called away to a serious situation. In the melee of an out of control fire, he falls through some floors of a building and is feared to be paralyzed.

Samantha Dash is a physical therapist and is at the hospital when Joel is rushed in. Like all the other bystanders, she is curious about the patient that has come in with an entourage of anxious firemen and a devastated wedding party. At home, when his accident makes the news and he gets the usual character validation given out to heroes by the media (great guy, perfect son, perfect brother, society won’t be the same without him etc), Sammi finds herself falling for nothing more than a smiling picture and a lionized personality.

Over the course of Joel’s many surgeries and convalescence period, she keeps him in her thoughts, but they never meet until the first day of his appointment as her patient. Joel has been told by his doctors that it is possible he may never be able to fight fires again and the threat of this impinges on his sense of self and his pride as a man. He is in an understandably funky mood when he arrives at the physical therapist’s office and has to wait for a busy Samantha to show up.

Their first meeting is characterized by rudeness on both ends. Joel’s because he’s dealing with a life crisis and lashes out at the nearest available party; Samantha’s because she’s upset that he’s not the funny, light-hearted man her imagination made him out to be. (I’m so sorry Samantha, having your livelihood taken away from you can do that to a person. If he’d known you’d been mooning over an idealized version of himself, I’m sure he would have forgotten his own real issues and kept your dream alive!)

Thankfully, Samantha realizes how unfair (and unprofessional) she’s behaving and they continue their relationship on a more even keel. She can’t help being less reserved around him, but not only does he not seem to mind, he seems to like it. She enjoys this opportunity to speak her mind – and engage in spirited debate – without fear of reprisal. Sammi’s father was a policeman who died off-duty while a store was being robbed. Her mother has never gotten over this and has spent seventeen years drunk, erratic and often nasty to her only child. Samantha moved from Chicago to New Jersey because of this and is enjoying the freedom from her mother.

At the start of the story, we read that Samantha is a serial dater and has yet to find anyone she cares about enough to get serious with. She wants an intelligent, caring man but also one without a harmful job like that of her father. Given this set up, the conflict is an obvious one; Joel feels his life’s purpose is to fight fires, and Samantha never wants to fall in love with someone whose life is always on the line.

Bolton spends more time dealing with Joel’s issues than Samantha’s, though I felt they were each equally deserving of significant development. What she does develop is well done, however. Joel’s struggles to find himself a life purpose beyond fire fighting are touching and Samantha’s eventual acceptance of a life of love – even with the threat of heartbreak – is also emotional.

The book has some light, funny moments which come through internal musings as well as through dialogue. They aren’t laugh out loud, but more than enough to put a smile on your face. My favorite character from the previous novel, Carla, steals all the scenes she deigns to appear in (“This party is boring. Y’all ain’t got no music?”) and Bolton delved a little further into the workings behind the family nuisance, an obnoxious Aunt Sophie, which ties into the romance of parents Celia and James Hightower. Perhaps a ‘flashback romance’ is in the works.

There were three things I didn’t like about Make It Hot, most of which are problems in a lot of romance novels. Firstly, I don’t need to know what the heroine is wearing all the time. Secondly, these modern men with overbearing, possessive personalities – and the women who don’t seem to care beyond the obligatory but insincere denial – can get real old, real quick. This is Joel’s response to Samantha’s worries that she is dating a patient:

“You’re going to have to get over that, Little Miss Spitfire. Because, I mean to make you mine...”

I seem to only tolerate characters claiming their partners when in the throes of hot sex, or one has just saved the other from either Death or the Wrong Person For Them. Not when they’re dead sober and no adrenaline is pumping.

And finally, the epilogue was basically the prologue of the next installment in the series. But really, save it for The Laws of Desire. Though still interested in Joel and Samantha, I was forced to turn my mind over to the next romance before I was ready to be so turned. I like those cutesy epilogues with descriptions of children who have their father’s eyes and their mother’s ready wit (or whatever) and I like aawwing over declarations of love after X many years of happy marriage. I don’t like advertisements for other books which is the sum total of this epilogue.

Despite those three negatives, I very much enjoyed Make It Hot and I’ve forgiven Lawrence Hightower for his take-over of the epilogue. I’ll be reading his story next.

-- Abi Bishop

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