Here are the things I want in a contemporary romance: A hot hero who genuinely cares for the heroine, a strong heroine who can hold her own in the bedroom and beyond, and a storyline that doesn't make me think I'd be better off folding laundry. Sultry with a Twist has all of these components. It also has funny as hell dialogue, and, surprisingly enough, it makes small-town Texas seem awfully appealing.
In Macy Beckett's debut novel, our hot hero is Luke Gallagher, an ex-military man who's now doing construction and good works in his hometown of Sultry Springs, Texas. He doesn’t believe in love — he’s divorced and his mama abandoned him when he was twelve — but he sure does believe in lust. So when the girl of his teenage erotic dreams returns to town, he can’t stop thinking about getting her out of her clothes and into his bed. However, this girl isn’t just any girl — she was once his best friend and he’s already broken her heart once. He tells himself to keep his hands, lips, arms, etc… to himself but it’s rough going.
The strong heroine in Sultry with a Twist is June Augustine. June grew up in Sultry Springs too — she was raised by Prudence, her Christian Fundamentalist grandmother, after June’s parents were killed in an auto accident. June was eighteen when Luke shattered her dreams of the two of them living happily ever after, and as soon as she could, she left Sultry Springs. She went to college where she discovered what she really loved was making drinks. Her career choice alienated her from Prudence; the two quit speaking. Now twenty-seven, June hasn’t been back to Sultry Springs in nine years and that suits her just fine.
But fate — and here’s the storyline part — steps in and forces June back to Sultry Springs. June, who now lives in Austin, is all set to open the hippest cocktail bar that city’s ever seen. When she goes to get her liquor license, however, the examiner tells her there’s an outstanding bench warrant for her issued by the judge in Sultry Springs. Until she gets that off her record, there’s no liquor license for her. So, exceedingly unwillingly, June heads home and is appalled to hear she must serve a month of community service in town in order to clear her name. The tiny town (973 inhabitants) only has two charities — the Holy Baptism by Hellfire Church or Helping Hands, an organization that fixes up homes for the “less fortunate.” June, who isn’t at all fond of religion done the Sultry Springs way, opts for Helping Hands which, of course, is run by Luke.
June and Luke were a good couple — I have to say, I enjoyed him more than her, but that’s because I really enjoyed him! June’s been in love with Luke pretty much her whole life and, now that she’s back in town, he’s all she can think about. Luke, too, is obsessed with June — especially with the idea of a naked June — and the two of them send off sparks whenever they’re together. There’s a whole lotta lustin’ goin’ on in this tale but it’s well-done and — I loved this — really funny. Ms. Beckett’s sense of humor is bawdy, direct, and infectious.
She’s gifted with dialogue — both the kind people have with themselves and the kind they have with others. The best verbal sparring in the book isn’t between June and Luke, it’s between Luke and his best friend Trey. These two are guys —Texas guys who build houses for a living — and their "manly" discussions cracked me up time and time again. In this interchange, Trey and Luke have just gone to the area’s only bar - it’s in the next county because Sultry Springs frowns on alcohol consumption.
Once they were settled, Trish circled back around and pulled an order pad from her black apron. She pointed her pencil at the sticky tabletop.
“I held this one when I saw y’all pull up,” Trish said, mostly talking to Trey. Everyone knew she was sweet on him. “Don’t want you standin’ on that leg, sugar.”
“Aren’t you a darlin’?” Trey took the back of her hand and kissed it. “Bring us a pitcher of Bud and I’m yours forever.”
Trish blushed and disappeared into the crowd.
“You ever gonna pull the trigger with that one?” Luke asked. “Seems cruel to keep leading her on.”
Trey used his hand like a telephone and pretended to answer a call. “Hello? Yeah, Pot’s right here.” Then he handed the “phone” across to Luke and said, “It’s Kettle. He wants you to quit calling him black.”
Ms. Beckett makes both men — and the small town world they live in — seem real and inviting. Even the moralistic old bats who run the church June so loathes have their (very funny) endearing moments. None of this world seems cutesy -there’s pot smoking, poverty, and porn — it just seems livable and nowhere near as limiting as the Texas small town stereotype would suggest.
June and Luke have some serious issues to overcome, with each other and with their pasts. Ms. Beckett, in general, handles their pain respectfully, and when her characters change, their metamorphosis seems viable, not forced. I especially liked the way Prudence is portrayed. Her judgmental behavior drove June away, and despite it being really difficult for her to do so, Prudence forces herself to accommodate grownup June and her dreams. By the novel’s end, it’s fair to say that Luke, June, Prudence, and even Trey have found new dreams to pursue.
The novel doesn't break any new ground in the “first love gets a second chance” trope but Ms. Beckett tells her version of that story with humor and charm. For a first novel, Sultry with a Twistis pretty darn good.
-- Dabney Grinnan
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