Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hot & Bothered by Susan Andersen *****

Hot & Bothered is #3 in her Marine series, and features John "Rocket" Miglionni from books 1 and 2. Rocket got his nickname from something he keeps in his pants - yeah, that something. Apparently it's impressive enough for the other guys to have noticed and christened him this. He had a reputation with the ladies - he liked to love 'em and leave 'em, complete with rules right up front: no last names, nothing longer than a week. Until he met Tori - who slipped away before her week was out, never to return, 6 years ago now.

Then he changed.

I have a serious thing for Ms. Andersen's books, and I loved Hot & Bothered too - but I will say that reading them back-to-back does evoke déja vu feelings, as she uses some similar plot devices and even some similar phrases. Maybe a book or 2 between would soften that feeling - it isn't so prevalent that you feel you've already read the book - just enough to make you think, wait-a-minute, didn't I read that line already?

Tori is Victoria Evans Hamilton, whose father has recently been murdered. The #1 suspect is her teen half brother Jared, now on the lam. The senior Hamilton left the bulk of his enormous wealth to his 2 kids, having signed a fairly tight pre-nup with trophy wife #5 that left her with very little. Tori is convinced Jared couldn't have done it, and has her lawyer hire a PI to find Jared. Who's the best PI of them all? John Miglionni, of Semper Fi Investigations. Yep - the Rocket hisself.

Rocket comes with the usual Andersen baggage - what was it this time? A family that moved around too much? A mother who didn't love him enough, or died when he was young, or something. One of those things that left him feeling like he wasn't worthy of love, and taught him not to count on anyone but himself and his Marine buddies, ever. Hoo Yah. OK - I didn't feel this cynical while I was reading, but it's the morning after and my afterglow has faded a little.

Tori suffers from a similar problem - dead mother (trophy wife #1), mean father, feels enormous responsibility for brother Jared, yada yada yada. She chose to separate herself from her father (and Jared) by an ocean, so she was living in London with her 5+ year old daughter when the murder happened. Wait. Back up - 5+ year old daughter born out of wedlock, last had wild monkey sex with Rocket about 6 years ago... Hmmmm.... Could it be the Secret Pregnancy plot???

I'm afraid so. But, how could she have told him? Remember the rules? No last names - and they met in Pensacola on spring break. And they used condoms! But there is a 4% failure rate, after all. But yeah, who knew who or where the father was? Again - I didn't have any trouble going with this premise because it's the journey, not the plot devices that make or break the story!

OK - so John Miglionni has been hired to work with Victoria Evans Hamilton, and when he walks in and they both realize who the other is, it's a major shock to both of them. For her, the father of her daughter. For him, the woman who changed his life (in more ways than even he realizes, though!). While he is interviewing her about Jared, in comes 5 year old Esme - with mummy's hair and daddy's eyes. It takes Rocket about, oh, 35 nanoseconds to do the math.

Rocket isn't one of those I'm-the-daddy-now-I-adore-Esme-and-want-partial-custody guys. He figures out quickly that he is in way over his head on this issue and needs some time to figure out what he wants. And ya gotta give it to Tori - she takes the middle road, asking him what his intentions are. Of course she won't need his money - she's got a bucket load of it. They agree not to disclose his paternity to anyone but he decides he'll move into the Evans Hamilton estate while he works on the case, giving him time to get to know Esme and maybe... Maybe what? Who knows, because he doesn't give any indication that he intends to establish a daddy-daughter relationship with Esme.

Meanwhile Jared has left Colorado Springs for Denver, and is living homeless and on the streets. He meets a buddy, PJ, a 13-year-old runaway. PJ stands for Priscilla Jayne, as it turns out, which shocks the hell out of him since she looks like a scrawny little boy. PJ has street smarts and the 2 become fast buddies while she teaches him the ropes. Her mom threw her out and refuses to let her come home. Spoiler type hint: they are the hero and heroine of the next book - although I'm hoping it's been several years because I don't want Jared arrested for sexual assault on a minor, and she's got at least 5 years to go.

Jared thinks he did kill his father - he shoved him, causing him to fall and hit his head. Jared tried to get a pulse, found none, panicked and split. But the fall didn't kill the old bastard - a letter opener through the heart did.

John goes about getting info on Jared, including meeting with the local police to get their take on the situation. Once he decides that Jared will be railroaded, he and Tori realize the best way to clear Jared will be to find the killer - which changes John's job duties. He decides the best way to get info is to gain access to the father's friends, and on a whim announces he's Tori's fiancé at the father's funeral. It was actually a gut reaction to meeting someone interested in Tori, but he figured it would be his undercover disguise too. He keeps sorta forgetting there's another (little) person to think about before he makes these rash decisions though, and now they have to explain the make-believe game to Esme too.

This is an incredibly long review already in which I feel like I've rewritten the entire book and yet I haven't given away any of the secrets! Like - whodunnit, and why. I won't - suffice it to say, she works in a plot device or two to make you wonder who it could and could not have been (not trophy wife, because of the pre-nup; not the erstwhile first love, because he lost a big opportunity as a result of the death), and she works in another plot device that I found a big stretch (climbing a tree, which makes Tori realize something is odd about the house...??) to uncover the killer's identity and reasoning.

I think my favorite scene in the book which had me laughing out loud was John and Esme playing War Barbies - or as she called it, Raccoon Ants (a 5 year old translation of reconnaissance which is John's Marine forte - what the heck, right?).

Oh, and I haven't mentioned the fact that John and Tori are still attracted to one another and eventually, finally, find occasion to act on it. At that point, we have their failure to clearly communicate - John assumes she feels he is beneath her social class so the relationship cannot last; Tori assumes John is still living by his rules which means no relationship longer than a week, which he has clearly outlasted and therefore should by all rights be chomping at the bit to get away. And we still have that complication of whether or when to announce Esme's paternity as well as how John will fit into Esme's life.

Did I mention it's a Romance? Of course it is and it takes them a while to get - and take Jared and Esme with them - to the HEA.

UPDATE ON FEB 21 2009: I got this on audio, narrator Richard Ferrone who also narrated Elizabeth Lowell's Only His. Except for his slightly annoying Esme voice and more annoying PJ voice, I like Ferrone's reading on both this and Only His. So I changed the date of this post to put it in 2009.

I managed to snag a copy of Coming Undone at Hastings today (it's only fair that I actually PAY for a copy of a book by one of my favorite authors*, after all!) so that is next. For this one, somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, loved it, yay Susan Andersen, you go girl!

(* in that same vein, I paid for a new copy of the latest Julia Quinn, and even snagged a new copy of a Linda Howard book too.)

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