Friday, June 6, 2008

Just for Kicks by Susan Andersen *****

Yep. Another Winner for Miz Andersen! Whoo hoo! Stayed up, finished it smiling.

Just for Kicks is the sequel or rather book 2 in the series, with book 1 being Skintight. It's not a sequel in the sense that action for the characters in book 1 continue... Well, it does, but they aren't the main characters, so... Sequel? Series? I'm not sure.

Carly is Treena's neighbor and great friend - Treena was the heroine in Skintight, in case you're not following my train of thought. In Skintight, Treena meets Jax, and she has her best bud Carly and also her neighbor friends Mack and Ellen - both couples got their HEA in the first book. They form a sort of family that doesn't include the newest neighbor, Wolfgang Jones.

Wolf, as we lovingly call him, is a loner. His family - mom, dad, sister and him - moved around a lot when he was a kid, first as a military family, then as an employee at American embassies around the world. Although I have experience with moving overseas as a kid, I don't have any with government ties, so I'm wasn't familiar with this premise. He always felt like an outsider (wait - another outsider?) because his family wasn't part of the upper echelon in the embassy - they were the hired help. I guess this also affected his sister, because she had a kid whose father split, and has had a history of moving around from boyfriend to boyfriend ever since. The kid, Niklaus, has mostly depended on Wolf's mom, Nik's grandmother, to be the Rock of Gibraltar for him. Wolf's parents are now on the verge of retiring to Germany (currently living in Chile, so they are still wandering) and cannot take Niklaus with them. They don't feel like Niklaus's mother can take care of him - so they stick him with Uncle Wolf.

Whew. What a premise - now we have a loner outsider bachelor guardian to a teenage nephew. Imagine the infinite number of conflicts we can experience with this!

Niklaus is the bridge between Carly and Wolf - Niklaus befriends Carly, or maybe the other way around, partly because Carly's nice and partly because Niklaus likes animals and Carly has so many. And partly because Nik needs a friend.

Wolf works at the same casino that Treena and Carly dance at, in Security and Surveillance. His Dream Job is to be head of S&S in the corporate world and marry what Treena refers to as a Stepford Wife. It's his goal, something he has focused on since he left home at 18, and he is this close to realizing the dream. Unfortunately for him, he gets literally thrown into a situation with Carly - he's half dressed, having been awakened by the UPS guy with a package for her - she trips and falls into his arms, and well, there goes his inner beast, slamming his mouth onto hers. (ouch, lots of slamming lips in her books) Apparently he has an inner beast that needs tight leashing and when he's around her, he slips.

That would have been ok, it seems, but when he's fully awake and aware, his Dreams and Goals get pushed back into place every time he thinks of Niklaus, who needs guidance and a good role model. So once they actually breach the barrier, as it were, and sleep together, he's completely conflicted by the opposing desires - first, to realize his dream and second, to continue having the hottest sex in history with his next door neighbor. Classic "big head/little head" conflict. His big head continues to rule about 99% as long as he's in full control of his faculties.

Have I mentioned that Andersen writes incredibly hot love scenes? Whew. I should have read this in the winter, not in June aka Hell.

Andersen introduces an anonymous character early on - she speaks from his POV every now and then, giving us a glimpse into a psycho stalker brain, someone who is determined to make Carly his woman. All we know is that he's a janitor at the casino, and we wait for him to make his move...

Meanwhile, Wolf and Carly make a pact to be Friends with Benefits (or Bed Buddies) and actually develop a relationship outside the bedroom. They go, with the rest of their neighbor/family, to Niklaus's soccer games at school. He takes her to an animal shelter, and she invites him to a picnic for cancer survivors, all kids she has visited with her pets as a volunteer. He learns she has a college degree and she learns he isn't the cold monster she originally imagined. Just friends. With benefits. But no commitments, at Carly's insistence, since she swears she never wants to get married. Really.

Then Wolf is finally offered the corporate position he has been dreaming of and striving for - in Ohio. He hasn't told either Niklaus, who has now found friends and a girlfriend at school, or Carly about the offer, but a slip here and an eavesdrop there, and both find out. So it's the Big Misunderstanding - he's already decided he's not going to take it, but Nik and Carly both assume he did. Both are furious at the betrayal, and now we have some making up to do.

At this point, the psycho stalker kicks up his act a notch or two, forcing Carly and Wolf to work together. Andersen throws in a conflict that is actually pretty realistic but drives me nuts - the heroine has to defend herself because the hero can't get to her. He's frustrated and angry that the situation even happened, much less that he was powerless to act, and says the wrong thing which the heroine also takes the wrong way. The conflict I refer to (the realistic one) is NOT the psycho stalker attacking the heroine; the conflict is what the hero and the heroine say to each other afterwards. I mean, no it's not that realistic for the stalker to get into the elevator with her at the last minute! It's how the 2 people don't seem to be able to say what they really mean, and the other doesn't seem to understand what is said v. what is being felt that is so realistic. In the elevator, she leads the stalker on a little, trying to stall, then - being a dancer - she high kicks him in the balls. The hero sorta implies she acted rashly and shouldn't have, and she thinks he's saying she should not have defended herself so she's mad both that he wasn't able to stop the stalker and that he thinks what she did was wrong. Basically, I think the hero is just frustrated and says it wrong - he doesn't really mean she shouldn't have defended herself, but he isn't feeling what she wants him to be feeling: proud of her for doing it. And both are expecting some sort of relief/hug/something, but it doesn't happen, partly because he's been insistent they keep their work separate from their relationship. (Andersen used this same scenario in Baby, I'm Yours - very frustrating, but I think probably very realistic.)

Of course, it's romance, and we get our HEA - quite satisfactorily I might add. I smiled all through the epilogue, which takes place at Mack and Ellen's wedding.

5 stars, another keeper. If I didn't have almost 50 books TBR right now, I'd read the series again today.

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