Something Wild by Toni Blake
(Harl. Tempt. #870, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-373-25970-0
****
I had a mixed reaction to this book. There was a lot to like and yet it never totally grabbed me, so I’m recommending it - with reservations.

At 29, Penny Halloran has always been a “good” girl and now she’s reaping the dubious reward - her equally staid boyfriend has asked her to marry him based on the fact that they “make a good team.”

Underwhelmed by this practical declaration, Penny decides that she can’t make an informed decision because they’ve never slept together. Martin is going out of town on business for a week and would like an answer when he returns, so Penny has exactly one night to find the inner tiger she hopes Martin is hiding under his outer kittycat.

Penny, who owns half of the pub that supplies lunches to the employees of Martin’s software company, attaches a cryptic note to Martin’s sandwich. He’s to meet her later that night “prepared for anything.” She rents a stretch limo, puts on a slinky black dress and shows up at the appointed street corner and time. Penny loses some nerve while she's waiting, so she pulls down the shades and turns off the lights inside the car hoping she’ll be less inhibited in the dark.

A man looking for “Penny” enters the limo at the right time and urgent sex with a minimum of talking ensues. When he fulfills her beyond her wildest dreams, Penny cries out her acceptance of his marriage proposal - only to find that she’s not with Martin. She’s just made wild monkey love to Ryan Pierce, Martin’s new employee. Martin left town a day early. Ryan, using Martin’s office temporarily, was the lucky recipient of Penny’s invitation.

I thought this was quite a clever set-up and handled neatly in terms of credibility - it’s not easy to get two strangers’ clothes off without anybody noticing that something is amiss. And Penny and Ryan make good foils for each other. Penny is a nice girl who wants to discover her wild side, and Ryan is a wild man who wants to reform, particularly since his lifestyle has lost him a couple of jobs in the past. He’s really attracted to Penny, but he’d like to prove to himself and his family that he can be a responsible adult and messing with the boss’s girlfriend is not a career-enhancing move.

I also liked that fact that Penny did not make herself ridiculous in order to become wild. Rather, she did the sorts of things that a real woman, gaining confidence in her sexual power, might just work up the nerve to try with a man she was learning to trust. Ryan felt equally real, with the concerns that any man committing career suicide might, but unable to resist his attraction to Penny.

So why am I not more enthusiastic? I think it’s the fact that the problem Penny and Ryan have on page 209 is the same one that they had on page 27 - they’re crazy about each other, guilty about how shabbily they’re treating Martin, and concerned about the repercussions. They’re in limbo, albeit a sort of bimbo limbo where they can have lots of enthusiastic sex. There are a couple of threatening moments when it seems that a co-worker has discovered their clandestine meetings, but what could have been a good device to introduce some real tension goes largely unexplored.

I also have to say that I guessed Martin’s reasons for disappearing quite early, which also detracted from any suspense the book might otherwise have had. This, combined with the fact that Martin doesn’t physically re-enter the story until just a few pages before the book’s end, meant that I worried about him even less than Penny and Ryan did.

The overall result was a book with a lot of excellent elements, and yet which I found myself putting down without a struggle. If you like a high degree of tension, romantic or otherwise, you will find this tame fare, in spite of the “R” rating. If you simply enjoy watching a relationship unfold between two likable people and don’t want to worry about whether or not they’ll make it, this will have more appeal.

--Judi McKee


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