Lisa Hendrix earns bonus points for Runaway Bay’s size 16 heroine, who makes few apologies for her curves. Throw in a few more points for mentioning the hilarious Journal of Irreproducible Results and my favorite Caribbean beverage, Ting. However, deduct several points for quoting her own previous release, Marry an Irish Rogue. But overall, Runaway Bay has many more pluses than minuses. It’s an enjoyable vacation romance highlighted by lively banter between its refreshingly non-tortured hero and heroine.
Research pharmacologist Dr. Jackie Barnett wants to cancel her planned vacation to St. Sebastian after her boyfriend dumps her, via voice mail, claiming she is a dull stick-in-the-mud. Unfortunately, her boss won’t let her off the hook, because there’s more at stake than a little rest and relaxation. Quite coincidentally, Farley Phelps, director of a foundation Jackie desperately wants to secure a grant from, is going to be at the same Caribbean island resort, and this is her chance to impress him. Jackie still isn’t sure she wants to go solo, until her boss drops the bombshell that Dr. Reade Hunter, her arch nemesis, will be there too. That sneaky daredevil thinks he can charm Phelps into the foundation grant, does he? Well, Jackie will just have to show up, boyfriend or no boyfriend, and make sure Phelps hears about her proposal too.
Daredevil Reade Hunter wants to secure the Phelps grant, but he is also facing a personal challenge. He has brought his mother Lenore along on the trip to St. Sebastian, hoping to cure her of the hypochondria that has developed since Reade’s father died. Maybe a new man in her life will do the trick. When Lenore and Farley Phelps hit it off, Reade is delighted. Now he has an advantage over that “plodding, picky and anal” Jackie Barnett.
To start things off in true romance novel fashion, the quiet, retiring Jackie is forced to buy new clothes when her luggage makes an unplanned trip to Cairo, and the resort gift shop doesn’t have any dark, conservative practical wear. So of course Jackie first encounters the handsome Reade Hunter when she is wearing a bright sundress that emphasizes her voluptuous shape. Their competition for the grant is off and running, as is a mutual attraction that surprises them both. Jackie discovers that she really can take a few risks and have fun, but she knows that’s just the vacation persona she has adopted. So is Reade interested in the real Jackie or just the temporary one? Can they have a holiday fling and still keep their eyes on the ultimate prize?
Once you get past the contrived plot - oops, I lost my luggage and oops, there’s nothing to replace it with except this little coral-colored bikini - you can relax and enjoy the spirited exchanges between Reade and Jackie. The two start out sniping at each other, but gradually as Jackie gamely tries new challenges, they learn to admire and like each other. Their chemistry sparkles and culminates in an appropriately tropically hot love scene. While the details of their alleged scientific brilliance remain vague, at least Jackie acts like an intelligent woman, not a ditz. And although no one keeps score, I think she wins the zinger battle against Reade. That woman knows how to give as good as she gets.
We don’t learn much about Jackie’s past, other than the fact that she grew up on a farm and graduated from high school early. Reade’s character is slightly more fleshed out, as he and his mother discuss the choices they’ve made since Reade’s father passed away. But we don’t need to know too much about these delightful rivals to enjoy watching them fall in love. Neither of them are tortured, neither have sworn to never love again, and neither consider the opposite sex to be sluts/bastards - quite a welcome relief these days, believe me. Both characters grow from their resort experience before they reach their deservedly happy ending.
The secondary characters, especially Lenore Hunter, are well-drawn. Kudos to Hendrix for not stooping to making the mother a caricature of a whiny, overbearing nag - she even gets a romance of her own, albeit an understated one. The island natives are colorful without being stereotypes. The book slows down towards the end during a dragged-out climax, and I really did raise my eyebrows when the romance novel Lenore is reading turns out to be Hendrix’s previous release. I’m not sure if that bit of shameless self-promotion is admirable or abominable. But in the final analysis, Runaway Bay is a charming contemporary romance that goes down like a refreshing piña colada. Take this one to the beach with you during your Spring Break and enjoy the fantasy.