|Susan Mallery has written some funny and entertaining contemporary novels lately, but here she returns to her roots in category romance. She has given us a great little story with two very strong characters that makes High-Powered, Hot-Blooded my first five-heart tale of the new year (even though technically this was published in December 2009).
Duncan Patrick is the CEO of his own company, having built a family shipping business into an international powerhouse. His strength is buying up companies and incorporating them as he can, while dismantling parts that are not profitable. He has a board of directors only because he needed money to get out of a disastrous marriage three years ago. His goal now is to get them off his back. The press loves to hate Duncan and has named him one of the meanest CEO’s in the country. The board wants him to play nice, be nice, and get that reputation turned around.
Duncan is presented an opportunity when Tim McCoy, one of his employees, embezzles $250,000 from him. Tim assures him that he owns a house that will cover the debt. Unfortunately, Tim has lied. Annie McCoy, Tim’s sister, owns the house. Tim got into gambling problems and stole the money. Duncan likes Annie and realizes she is the “nice girl” who might help him. Annie is a kindergarten teacher, works hard to help her twin nieces get through college, and has allowed an exchange student to live with them too, since she needs help getting through school. Annie is the one the minister calls if he needs last minute help and she is convinced that life will turn out okay, no matter that she owes the utility bill and her car needs new tires.
Duncan blackmails Annie by offering to put her brother into rehab and erasing half his debt if she will be his escort and pretend to be his girlfriend at all of the holiday functions he must attend in the month of December. Having no choice since she refuses to let her brother go to jail, Annie reluctantly agrees.
Annie and Duncan hit it off right away and both start to realize that not having anything but a platonic relationship will be a challenge. But both have baggage and are determined to get through the month. First, they realize that they like each other. Duncan is different around Annie and Annie brings a breath of fresh air into Duncan’s life. Annie loves the holiday and Duncan is Mr. Cynical. Soon he finds himself helping her pick out her Christmas tree and letting her decorate his condo.
Duncan was abandoned as a child and raised by his uncle, who loved him but really didn’t know how to raise a boy. They are still close, but never really got into a touchy-feeling type of relationship. Then Duncan gave his heart to a woman who just wanted his money and what he could get for her. When she left, he was devastated and swore he would never give his heart again. Meanwhile, Annie has always been the giver in a relationship and had two failed romances where the end result was the men wanting to be “friends” while she had lost her heart. She is gun shy but still believes in the happy ever after.
This is a fun story with lots of give and take. Duncan is a nice guy and Annie brings out the best in him. He starts to realize that he had shut himself off and the world really isn’t a bad place. Annie falls head over heels, even while telling herself nothing can come of this relationship. They both have a lot to figure out and their journey is fun, entertaining and romantic. This is Susan Mallery at her best.
High-Powered, Hot-Blooded was set during December and called itself a Christmas miracle. But the story will stand well all year around and for me, was a super way to start off my year of reading.