Just Kiss Me

Once Upon a Mattress

Touched by Fire

 
Pillow Talk by Kathleen O’Reilly
(Harl. Tempt. #967, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-69167-X
***
Jessica Barnes plays to win, in business and in life. When she makes a bet with Adam Taylor, however, she secretly wants to lose.

She’s nicknamed him “The Ax-Man” because he’s a business consultant hired to prepare the small company where she works for a takeover. The deal he’s brokering would make her redundant, and spoil her dream of becoming vice-president. She hates him. Or does she?

In Pillow Talk, her latest release from the Harlequin Temptation line, author Kathleen O’Reilly attempts to answer the age-old question: Can you successfully mix business with pleasure? At odds from the very beginning, Adam and Jessica develop a love-hate relationship fueled by their workaholic lifestyles and type A personalities. They’re modern, likeable, realistic characters in a fun, flirty story, but O’Reilly’s happily-ever-after ending falls short because, lust aside, we never really see them cross that fine line between love and hate.

As the book opens, Adam and Jessica are both at a wedding, separately. The setting seems to tempt them with the kind of happiness that’s just beyond their reach. She tries to avoid him, but their interaction seems inevitable.

“Friends don’t let friends run away,” Cassandra said, pushing her in the direction of her worst nightmare. And her steamiest dream.

They size each other up like championship boxers, teasing and taunting, jabbing and sparring. Their challenges are physical, mental and emotional. Round one, a trivia question, goes to Adam; Jessica manages to wins the second challenge, a road race. Then they make The Bet: He has 10 days to seduce her, “full penetration.” Foreplay, she says, doesn’t count.

She wants to win almost as much as she wants to lose. He has trouble concentrating when she’s around - and when she’s not. O’Reilly succeeds in creating an atmosphere that sizzles every time they come in contact. The problem is, however, that too much of their relationship is based on sex. It’s lust at first sight ... and not much more.

But there could have been. Adam and Jessica are interesting characters with a modern conflict. They’re the antithesis of typical romantic couples. Unwilling to sacrifice her career, she fulfills the stereotypical masculine role, while he’s the one who wants to settle down. Marriage and commitment are the last things on her mind; he goes out of his way to try and meet the right woman. She’s an intelligent - albeit headstrong -businesswoman in the male-dominated finance industry. Raised on a farm, he joins a book club and still talks to his mother.

It doesn’t matter that his mom is deceased. She’s his guardian angel and his conscience, but only speaks to him when he’s stuck in traffic. It sounds silly, but somehow works here, probably because he’s supposed to be a sweet, considerate kind of person. Jessica’s advice comes from her friends, often in the form of IM (instant messaging) conversations. Again, it’s a bit gimmicky, but O’Reilly legitimizes a modern application. Technology has become a part of our lives, and so it should exist in our fiction.

Her friends - Beth, Cassandra and Mickey - will each star in their own romance as part of “The Bachelorette Pact” series (Mickey’s story, It Should Happen to You, is out now; the other two will be released in May and June). Pillow Talk was a good introduction to each of them (especially astrophysicist Mickey), explaining early on about the agreement they make: “To the solo state of mind. Junk food and chick flicks forever. A bachelorette pact, single forever”.

Still, it maybe not be the best launch for the quartet because, by focusing so much on the physical relationship between Jessica and Adam, O’Reilly seems to imply that only good sex can change a woman’s mind. She could have spent more time and effort teaching Jessica that winning isn’t everything without lapsing into cheesy cliches, or allowing Adam’s perceptions to evolve at an understandable rate. Then, perhaps, their love would have been more than just Pillow Talk.

-- Melissa Amy


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