It’s hard not to trust the Harlequin Blaze line. Unlike some of the other Harlequin imprints which I find harbor excellent writers but are often inconsistent in their quality (to say nothing of their inordinately stupid titles like “Billionaire Doctor Prince’s Accidental Wife and Secret Baby” – a composite, I grant you, but close enough), Blaze always has a great heat level and addresses a strong emotional relationship. I’d read some holiday themed anthologies before, but wanted to try one unrelated to Valentine’s Day or Christmas to see what it was like.
Spotting this anthology, The Guy Most Likely To…, on NetGalley seemed like a great place to start. Based around the premise of high school renunions, each author has penned a story about a couple who had real heat back in high school and are now facing each other for the first time 10 years later at their reunion. Unlike many anthologies which seesaw in quality of story, these three authors, Leslie Kelly, Janelle Denison and Julie Leto, all give us characters easy to love.
This makes sense when you find out that these three ladies, along with romance author Carly Phillips, call themselves the Plotmonkeys, so they are clearly comfortable working together. I was surprised, but pleased, when the unifying element of the location – a special reunion resort outside Chicago called Celebrations – was the key point in the story. I figured it would be the same reunion, but this flexbility allowed each writer to shape the high school experience differently for their characters and it worked extremely well.
“Underneath It All” by Leslie Kelly
Ten years ago, Prom Queen Lauren was left crying and alone with her crown on the night of her senior prom, publicly humiliated by her long-term boyfriend Seth, who not only didn’t show for the dance but also withdrew from school the next day. Even more hurtful was the fact that the two of them had planned to consummate their relationship that night, a detail that has left Lauren with more than a little baggage, particularly after her fiancee broke off their engagement a couple of years ago right before the ceremony. Guaranteed that Seth isn’t attending the reunion, Lauren has come to be a support for her recently divorced best friend, only to be stopped dead in her tracks by a sexy voice from the past who greets her in the check-in line.
The only reason successful L.A. sports agent Seth Crowley is at this reunion is to find Lauren and apologize to her for that night long ago. Seth has harbored a painful secret all these years about his family and he knows that Lauren deserves the truth about what happened. He’s dated women over the past decade, but each relationship has only proven what he knew deep down – the only time he has really been in love, it was with beautiful, giving Lauren. And he wants a second chance.
LOVED this story. Lauren’s range of emotions and how she has attempted to deal with the astronomical blow of Seth’s abandonment is totally believable. Watching the two of them explain the aftermath of that night to each other is its own emotional journey, a journey continued by the long-delayed physical consummation of their relationship. Niggling insecurities continue, but the final scene, resulting in a real happily ever after, is heart-thumpingly sweet.
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Janelle Denison
I always fall for the geek in romances. Give me a man with brains and hidden hunkiness and I’m all in with this scintillating story being no exception.
Ali might have been the head cheerleader back in high school, but she was also smart and kind, something Will knew back when he was tutoring her in Calculus their senior year and they became good friends – friends with a lot of attraction between them. He was bullied constantly back then but Ali was a highlight in his often bleak days, with no day blazing brighter than when she agreed to go out with him. But he canceled two hours before their first date and proceeded to ignore her for the rest of year.
Will could tell she was hurt, but after a while Ali stopped trying to speak with him and moved on. Now he’s a successful internet millionaire who has lost the glasses and fulfilled his body’s buff potential, but rather than flaunt his success and good looks, all he wants during this reunion is to see Ali again and explain what happened.
Ali is still confused about what happened between her and Will. She really liked him and was hurt when he canceled their date and ended their friendship. She’s always been judged by her looks – she was voted “Most Likely to Become a Playboy Bunny” after all – and she always hated how the popular set treated Will, particularly when he was voted “Most Likely to Date a Playboy Bunny…NOT” out of spite for their almost-relationship. The new and improved Will takes her breath away and it seems like he’s still the wonderful, smart guy she fell for years ago.
Ali is a sweetheart – I loved the realism of how her agreeing to date Will was a huge danger to her popularity – and Will is my geek-ideal. His romancing Ali while coming clean about the circumstances surrounding their break-up was so achingly wonderful, I found myself shushing my poor husband while I read it. Great, fun ending for this couple’s happily ever after and it was nice to see some high school bullies get their comeuppance on the dance floor.
“A Moment Like This” by Julie Leto
Erica was the class president and all around good girl at her tony Catholic high school and she knew everyone, except elusive bad boy Scott Ripley who was usually too busy working his way through the female population to take notice of Erica. Somewhere in the midst of their senior year, he offered to tutor her in French and she was desperate enough to improve her grade to take him up on his offer. After he rejected her advances and kept their relationship on the down low, she figured that he wasn’t the slightest bit interested, a fact that has rankled for a long time. Now a successful events planner charged with the details of their class renunion at the Celebrations resort, she has an idea of how to get noticed by Rip.
Rip has more than enough memories of his bad boy reputation back in high school. He wouldn’t even be coming to the reunion except that he’s now running a foundation which could use an infusion of fresh funding, and his former wealthy classmates would be a good source of cash. When a bombshell in painted on jeans and a skimpy vest pulls up on a wicked Harley and asks him to take a ride, he’s startled to discover that its Erica, the good girl he wanted but cared about too much to have her be just another physical encounter. It seems like Erica has other ideas of what would constitute a great reunion, and what she didn’t do with Scott back in the day appears to be front and center.
This was a very well-written story and I liked the complexity of Scott’s character. Erica sometimes felt like she had a bit of a hard shell, both in the flashbacks and in the present, and at times I felt that I was wondering what the hell she was up to along with Scott, despite my insight into her point of view.
This anthology is a great value at only $2.99 for 224 pages and I was happy to see that there is a companion volume planned, The Girl Most Likely To.... Sadly, while the author websites indicate this is due to be a summer release, I can find hide nor hair of any details about the actual date its due out. I’m hoping Harlequin gets its butt in gear, particularly if the quality will be anything similar to this wonderful compilation.