If I was to declare a queen of the Harlequin Presents line of books, I wouldn’t have to think twice before slipping the diamond crown on the head of British writer, Sarah Morgan. With the Presents line featuring Alpha Male billionaires, playboys and sheiks (sometimes all three in the same man), lots of writers can’t help but turn these guys into total jackasses, so much so that I want to run interference with the heroine, telling her “the sex might be amazing, honey, but I’m not sure he’s worth it.”
I would never say that to a Sarah Morgan heroine, even when her hero drips with jackass-ery, and my hesitation is due to the fact that she is such an empathetic writer. Yes, her men start off cold, sexy and dominating, but Morgan peels back the layers, letting you into their tortured dark souls in such a way that while you hate the behavior, you could never, ever hate the man. I fall for her couples again and again, whether it’s in Doukakis’ Apprentice or A Night of Scandal from the fantastic Notorious Wolfes series (such a good series!).
In keeping with a winter theme (but no Christmas in this one, which is why I’m publishing the review the day after the holiday), personal assistant Emma Gray is cursing herself for being so conscientious as she drives through a snowstorm to her boss’ country estate. When she arrives, she’s shocked at the evidence that intense and highly successful architect Lucas Jackson has sent whoever was there away and is now rip-snorting drunk. Concerned since the last time she saw him drunk (and passed out) was around this time last year in the office, she refuses to leave him until she’s reassured he’s well-enough to not hurt himself. After sufficient snarling and a moment of intense sexual awareness between them, she tries to leave, only to realize that the storm as worsened and she’s snowed in.
Lucas is angry that someone is witnessing his annual meltdown and that the someone is his PA of two years, the efficient Emma Gray, is not making him feel better. The fact that his roiling emotions and bottle of whiskey have made him suddenly aware of her gorgeous hair and shapely body isn’t making this any easier. When her empathy takes him too far into feeling, he turns the tables by losing himself in her body and she doesn’t seem to be protesting. The two of them spend a decent amount of time reassuring the other that it’s a one-off (I loved her playful response that she’d make them t-shirts as a reminder) but Lucas still insists that Emma accompany him to a fabulous Middle Eastern country where his hotel project has recently been completed. One of his best friends is the sheikh there, and he could use Emma’s help with the final negotiations, etc.
What makes Sarah Morgan so talented is that, with a limited number of pages at her disposal, she manages to draw the histories of two people to the point where you feel you understand their characters. Emma is a hard-working sister who shares custody of her little brother with her older sibling, and she works hard for Lucas because she needs to money to help support her family. Her mother had a disastrous relationship with her boss and it’s one of the reasons that Emma is so horrified with her behavior. Lucas’ numbness and pain comes from his feeling responsible for the loss of his little daughter and his own rotten childhood (he also had a mother pining for a man she couldn’t have). Fans of the Ferrara books will be thrilled to see more of Christiano and Laurel’s happily ever after as their tiny daughter plays a key role in Lucas’ rehabilitation.
This book is the first of a duet, The Private Lives of Public Playboys, and the second book, Woman in a Sheikh’s World, tells the story of Mal, Lucas’ sheikh friend and Avery, the party planner we meet (and adore) in this book. Mal and Avery have a serious history and are still in love with one another, but she is no blue-blooded virgin, which is what Mal’s position requires. He takes duty and responsibility to his country very seriously, even if it means putting aside his own desires and personal happiness.
If I have any complaint, it’s with Sarah Morgan’s Goodreads page and her website in that the books related to one another are not clearly listed with any series name in parenthesis or grouped together. It’s a miracle if you figure out which are related (thank heavens she stuck the name “Ferrara” in the title of those books). Harlequin always pulls nonsense like this, largely because many of their series use multiple writers. Whatever, I don’t care what the reasons, give readers a chance to find more books and they’ll buy them, particularly when the writer is as good as Sarah Morgan!
Many thanks to Sarah Morgan for breathing life and love into such wonderful characters and giving us great books like these. Polish that crown! 🙂