I was a little leary about tackling Julie Garwood’s latest addition to her long-running Buchanan-Renard series, Hotshot. After all, I was not a fan of the last book in the series, Sweet Talk.
I did have a few criticisms similar to my concerns surrounding Sweet Talk. Rather than rich description, the narrative does sometimes lean to telling rather than showing. Garwood is excellent at creating a sincerely complex suspense plot with plenty of players, but it’s with her main characters that she needs to spend more time.
The book opens with a long prologue detailing how when the Lockhart family moves in next door to the MacBains, teenage Finn sees little five year old Peyton fall into the pool and almost drown. Luckily, the newly minted lifeguard rushes over and manages to save her. A bond is formed, one that continues long after Finn goes to college, the Olympics, law school and then later working for the FBI. Peyton always sends him a note on her birthday, thanking him for saving her all those years ago, and while he sometimes answers her and sometimes doesn’t she always thinks fondly of her “Hotshot” which she named him after all his medal wins in the Olympic games.
But she’s living her own life. Her parents are unhappy that she discarded her humanities degree to go to a presitigious French culinary school and pursued a chef career. Trying to find an opportunity back in the states is difficult, but she manages to astonishingly land a job at the premier food magazine as an assistant where she will train for a year and then become a reviewer. She packs herself up and moves to the middle of nowhere Minnesota in the middle of January to turn a new page of her life.
When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and Peyton discovers (over the course of the first fifth of the book) that the company’s CEO has recently lost his wife of many years, leaving the day to day in the hands of his grasping daughter and disgusting son-in-law. Peyton works for the son-in-law who makes it instantly clear that a big part of her job will be pleasing him in the bedroom. He doesn’t seem to take no for an answer and, with the support of a few friends, Peyton gets incriminating evidence of his sexual harassment and threats on her cell phone and then heads back to Texas as fast as she can. Pursued on the highway, she barely manages to get away, later discovering that her car actually has bullet holes in it from her boss’ henchman.
Home for his Navy brother’s wedding, Finn MacBain doesn’t recognize the amazing dark haired beauty approaching him with a smile in front of the church. He’s blown away to discover it’s little Peyton all grown up and the kiss they later share confirms that she’s got his vaunted control in the palm of her hand. Recognizing the bullet holes in her car, he drags her story out of her, putting her in contact with a lawyer friend who can help. Even though he knows he should stay away, they still fall into bed together for a cataclysmic night of sex and Finn is slightly horrified to discover (after the fact) that Peyton was a virgin.
She’s okay with knowing that nothing more can be between them, especially since she’s embarking on her own adventure. Her two sisters and Peyton have been offered the opportunity of a lifetime by their Uncle Len. He wants them to take over one of his resort properties in Florida and make it into a money-making prospect; if they succeed, they’ll inherit the multi-million dollar Bishop’s Cove and be set for life. With her older sister’s interior design prowess and Peyton’s culinary background it could work, and it’s a good excuse to move forward.
But Finn doesn’t seem to go away permanently. He shows up in Florida when the case against her boss further develops, offering life-rescuing help at every turn, and naturally they sleep together some more. While Finn is enormously helpful with protecting her and figuring out the next move against her boss who has her in his sights, he (eventually) makes clear when he leaves he has no intention of seeing her ever again. Ouch. That’s kind of dick move, if you want my opinion, particularly since he’s sleeping with her for days before he says anything. WTF?
Even after Finn leaves, the suspense plot keeps moving and it’s only after a major attack on Peyton that the anvil falls on Finn’s head and he realizes that he loves her (not that we are privy to that internal decision, just his panicked reaction to the notice she’s in the hospital). The suspense plot has a tidy wrap up with all the baddies discovered and a happily ever after mapped out for our hero and heroine.
Finn is just as non-communicative as the hero in Sweet Talk (is it an FBI requirement maybe? To be a non-chatty semi-dickhead?) and is completely resistant to any future with Peyton, although he doesn’t mind sleeping with her and leaving her in the dark. While Peyton does a good job rallying when she realizes that Finn has no plans to make a future with her (and that he’s totally resistant to marriage and kids, an attitude he never and explains and we are meant to assume it’s because of his crappy ex and the violence in his life), she acknowledges some sadness but just keeps herself busy.
She’s virgin in her mid-twenties (dude, she’s gorgeous and went away to college and FRANCE – how is this possible?) but I like how direct and no-nonsense she was. She did not strike me as a chef at all; people who work with food have a distinct approach to it and use passionate, descriptive terms when talking about it and that wasn’t present in the text. There was also something…old-fashioned about her, and I don’t mean that as a complement. Several references to her mother’s outdated views had me realizing that Peyton herself seemed old to me; I couldn’t imagine a young woman putting up with Finn’s crap and not letting him have it. At no time was I really convinced she was actually in love with him, nor he with her, because I didn’t see it. Were they likeable? Sure. Would I want to be friends with either of them? Not so much.
I’m beginning to wonder if my issues might stem from a lack of editing time dedicated to the manuscript. I found a few usage errors and I could easily see the publishing house giving valuable editing resources to burgeoning authors, knowing Julie Garwood will sell on her own merits and is a pro in terms of the years she’s been publishing. It’s just hard rereading Garwood’s excellent characterizations in her older historical romance novels and not seeing that level of attention in her recent suspense work.
I’m not sure I’d pay the new book price of $9.99 for the Kindle edition or in the $16 range for the hardcover, but I would absolutely recommend checking it out from your local library if you enjoy Garwood’s other suspense novels.