It’s hard not to get really worried when a publisher puts together a series using multiple authors. I’ve seen it used successfully only a handful of times (the Harlequin/Mills & Boon Notorious Wolfes series comes to mind) but mostly it becomes a “who writes it better” comparison with some authors lacking.
Leave it to the editors at Entangled’s Brazen line – a group who fortunately employ a stable of authors who comprise “who’s who” in the field of contemporary romance – to harness the power of writers like Laura Kaye, Jen McLaughlin (aka Diane Alberts), Tessa Bailey, Katee Robert and Samanthe Beck in order to deliver a uniformly phenomenal series, Wedding Dare, that everyone should run out and buy ASAP.
Another brilliant move was releasing the prequel, Dare to Resist by Laura Kaye (which I told everyone to buy after reading it a few weeks ago) to set the stage of a couple falling in love and preparing to gather their friends and family to have a wedding. The whipsmart Kady and dominant Colton found their happily ever after competing for a military contract. Having known each other for years, Colton wasn’t about to waste time before making Kady his own. With four bridesmaids and four groomsmen in tow, the happy couple has a week of activities leading up to the wedding planned at the Colorado resort that makes for the perfect romantic setting. When libidos run high at the bachelorette party it’s not long before the lovely women in question begin betting each other that they can bag a groomsman by the end of the week, with a few of them choosing the lucky man in question from across the room. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…
Falling for the Groomsman by Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts
Christine Forsythe, tough investigative journalist, has been Kady Dresco’s best friend forever, and she’s thrilled to see one of the people she loves the most find the forever brand of happiness, particularly with Colton, who was Kady’s crush growing up. For years the two were driven apart by some particularly hot hanky-panky that Colton initiated and then fled from, and Christine knows exactly what that feels like – she lost her virginity in the hallway of a Mexican hotel with Kady’s hot brother Tyler.
That he promptly left her after apologizing and looking horrified, never speaking to her again except in the barest of social contact, humiliated and angered her, but she’s thinking that she might be able to get a little payback eight years down the road based on how Tyler keeps sniffing around. The man is smoking hot, and Christine can’t keep her hands (damn them!) off him, no matter how bad an idea this seems. Tyler is a sure bet not to be looking for a relationship, as this ER doctor takes months of leave to do his Doctor Without Borders work all over the globe, so he might the perfect participant for her naughty to-do list. Christine is using Kady’s wedding as the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and start fresh in her life – new job, new state to live in, and new sexual experiences are all on her agenda, albeit a secret agenda she’s not currently sharing.
Tyler Dresco has committed to head up the ER of a prestigious hospital in the Pacific Northwest for a year before giving in to his wanderlust, but it’s lust of a different kind he’s feeling upon setting eyes again on his sister’s smoking hot friend, Christine. He still winces when he thinks of his colossal dick move of comforting the young girl who was still dealing with the recent loss of her parents, but having sex with Christine was all-consuming. Yes, he panicked when he realized he had taken her virginity that night and he has no excuse for his behavior, but what he’s always chalked up to the lust in a moment is disproven when he realizes that Christine still makes him lose control. When he catches wind of the fact that the bridesmaids are looking for a hookup, Tyler plans on making sure that she experiments with no one but him. But when the question arises of whether Christine has been playing an elaborate game of payback or if what between them is real, Tyler doesn’t know if he can bring himself to give up the woman in whose arms he has finally found a home.
In Falling for the Groomsman, we have classic Diane Alberts (Jen McLaughlin’s contemporary romance pseudonym) who always writes her heroes and heroines with a decent amount of emotional baggage to overcome. Her characters are intensely likeable, which is why I read her work, and Christine and Tyler are no exception. There is no question that Tyler was a supreme coward (and super dickish) for the way he reacted all those years ago with Christine, but having a chance to finally own it and move forward to get to know her better as the incredible woman she is now shows how he has grown as well. I loved that Alberts has tied this book to her fantastic first novel in her Shillings Agency series, Temporarily Yours, as Christine is the sister to the former Marine hero of that novel; Christine’s move to Maine is to be near her brother who has finally returned home and gotten a job with the Shillings security company. Let me also say that I had the pleasure of meeting Jen at my local chapter of Lady Jane’s Salon (a romance reading series around the country) and she’s as funny and nice as you’d imagine based on her terrific novels.
Baiting the Maid of Honor by Tessa Bailey
God, Tessa Bailey has yet to write the book that doesn’t blow me out of the water and this second installment in the Wedding Dare series is no exception. I totally jones for her brand of dark, dark hero and the women they fall for, who usually are their polar opposites.
In Baiting the Maid of Honor, Julie Piper is the perky blonde sorority sister who has been given the maid of honor post since that’s her role in life – she’s the one everyone counts on, who organizes activities and puts herself dead last while taking care of other people’s needs. Her friends love her but her family still hasn’t gotten over the tragic accident that stole Julie’s older sister, a paragon whose memory Julie knows she will never live up to in their eyes. Since she loved her sister, too, she’s never going to stop trying.
Reed Lawson can’t believe that he’s actually at Colton’s wedding. This SWAT officer is a long way from Atlanta and only for one of his best friends would he put up with donning a suit and making small talk over champagne. The situation and people remind him how far he’s come from a kid escaping his abusive home in a poor Tennessee town, but considering how much Colton and their friends Reed and Brock contributed to helping him see what he could become, the least he can do is be here. One look at the blond, upper-class Southern belle who is the maid of honor and Reed cannot keep his hands off her or his dirty mouth silent, particularly after he realizes that this stunner hides a dirty girl under that polished debutante surface. But while she’s not his usual one-night-stand type, he knows he’s not her usual type of bedmate either – and that he can never give her the affection and emotional intimacy that she needs. When the thought of hurting her proves just as painful as walking away, Reed is forced to face a world where he has to fight for his future or live in the darkness that is a world without Julie.
Oh. My. God. No one does the dark, dirty-talking hero like Tessa Bailey (as any reader of her amazing Line of Duty series knows). Reed is exactly the tattooed bad boy who is easy to fall for. Bailey’s proven formula is shoving emotionally bereft men into the vortex of a heroine who suddenly has them craving more. That cracking sound is the ice under the feet giving way as they take the plunge into a honest-to-goodness relationship in which they love this woman so all-consumingly that they will do whatever it takes to insure her happiness and well-being. Julie is a fantastic character – the friend everyone takes for granted – and that Reed sees how she is not taking care of herself or getting what she needs in return makes you root for him to get his shit together and take a chance on love. I’m hoping that she might develop Reed’s Atlanta SWAT office into other books, as I was super impressed with her pitch-perfect Southern voice. It was sexy as hell coming out of both Reed and Julie’s mouths and I want more! 🙂
Seducing the Bridesmaid by Katee Robert
Katee Robert just continues to impress me – her Come Undone and Out of Uniform series are excellent and her recent foray into science fiction romance has proven her versatility as an author. With Seducing the Bridesmaid, Robert demonstrates how she’s able to mine emotions in her characters, with the result being deep, three-dimensional people who you’re startled when you lift your head to discover they aren’t actually in the room with you.
It’s particularly impressive in the two characters who are her hero and heroine. Regan Wakefield is a gorgeous, assertive headhunter who is quite the ball breaker, owning her sexuality like she wears her stiletto heels. She’s got a personal plan that’s in countdown mode since her soriority sister Kady announced her wedding date, and the best man, CEO Logan McCade, hits all Regan’s major points. Unfortunately she can’t seem to get rid of the other groomsman, Brock McNeil, whose gorgeous face and body house a lack of ambition in this silver spoon holding playboy.
Brock is not happy that the gorgeous Regan is unwilling to give him the time of day and he wants to shatter the control she wears like one of her designer dresses. Proving to Regan that he sees her beneath the facade means revealing that there is more to him than his last name and the work he’s kept off the business world’s radar. That she has set her sights on Logan, who is too much like Brock’s perfect older brother, sticks in his craw, but he wants her to want him – the real Brock – despite his hangups. That his insecurities might drive away the one woman he’s wanted for more than a few nights means that Brock has some reevaluation to do, particularly when it becomes obvious that he’s going to have to finally go after something after a lifetime of taking the easy road.
Regan could have easily been bitchy and Brock a shallow manwhore, but Robert’s skillful writing shows Regan as strong but misguided and Brock as suffering at the hands of his father as never living up to expectations. There is a lot of personal accountability to be owned for each of them, with Brock having to do more growing than Regan, as she at least doesn’t hesitate to face up to her mistakes and misperceptions. Her fear of the outdoors provides a wonderful injection of humor at key points in the book, and you’ll never look the same way at a squirrel again! I adored the epilogue (I think it’s my favorite out of all of the novels, even though each one is perfectly suited for its couple) and can confidently say that if you enjoy this novel (and you will) you need to check out Robert’s other books as they maintain a similar high standard.
Best Man with Benefits by Samanthe Beck
I’ve loved Samanthe Beck since reading her smoking hot McCade Brothers series, so I was elated to discover that the hero of this Wedding Dare novel was none other than the elusive Logan McCade, the driven, outdoorsy CEO who provides a distinct counterpoint to his cop and Marine brothers.
As the college roommate of the groom, Logan has been given the best man role, one he’s happy to take on despite his outdoor gear company taking up 25 hours of his day. On the cusp of a major merger, he’s getting constant calls and emails, distractions which make it hard to fulfill his role for the week of wedding activities, but it’s friends first in Logan’s priorities. When Colton asks him to keep an eye on his shy sister Sophie, Logan remembers the sweet girl from their college days and is happy to volunteer. One look at the shy siren with big brown eyes and dangerous curves and Logan discovers that major parts of his anatomy are volunteering to assist and he doesn’t think Colton would approve.
That doesn’t stop him from sampling everything Sophie has to offer. Watching this young woman bravely fight through her shyness as she tries to reclaim a confidence eroded by years of body shaming from her family and peers is both a struggle and a joy to watch. Logan wants her to see herself as the sexy woman who makes his heart thunder. But just as they begin to make progress – and as Logan confronts the painful reality that he needs to change his corporate structure so he can spend more time with his family and with Sophie – it all threatens to fall apart when Sophie discovers that she’s been an assignment all along.
Sophie’s character is painfully shy yet you’d have to be born without a heart not to root for her as she attempts to reclaim her voice and make personal and professional changes that will benefit her. Logan is exactly what she needs and you understand why he decides not to tell her that Colton asked him to spend time with her even as you see the ax starting to fall. Logan is total sweetie (those McCades! *fans self*) who demands that Sophie take ownership for her personal and sexual desires, and who – unlike every other male in this series – understands the emotional foundation of a relationship needs to be based on trust, trust he demands from her even when he’s worried she can’t work through her issues and give it to him. Shout out for Beck doing such a phenomenal job on this novel’s epilogue as it manages to bring together the closure for all five books in the series in an amazing way. I was alternately choking up and grinning like a loon as I read those final pages of Logan’s proposal!
Honestly, this whole series has knocked my socks off, particularly as it manages to include almost every one of my favorite contemporary authors (Tonya Burrows and Jill Shalvis are the only two of my writing heroes missing). Considering the fantastic Entangled tradition of the $.99 price for new releases, fans are going to be able to purchase all five novels – 988 pages exactly – for under $5.00, less than a brand new trade paperback at your local bookstore that’s a third of the length (and probably half the quality of the writing contained in this series). It’s irrefutable math, people.
Many, many thanks to not only the above wonderful authors but the visionary editors at Entangled for bringing such an amazing group of writers together around a terrific concept. I hope this is not the last series they assemble as this one will undoubtably build even more of a fan base around these talented women.
Happy reading! 🙂