I don't know a reader alive who isn't hesitant when it comes to collaborative novels. My fear is that the seams will show. Author "voice" is a delicate, often times elusive, matter. Working with another writer and having to "blend" your "voices?" Not easy. However Megan Hart and Lauren Dane pull it off for a marvelous effect in their first book for Black Lace, Taking Care Of Business.
Leah Griffin is the head of Allied Packaging's HR department. It's her job to make sure their upcoming conference goes off without a hitch. Frankly, the conference couldn't have come at a better time. She's just ordered her douchebag boyfriend to get the hell out of her life and out of her house. In her words, "Their games of dominance and submission had become nothing more than an excuse for him to act like an asshole." Then she meets very tall, dark and handsome Brandon Long, who just so happens to be her go-to contact man on the hotel staff. Pretty soon this slightly older woman and younger man are setting off fireworks.
Leah's BFF, Kate Edwards, is also at the hotel to attend the conference. She's an upwardly mobile corporate lawyer who is working for Allied as a consultant. She is also having a hot and heavy affair with Allied's in-house counsel Charles "Dix" Dixon. Kate is very leery of mixing business and pleasure, but Dix has a way of turning her brain and knees to mush. What will he say when he finds out she's gotten a job transfer to Philadelphia? That she'll literally be living in his back yard? Will that put an end to their smokin' hot affair?
This is a fun, quick read - and so very different in tone and style from Hart's heavier, emotionally messy, work for Harlequin Spice. I literally plowed through this in an afternoon. First, Hart and Dane work quite well together and even though the story jumps back and forth between Leah/Brandon and Kate/Dix it blends pretty seamlessly. I've never read Dane before, and thought I "knew" Hart's writing - so imagine my surprise when I went to Hart's web site and found out that the couple I thought she wrote was actually Dane's doing.
Go Team Wendy.
There's enough conflict here to keep the story from being "all about sex" - and I appreciated that it wasn't a non-stop boink-fest, even though there is plenty of steamy stuff to go around. I also liked the inclusion of female friendship in the story. Romance novels are written primarily for a female readership, so it's interesting we don't see more "female friendships" on display in the genre. Hart and Dane get it right here. Two women who are candid, frank, and drop the F-bomb almost as much as I do. There's an affection there, and a real caring.
I will say that the Leah/Brandon story was my favorite - mostly because I was half in love with Brandon from the moment the author(s) introduce him. My absolute favorite type of hero - the genuinely nice guy who has been badly burned in the past, but is totally smitten with the heroine. Loved, loved, loved this guy! I also liked the fact that a Kate/Dix storyline featured some "real" believable conflict in the form of the Dix's previous marriage and two teenage daughters. Don't worry - they don't overrun the story (thank you baby Jesus!), but this bit of conflict was a nice touch and worked quite well.
This wasn't quite a Gushing-I'm-Madly-In-Love type of book for me, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I literally plowed through it in a couple of hours, and given my terminally slow reading nature, that's saying something. A fine collaborative effort and goody-goody - looks like a sequel is in the works.
Final Grade = B