Portia Da Costa is one of those writers whose "voice" just seems to work for me. Even when I'm not madly enthralled with a story she's written, it still tends to work for me on that basic, fundamental level. It also doesn't hurt that she really seems to have a knack for writing female characters. On these fronts, Kiss It Better worked extremely well for me. I didn't madly love it and want to have babies with it like last year's In Too Deep - but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. That all being said, I can see this story not working for some readers, and I'm here to tell you why.
Jay Bentley is mostly recovered now from a terrible car accident that not only smashed up a beautiful Aston Martin, but also his beautiful body. It's on his long road to recovery that he comes across a newspaper article and accompanying photograph of Sandy Jackson, who runs a small cafe in Kissley, England. He's floored. Sandy Jackson, owner of The Little Teapot Cafe, is the same woman he had a very brief interlude with fifteen years ago. He came to her rescue while on holiday, they never exchanged names, but he never forgot her.
Sandy's divorced, with a non-existent love life, and small thriving cafe that is now being threatened. A developer famous for a chain of "fun pubs" has purchased the vacant property across the way. She's at a rather dull chamber of commerce shindig hoping to score some gossip on the matter when she spies Jay, a man she has seen popping up all over town. He's dark, mysterious, and so sexy it sends her pulse racing. He also seems to have the knack for turning her into a sex maniac. While Jay had every intention of playing it smooth, being around Sandy has positively revitalized him. The car accident left him with certain lingering side-effects that he was beginning to fear were permanent.
Da Costa's early work is what I would very much classify as erotica. It hasn't been until more recently that she's firmly started planting herself in erotic romance territory. I found Kiss It Better an interesting mix of her two identities. There is a whopping load of shagging in this book. Seriously. Every. Single. Chapter. But in true Da Costa fashion, I never felt like she was trying to "out-do" herself or any other writer. This woman still somehow manages to write the hottest "vanilla" sex around without making it over-the-top kinky, weird or bizarre.
With all the sex that is literally plastered throughout this story, you're probably wondering about the plot. All good erotic stories have to have some sort of plot to hang the sex on to - and this one revolves around that old romance trope.....The Big Secret. Jay knows right off that Sandy is his mystery girl from fifteen years ago, but thanks to the car accident, surgeries and scarring, it takes Sandy longer to realize that he is "Prince Charming." Also, Jay's real life job is going to impact Sandy, and when she finds that out he knows it will not go over well.
If I didn't find Da Costa's writing so engaging, I could poke holes in this story all day long. Sandy probably should be asking questions about who Jay really is, but having led a fairly conventional life, and knowing he's only in town on business, she's determined to have a fun, sexy, no-strings fling. She's never had one, and damn, she wants one with Jay. (Seriously, I couldn't blame the girl. I'm surprised her panties didn't burst into flames at one point.)
Now Jay, he does tend to throw off Creepy Stalker Vibes. I mean, the story opens with him, ummmmm, having an inspirational moment with Sandy's photograph. Also, tracking down a mystery girl from fifteen years ago, even if discovering the newspaper article was pure coincidence, is sorta kinda creepy. But Da Costa does something very smart here - she gives the reader Jay's point of view quite a bit. Her last several stories have been firmly planted in first person from the heroine's perspective. With Kiss It Better, she gives us both hero and heroine point of view and it really helps to de-creepify Jay. It also doesn't hurt that he's very sexy, dark, mysterious, and wounded. All characteristics that generally make romance readers go weak in the knees. Hubba, hubba.
This story takes place over an extremely short time period, and relies quite heavily on the instant "connection" that Jay and Sandy experience. Sandy wants a fun, sexy, no-strings fling, and that's exactly what she gets for the majority of this novel. However there is a happy ending, and while Da Costa doesn't dress it up in traditional romance frippery, the reader is left with the very real impression that Sandy and Jay are together and that they are going to make it work. Hell, they have to. Their insatiable sexual appetites for each other pretty much have ruined them for any other romantic relationship.
Final Grade = B
(ISBN 9780352345219, $12.95, August 4, 2009, Erotic Romance, In Print)