Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Review: His Perfect Fake Engagement

When I found out Shannon McKenna had written a category romance there was no way I wasn't going to read it.  Back in the early days of erotic romance, McKenna made a name for herself writing for Kensington Brava. Romantic Suspense stories featuring barely housebroken heroes.  Readers loved them.  I liked some of them, and loathed others - such is the fate of heroes I want to smack on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

His Perfect Engagement is the first book in the Men of Maddox Hill series, about a group of guys (former Marines) who work for a ritzy architecture firm. Drew Maddox is company CEO and hanging on by his fingertips. He was photographed at a notorious playboy / drug dealer's party in bed surrounded by a bunch of prostitutes.  Despite Drew's protests that he was "set up" - his own bad boy reputation proceeds him.  Needless to say the company CEO in bed with a bunch of hookers isn't the image his uncle wants projected on the family business.  Stepping in to save Drew's bacon is his sister, Ava, who is a PR wizard.  Think of her like a political spin doctor. She knows just what to do - Drew will fake an engagement with her college BFF, Jenna Sommers. Jenna is so clean she squeaks - plus she's smart and cute.  She's a scientist working on neural implants, prosthetic limbs, and her fiancĂ© (who she met at work) has just dumped her to marry his intern (because, of course).  Ava's been working with her in a PR capacity and thinks this is a win-win.  Drew can show his family and the world he's settling down, that he's ready to turn over a new leaf, be responsible, and Jenna can raise the profile of her research and work.  

Jenna thinks it's a terrible idea, given that she's had a thing for Drew since she spilled a pitcher of sangria on him when she was in college.  No one is going to believe that gorgeous walking sex god Drew Maddox would be with her, a nerdy scientist.  But Ava convinces her and they manage to sell it to the paparazzi hanging outside the office of Maddox Hill. Soon these two are running from one PR "event" to another and attraction, inevitably, builds.

Here's the thing about Harlequins - they always seem to think that paparazzi are hounding people with "normal" jobs - like architects.  So just roll with that. What works here is that you have two people who don't think they're near good enough for each other but for entirely different reasons.  He might be CEO, he might be an insanely gifted architect, but Drew is coming to realize that thanks to his personal life people see him as "not very serious" or a joke.  Jenna has your typical smart-not-pretty girl baggage that women seem to lug around with them, even though by all accounts she is very pretty. She's a romance heroine - of course she's pretty even though she's "unconventional" and wears hipster glasses.

There's also very intriguing plot points that unfortunately aren't explored given the Desire length.  For one thing, Drew is drugged at that party leading to the photographic set-up.  A hero, drugged and unconscious.  Rape isn't mentioned, but it's definitely implied that everything after the drugging was against his will.   
He hadn’t told anyone about the drugged perfume or the blackout. The words stopped in his mouth before they could come out. Humiliation, maybe. Or macho embarrassment. Who knew, but he just couldn’t talk about it. Not to anyone.

Whew! There's a lot to unpack there and none of it ever is.

Instead we get a mustache-twirling villain, an over-the-top ending complete with marriage proposal and a lot of not-so-thinly veiled Not Like Other Girls nonsense.  Drew's ex-girlfriends, the situation at the party - well none of those women are "good" like Jenna. It's about as subtle as a chainsaw.

It was OK, but not great.  If you're familiar with McKenna's backlist I will say that while Drew is Team Alpha he's Alan Alda (old lady reference at 12 o' clock) compared to some of her Brava heroes.  I didn't want to smack him with a rolled up newspaper - not even once!  Also, the Ava character is so dynamite that I'm hoping she's a future heroine and I pray to all the gods that McKenna doesn't neuter her.  This girl is a pitbull.  A PR spin doctor, steamrolling her way over the romantic couple.  Not prickly per se, but a real ball-buster.  She's not the heroine in the second book, here's hoping for Book #3.

Some intriguing moments but mostly "just OK."

Final Grade = B- 


willaful said...

Agreed. I didn't hate it, but I'd say B- was generous.

azteclady said...

Well, what a shame, but then, some issues are just too complex for a shorter story.

Wendy said...

Willaful: Given how long it took me to read it - yeah, probably a C. But I couldn't tell if it was the book or my mood. My reading is coming in binges, then full stops for days on end. I'm blaming work.

AL: The Man Behind the Mask by Barbara Wallace (Harlequin Romance) features a hero who was sexually assaulted in prep school and I couldn't help but think of it while reading this one. Leaving Drew's experience completely unexplored was such a missed opportunity.