Okay, truth time now. We don’t read romance novels for the sex, do we? We read them for the interesting characters, the insights into human behavior, the occasional laughs or tears, yadda, yadda, yadda. But if we did read romance novels for the sex, Susan Andersen would be the one author to buy. She knows how to put two characters together, get them all hot and bothered, and then consummate their attraction with wonderfully raunchy, erotic love scenes.
Veronica Davis returns to her small eastern Washington hometown of Fossil upon learning that her older sister, Crystal, has been brutally murdered. Veronica’s brother-in-law is the chief homicide suspect, so Veronica has to figure out how to care for her six-year old niece Lizzy, a quiet, despondent child. There’s also the matter of the Baker Street Honky Tonk, the family tavern that Veronica always despised. Veronica figures she’ll tie up a few loose ends, sell the bar, and take her niece back to civilized Seattle and her job as a restoration specialist. Unfortunately, she hadn’t planned on Cooper Blackstock.
A former marine with a lucrative new career, Cooper fell into the role of manager and chief bartender of the Tonk when he came to Fossil to investigate the charges against his half-brother Eddie. Cooper knows that Crystal was a tramp who trapped his innocent brother. He’s sure that if he sticks around long enough, he’ll learn that she was murdered by another man, probably a lover. He has nothing but disdain for most women, especially this snooty Veronica chick who is the epitome of the overly-ambitious gold-digger he resents.
But Cooper rents out part of Veronica’s house, and as they trade barbs they realize they are both wildly attracted to each other. It’s just temporary insanity, though - Veronica only dates suave, sophisticated men, and Cooper only sleeps with women who know the score - you know, no strings attached. Still, Veronica grudgingly admits that Cooper can be very sweet with Lizzy, and Cooper realizes that there’s more to Veronica than her polished appearance would suggest. But if Cooper’s brother is innocent, who did kill Crystal? Could the murderer still be hanging around, trying to make sure nobody finds out the truth?
Cooper got my hackles up immediately upon his entrance on page 4. There’s nothing that makes me madder than one of those heroes with a ten-pound “all women are bitches” chip on his shoulder. But gradually he lightens up, learns his lesson and becomes a rugged but decent hero. Fortunately, Veronica is a strong heroine who won’t take any of his guff. One thing to appreciate about Cooper - he certainly is 100% Pure Grade A Male. Andersen does a superb job of portraying his dialogue and inner thoughts without any feminine sentimentality. Either she has an expert male consultant, or else she grew up with a lot of brothers!
Head Over Heels includes several under-developed subplots, including a secondary romance for Veronica’s best friend and the question of whether or not Lizzy was abused by her mother. Both storylines, as well as the identity of Crystal’s murderer, take a backseat to the sexual sparks between Cooper and Veronica. That’s not a bad way to spend time, but the novel falters in its last 100 pages, when clichéd psychological issues keep the couple apart. Cooper’s mother was a social-climber and he wants a woman to love him just for himself. Veronica’s father was a chauvinistic pig and she doesn’t want to end up like her mother, who waited on him hand and foot. Veronica and Cooper do discuss their feelings, but their conversations seem like forced psychobabble, a way to prolong the separation until the suspenseful, surprising climax.
Smart, snappy dialogue, lots of heavy breathing and a plot twist or two make Head Over Heels another enjoyable effort by a talented author. The cameo appearance of two of Cooper’s Marine buddies indicates that their stories are next in line. I’ll be sure to keep them on my bedside table so my husband can benefit from their….um, well-developed characterizations and um…oh, hell, so he can benefit from the juicy sex scenes!