All Shook Up

Baby, Don't Go

Baby, I'm Yours

Be My Baby

Exposure

Getting Lucky

Head Over Heels

Hot and Bothered

Obsessed

Present Danger

Shadow Dance

 
Skintight by Susan Andersen
(Mira, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2200-9
****
When I first began thinking about a rating for Skintight, I considered giving it five hearts. I immediately realized it has too many problems to earn TRR’s top rating, but it’s a fun read in spite of them all. I zipped through Skintight having a blast along the way. So this four-heart rating comes with a strong recommendation: buy it, read it, enjoy the ride, but be prepared to let some problems slide.

Las Vegas dancer show-girl Treena McCall left the business for a year after she married Big Jim McCall. Big Jim’s final illness manifested itself on their honeymoon so she spent the whole of their marriage caring for him until he died, even liquidating her savings when his medical costs consumed all he had. Treena is turning thirty-five and pushing the upper age limit for her career. She’d hoped to open her own dance school when she could no longer perform, but with her savings wiped out it’s important she keep dancing until she can save up again.

Jackson Gallagher McCall is Big Jim’s son. Father and son were estranged so he never met Big Jim’s second wife. He assumes that she married him for his money and when he died within a year of marriage, the gold-digger was left with pots of money. What Jax really cares about is the 1927 World Series home-run baseball that his father owned. Jax, a math genius and high-profile professional poker player, lost a drunken bet made with Sergei Kirov, another gambler, Elvis wannabe, and Russian mobster. Now if he doesn’t get that baseball, his life is at risk.

Jax goes by Jackson Gallagher professionally. He’s come to Vegas to play in a major poker tournament, but he’s also determined to meet Treena and retrieve the baseball by fair means or foul. His plan seems to be working when he is in the hotel bar where Treena and friends come to celebrate her birthday.

Jax manages an “accidental” meeting with her and begins to insinuate himself into her life. She’s reluctant to get involved again only months after her husband’s death and in the past she’s been generally unlucky in love, but she finds it impossible to resist the charming Jax. The annual audition for dancers already under contract is coming up, and it’s essential that Treena pass. She’s putting extra time effort into practice so that she can continue to work for another year.

Once Jax gets to know Treena and her friends, particularly her best friend Carly, another dancer, and neighbors Ellen Chandler, a retired librarian, and Mack Brody, the handyman around the condo development, Jax realizes his assumptions were all wrong. How can he come clean about who he really is without alienating the woman he’s fallen in love with as well as get back the prize baseball before the deadline Kirov has given him?

The absolute best thing about Skintight is Treena. She’s everything a romance heroine ought to be – sexy, loyal, hard-working, caring, funny, and able to do high kicks while wearing statuesque headgear. A plot weakness is the insufficient explanation for her first marriage except as a device to set up the conflict with Jax. But it does make sense that Jax would fall in love with her because she’s a real winner.

Jax is another matter. Maybe I have a vindictive streak because I do not like romance heroes who lie to the heroine, suspect her of the worst motives, do stupid things and expect someone else to save their skin then get off scot-free without doing some major groveling and some serious suffering. Jax is the type of character I ordinarily consider unworthy to be hero material. Even so, I felt sympathy for him so it’s a measure of how well the story works.

The secondary romance between Ellen and Mack doesn’t work as well because they don’t seem very well suited although it’s something of a break-through to have middle-age characters getting it on in a mainstream romance at all. Part of my discomfort with the subplot is that I have big problems with the portrayal of Ellen, the retired librarian who lives next door to Treena.

With a few modifications – like lose the hubby and kids, quit my job, buy black and brown clothes, and move to Vegas – I might be Ellen so maybe I’m taking this a bit too personally, but why are librarians almost always depicted in romances as being totally devoid of any sense of style, completely risk averse, and in dire need of some guidance from more savvy friends about how to fix herself up and attract a man? At least Ellen had a hot sex life with her late husband, but in every other respect she’s a walking stereotype.

There are strong indications that Carly, Treena’s best friend, is being set up as the heroine in a sequel. I’ll be looking for it if only to see how things turn out for Treena. Skintight isn’t five-heart material, but there are parts of it that are right up there.

--Lesley Dunlap


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