Hotbed Honey

Something Wild

The Red Diary by Toni Blake
(Warner Forever, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-446-61486-6
The Red Diary of the title is Lauren Ash’s sex journal, and the story is propelled by hero Nick Armstrong’s actions once he gets his hands on it. If your tastes run to revenge-turned-to-love tales, you might find this book to be quite a treat.

Rich daddy’s girl Lauren Ash is the heiress-apparent to Ash Builders, her father’s construction company known for the swanky condos it constructs on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Lauren is uncomfortable emulating the slutty party-girl lifestyle of her best friend, Carolyn, so she expresses her secret sexual fantasies in a red leather diary kept in her bedroom. One day Lauren decides to stage a minor rebellion by having her house – a mini-mansion built by Daddy right next door to his own – repainted in a color of her choosing.

The painter is none other than Nick Armstrong. Nick’s father was a former partner in Ash Builders, but he descended into alcoholism after the death of Nick’s mother, and after several years of carrying his dead weight in the firm, Ash bought him out. Nick has resented the Ash family ever since. Lauren’s privileged lifestyle should have been his; instead, he gave up his own dreams of becoming an artist and worked overtime building Armstrong Painters so he can support his older sister and their disabled younger brother. The fact that Davy was a normal boy until their father took a baseball bat to him in a fit of rage only fuels Nick’s resentment.

Nick arrives to paint Lauren’s house, determined to hate her for being a beautiful princess of entitlement. He has little to mark her as anything else, until he finds a spare key to her house and decides to let himself in and snoop into her lifestyle. What he finds is the red diary, and once he reads it, Nick forms a plan. He’ll seduce Lauren Ash, fulfill all her fantasies, and break her heart. It’s a fitting revenge for what her father did all those years ago.

Lauren and Nick embark on a hot affair, and the more Nick gets to know Lauren, the less he’s inclined to follow through with his plan. Lauren gradually comes to understand the rage that propels Nick, and she tries to defuse it and help him come to grips with his past. Meanwhile, someone is embezzling from Ash Builders.

Other than the sex journal aspect, there’s little here to distinguish The Red Diary from other revenge romances. Neither Lauren nor Nick are particularly sympathetic characters. Lauren is the stereotypical “poor little rich girl” who has grown up in luxury, taken a favored position in the family firm, and wonders how to become an independent woman at the age of 27. Yet she’s quite happy to let Daddy build her a big house and shower her with goodies. Get a life, kid.

As for Nick, his rage is misplaced. When the story of his father’s departure from Ash Builders comes to light, it’s likely that readers’ sympathies will be completely with Daddy Ash. Buying out a drunken partner who is dragging the company down doesn’t sound like betrayal, it sounds like good business sense. Since raging at his alcoholic father will get him nowhere, Nick has refused to speak to him and turned his anger on the Ash family, instead. And since this all happened when Nick was a teenager, carrying twenty years of hostility just makes him seem like a sulking adolescent who refuses to grow up. If he hadn’t managed to run into Lauren Ash, one has to wonder if he’d ever admit the truth.

Yet, the story kept me reading. The secondary characters, especially Nick’s sister and brother, are interesting. Davy worships Nick, and some of the story is told through his eyes, which makes for a nice change of pace. There’s enough action to keep the plot moving, and the sex is hot. The R rating on this review is primarily for the diary entries, which aren’t particularly graphic but are plentiful in number. They lose effectiveness after the first few and I found myself skimming them to find out what was going to happen next.

The Red Diary is an engaging, erotica-tinged romance that will keep readers turning the pages. Lauren and Nick may not capture your heart, but they will certainly get your attention.

--Cathy Sova

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