Tempting Tess by Liz Jarrett
(Harl. Tempt. #827, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25927-1
***
Blake Sutherland is the consummate good guy. He's drop dead gorgeous, sexy as sin, intelligent, provides financially for his mother and younger sister and has a wicked sense of humor. On top of all of these attributes, he won my heart like a prize in a carnival shooting gallery when he contributes to a no-kill animal shelter. Okay, so he's got one fault; he doesn't want to get married. But to his credit, he doesn't yammer on and on and on about it. It's just a fact of life for him.

Tess Denison is Blake's partner in new advertising agency that she, Blake and her brother started. Her brother has taken off ‘to find himself,' which leaves her having to work with Blake. Tess is really uncomfortable around Blake, a man she feels trades in on his good looks and sex appeal. The bottom line is that she's not sure she trusts him. She certainly doesn't trust herself to be near him. Yes, she's self-conscious and awkward in his presence but she's also thinking sex, Sex, SEX around him.

The story takes shape when Tess and Blake begin to work together on an ad campaign for a new men's fragrance, Loverboy. Touring various cities, Tess and Blake are looking for men who epitomize the best in a man. They're looking for real men, men with hearts and souls, as well as a gorgeous exterior package. This part of the story is engaging, with fun episodes in the various cities. Some of the ad copy they come up with is good. Kudos to Liz Jarrett for writing that savvy ad copy.

As much as I liked Blake and I did like him a lot, and as much as I enjoyed seeing the ad campaign come together, Tess manages to cool my enthusiasm over and over and over. She's basically a beige person. There's nothing extraordinary or even above average about her at first. Yes, she does slowly change, but it's not very believable. Come on, taking your hair down from its customary bun and instead wearing it loose is hardly grounds to be voted a party girl. Early on when Blake calls her a dried-up old prune, I think he nails it.

Yes, Tess does loosen up some. However, even when she decides that she needs to swallow her pride and seek Blake out, I still found her dull. Once beige, always beige or at least it seems that way with Tess.

I mentioned at the beginning that Blake is extraordinary. He must be; he's able to accept Tess the Prune and then enjoy her transformation as she decides that she does want to walk on the wild side. The trouble is that I never thought that her transformation was credible. Liz Jarrett does give us some torrid, scrumptious love scenes. Under Blake's tutelage, Tess learns that sex and intimacy can be fun...and funny.

It's really too bad that these two are so mismatched. If Tess had even part of Blake's goodness, his love of life, then this story could have been exceptional. As it is, Tess is certainly not the life of the party, but rather the clichéd wet blanket.

--Linda Mowery


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