Against His Will

Stuck With You

Phi Beta Bimbo
by Trish Jensen
(LoveSpell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52585-2
I can’t help it – I love the title. And the premise of Phi Beta Bimbo is pretty funny. A nerdy grad student decides to test her doctoral thesis and see if a bimbo hottie will be hired over a plainer, more-skilled woman who is competing for the same job. Leah Smith dresses as “Candi Devereaux”, complete with inflatable bra and four-inch stiletto heels, to interview for a secretarial position at her brother Steve’s company, Just Peachy Cosmetics. Steve and Leah have a bet going on the outcome of the interviews. The loser has to go on a blind date of the winner’s choice.

Mark Colson, a former FBI agent turned security specialist, is working at Just Peachy to identify a possible corporate spy. A competing company, Apple Blossom Cosmetics, has introduced a number of items that are uncannily similar to new Just Peachy products. Steve suspects Apple Blossom’s president, Kate Bloom. Mark, however, gets an eyeful of “Candi” on the security monitors and alarm bells go off in his head. Something doesn’t ring true about this woman, so he follows her out to the parking lot and proposes a date, posing as a handyman. “Candi” accepts. Later, when Leah arrives to interview for the same job, dressed plainly, Mark recognizes her, and follows her outside, as well. When another date isn’t forthcoming, Leah turns the tables and asks Mark out. He accepts, and now he has dates with both women, who are really only one woman.

Steve, meanwhile, is posing part-time as his own twin sister, “Stephanie,” to perpetuate the notion that Just Peachy is headed by a female. Kate Bloom is nonplussed by her unwilling attraction to “Stephanie,” and Steve thinks Kate is hot, even if she may be involved in corporate espionage. Leah finds out that Mark is on to her deception and enlists Kate in a little revenge. At some point, every character in the book poses as someone they’re not. The farce reaches a highlight in a restaurant scene, with all the leads pretending they are somebody else.

The espionage plot doesn’t play a major part in the story, other than to bring the characters together. I liked Leah – she was smart and practical, and her attempts to play a bimbo were funny. Mark is a little more complex; he’s attracted to Leah, but can’t take her up on her offer of mindless sex because he’s supposedly investigating her. After the initial setup, the book hit a definite lull about halfway through, with a number of scenes of “who’s dressing up as whom now?” And when Steve has scenes involving his “sister,” it’s downright confusing to decide who he’s talking about – Leah or the fictitious Stephanie? When Leah and Mark finally do get together, though, it’s a nice little romance.

Just as interesting – and frenetic - was the secondary romance between Kate and Steve, who can’t reveal the truth just yet. Stephanie is a bitch, and Steve is a nice guy. Readers, who are in on the secret, will enjoy Kate’s consternation as she gradually falls for Steve, while still wondering about her attraction to Stephanie.

In a strange bit of promotion, the author embarks on a full-blown homage to her good friend, author Sandra Hill. Not only is there a full-page of thanks to Ms. Hill and a back cover quote by her, at one point Leah and Mark’s sister actually discuss how Sandra Hill is their favorite author. And Leah’s inner muse is named Sandra, taken from a TV show called Sandra’s Sex Tips. I’m all for loyalty to friends, but this was rather embarrassing.

Overall, Phi Beta Bimbo offers an amusing plot, a nifty heroine, and a couple of entertaining romances, all in one package. Readers who like contemporary romance are likely to be happily engaged for hours.

--Cathy Sova

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