AUTHOR: Lissa Matthews
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
Mandi has one wish for her fortieth birthday – to have the hulking, tattooed Jaz as her very own for twenty-four hours. Through the surprise machinations of her best friend – and Jaz’s foster sister – her wish comes true…
Ellora’s Cave Exotika line is deceptive. Supposedly, it’s their erotic fiction line, meaning don’t expect anything but the sex. It helps when starting a story, because it sets the expectations appropriately. Except for the fact that it’s not consistent. Because there is no way this isn’t an erotic romance. Its ending might not be a cut-and-dry HEA, but it’s most definitely an HFN, with more than a few hints that it will eventually turn into the happy ending romance readers crave. This shift in mindset is almost always detrimental to the story. Readers go in expecting—maybe even wanting—one thing, and then get something else mid-stream. It can be frustrating and infuriating as often as it can be a delight. In this case, it’s more of the former than the latter.
Mandi is a curvy forty-year-old who supplements her independent jewelry making business with a waitressing job at her best friend’s club. It’s there she first spots Jaz, a 6’4”, tattooed, bald ex-con who happens to be Jackie’s (the best friend) foster brother. It’s lust at first sight for her, but she goes tongue-tied around him, barely managing to string two words together let alone give a hint about what he does to her. Jackie learns of the attraction, and asks Jaz to fulfill Mandi’s birthday wish, a request he is more than happy to grant since he’s felt the same way about his favorite waitress. He corners her at the back of the club at midnight on the day of her birthday, and from there, it’s one sexual escapade after another as they celebrate together.
I picked up this novella because of the hero’s description. The tattooed, reformed bad boy has long been one of my kinks, and this seemed to fit the bill for something hot to push my buttons. In spite of a promising first two pages, however, I didn’t get it for a long time. The story starts out in Jaz’s POV, and his discovery of Mandi’s wig and contacts (because Jackie needed a blue-eyed, black-haired waitress, not a green-eyed, blonde one) seems to cement the feeling that Mandi is really just a body in this first encounter. When it comes to erotica, the way to easily get me into it is to thrust me into the perspective of the character I want to be. Since Jaz is the one who pushes my buttons, I would have warmed to both of them more likely if this had been in Mandi’s POV instead. What I got helped me learn that Jaz is a lot more than meets the eye, but it did nothing to heighten the sense of tension or attraction between them.
This dissociation isn’t helped by the clunky dialogue, especially Jaz’s:
“…Inside Katz, you tempt and tease with that sultry voice, those expressive eyes and your curvy body that just won’t stop and give a man a break. And underneath it all, with your blonde curls, your sweet, soft face… You’re still anything but innocent. I’m looking forward to stripping you down until there’s nothing but your hot-and-bothered soul begging me to sate your hunger.”
Who talks like that? Especially since most of what he’s articulating is all stuff he’s either thought or we’ve learned, so it feels redundant. This type of speechifying doesn’t fit either the genre or this character, let alone sound in any way natural. It continues for a good portion of the story, too, lessening my enjoyment. It didn’t seem to find a better rhythm until halfway through, which is about the point the sex started feeling more than perfunctory, too.
What adds to this sense of disconnect is the very real, possessive emotions these two have for each other. It felt like a romance almost right away. Both Mandi and Jaz are thinking about what comes after this day. Both want more. That’s not a bad thing, because honestly, I thought they should have each other, but it took a while for the knowledge that this was erotic romance—and therefore evaluated on different criteria than erotica—to gel and actually help the story instead of hold it back. The story wasn’t long enough to make this a comfortable schism.
It does eventually iron itself all out, but not until halfway through, and by that point, there isn’t much left in the story. While there was a lot of hot potential in this, it often felt wasted, leaving me reluctant to try the other two stories about Jaz’s tattooed buddies, regardless of my kink for their heroes.
7/10 – Clunky dialogue holds it back for more than half of the story
6/10 – Physically hits my buttons, but felt flat and unbelievable for a good chunk of the story
6/10 – Without the juxtaposition of her so-called shy side, I didn’t believe this was as wild as it should have been
6/10 – It took half the story for the sex to feel organic and therefore, hot
7/10 – I had little problems seeing the people and at least some of the world they inhabited, but other senses were left bereft