Step Into My Parlor
(The Women on the Run series, Book 1)
Janece O. Hudson, publisher
DESCRIPTION: Socialite Anne Foxworth Jennings, heiress to the Royal Fox luxury hotel fortune, never thought she'd be stepping into a Houston pawn shop, desperate
for cash. But things changed fast when her mother died and her stepbrother Preston tried to get his hands on the family bank account - first by proposing to Anne, then by
trying to kill her. When she ran, she grabbed a briefcase full of Preston's files: blackmail material on everyone from senators and judges to the head of the FBI. With
that kind of power ranged against her, Anne doesn't know whom she can trust. Her only hope was an old lawyer friend, far enough out of Washington to be beyond Preston's
grasp, but Vicki seems to have vanished, leaving Anne stranded in Texas with sixty-three cents in her pocket and no options.
"Spider" Webb, former football star turned pawn shop owner, has made a comfortable life for himself in Texas... comfortable, but lonely. He didn't realize how lonely he'd been until the strange lady turned up in his pawn shop, hocking her watch for enough money to buy a hotel room and a meal. From the fear in her eyes, he knows she's running... and from the faint mark on her ring finger, he knows she's married. And one thing Spider won't do is mess around with a married woman. But he also can't turn his back on a lady who needs help - especially when the mere thought of her tempts him to break his own rule about married women in his bed.
REVIEW: Once again, I was fooled by reviews on Amazon. This was supposed to be a clever romance, winner of multiple awards... at least, in the original form. This
version, however, has been "updated" and edited for its eBook debut. Perhaps some of that cleverness I was promised was edited out, or perhaps the basic storyline is just too dated for me to enjoy.
Even for a novella, it feels
stretched, puffed with prolonged shopping trips and visits from Spider's vast network of friends and the obligatory yearnings of the leads as they simultaneously obsess over and try to deny their passions. The threat of Preston is mostly in Anne's mind; she may have had close calls before reaching Texas, but any trace of him finding her in Houston is the result of an overactive imagination, not to mention blatant bait-and-switches by the author. This makes her less a fearful woman in over her head, struggling to stay alive and do the right thing, than a frail object jumping at shadows who needs a Good Strong Man to protect her from herself. I could feel the author's hand constantly at work, creating complications and smoothing them out, tugging characters this way and that, making the whole story feel like a cheap contrivance rather than a natural unfolding of events between genuinely attracted individuals.
The romance itself feels unbalanced. Anne's the desperate one, the helpless woman who needs saving, the shallow socialite who needs to change her preconceptions about scruffy men in leather jackets and the merits of beer and country music versus wine and symphony orchestras. She's even the one responsible for most of the angst, letting Spider believe she's running from a husband (and therefore not fair game for his affections) rather than coming clean with her single status. Spider, on the other hand, is pretty much perfect as is, a good ol' country boy who hasn't an enemy in the world. His only perceived weaknesses are an overprotective streak (justified, in Anne's case) and an inability to recognize gallery-quality merchandise in his own store (a rather stereotypical hole for a manly man... and one that Anne conveniently fills, when he just happens to have numerous big ticket items in need of salvation by a fugitive art gallery owner.) Despite comments about their economic disparity, Spider comes across as fairly loaded, casually peeling off hundreds from an inexhaustible wad to assist any friend and cater to any real or perceived whim of Anne's. Half of Houston apparently has benefited from his legendary generosity, which he brushes off with a smile and a comment about tax deductible donations. With such flimsy barriers in their way, the ending would be a foregone conclusion even if this weren't billed as a romance.
In the end, I walked out of Spider's pawn shop feeling manipulated and unimpressed.
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