The Book Her Singapore Fling by Kelly Hunter
The Particulars an April 2011 Harlequin Presents title (published as Red Hot Renegade in the UK)
Why it was my next had to read? I loved the other Bennet family books. Enough that I went back and hunted down the first in the series after jumping in the middle, something that I rarely bother to do.
The Blurb:In desperate need of protection, Jianne Xang-Bennett reluctantly turns to her estranged husband, martial arts expert Jacob Bennett, for help. But there are problems: they've been separated for twelve years and cannot be in the same room together without arguing or ripping each other's clothes off—often at the same time!
But Jacob will go to extremes for those he loves, and Jianne is the only woman who can bring this honorable warrior to his knees. Can they delve beneath their red-hot desire and blazing anger to find the love that has always been hiding?
Review: I was a bit nervous about reading this book. Jianne is mentioned by the other siblings as the biggest source of guilt and regret from their wild youth. I didn't really want to read a book where either the heroine had made a huge deal of something minor or beloved characters from other books were villainised. Hunter walks that fine line of keeping me happy in both respects very well. Jianne is a sympathetic character with real complaints about her husband's past treatment, but she's not above acknowledging her own part in the failure of their marriage. She is also a great study in how to make a quiet and non confrontational heroine something other than a doormat. She politely and resolutely stands her ground and backs down her larger, louder ex-husband.
Jacob is taciturn and even veering into sullen. But he knows it and he's trying hard to do the right thing, even if he isn't always correct about what that is. I had a real soft spot for him and I enjoyed seeing his interactions with his siblings which are appropriately brief. I loved watching him as he rediscovered the wife he never stopped loving. Slowly he learns to bend enough to meet her halfway.
It's not a flawless book. The suspense element is wrapped up a bit too easily at the end to fit into the brief word count, but, as with most Presents titles, the couple is more interesting than the plot.
One of the reasons that I wanted to write about this book in particular is the surprising things about this book. The heroine is Chinese. She's the first Asian Presents heroine I can recall reading and it really worked well here. It defined many things about Jianne's character. Hunter even uses the language on the page to evoke that musical cadence that native Chinese speakers have when they talk.
The hero isn't wealthy. He's not a business tycoon at all. Make no mistake he's successful by any measure, except that of the Presents hero. And the heroine? Tons of money. Loads more than her husband. And Jacob has a problem with this the way many men would. What's more, the antagonist is more the model for traditional Presents hero: an absurdly wealthy man who won't take no for an answer. A delicious bit of irony there. And yet Jacob is clearly cut from the same cloth as the Presents hero.
Honestly it didn't bother me at all. The money thing actually added depth to the conflict between Jianne and Jacob. It all ended up feel surprising unpredictable. It seems to me that the category romances that I've read lately have been surprisingly fresh and innovative, while still honoring what I see as the core of expectations. Sharing the shelves this month with Hunter's book are other books that even from the blurb are clever twists on the traditional tropes. One has a secret pregnancy that happens through IVF; the parents had never even met. Another has the book opening with the heroine rescuing the hero from drowning. I love the play on our assumptions that is occurring here. That just means my TBR pile is growing taller.