Trick Me, Treat Me, by Leslie Kelly

>> Friday, March 16, 2007

I've accumulated piles and piles of Harlequins in my TBR, but in this "tame the TBR" project I'm working on, I've kind of been avoiding them in favour of single titles. I'm consciously going to be trying to read more of them from now on. First up: Trick Me, Treat Me (excerpt), by Leslie Kelly.

After spending more than a year overseas doing research, true crime writer Jared Winchester is dying for some excitement. So when he receives an invitation to a party his first night back—an in-character Halloween party, at that—he decides to go for it. For one night he’ll be secret agent Miles Stone. Too bad he doesn’t know that the party already took place—last year. Or that one certain woman will find secret-agent men irresistible…


Gwen Compton is tired of playing it safe. For months she’s thrown all her energy into turning an old haunted house into a bed-and-breakfast. Now it’s Halloween. The inn is ready…and so is Gwen! She’s going to find herself a man—a dangerous man, an exciting man! And she doesn’t have to look very far….. Late that night she discovers a dark, sexy stranger in the kitchen. He says he’s on a secret mission. But Gwen has other thrills in store for him….
This one was hard to grade. I was thinking a C+, but its charm and fun factor raise it to a B-.

The plot sounds crazy and wacky, like the author just threw everything in but the kitchen sink. We've got ghosts and gangsters and amnesia and mistaken identity and old family secrets, not to mention a spooky, gothic-sounding old house.

It's like this: Jared Winchester is a true-crime writer who's just returned home after spending over a year abroad, doing research for his next book. One of the first things he sees when he gets back is a Halloween invitation from his cousin. Cousin Mickey is organizing a pretty unique bash: a role-playing weekend in the scary house he and Jared were fascinated by as kids. It sounds like fun, and Jared needs some light-hearted amusement after his intense past year, so he decides to go. Plus, he hasn't been in his hometown for a while, so he's overdue for a visit, anyway.

But here's the thing: Jared's mail service sucks, and the invitation he got was actually for the previous Halloween. In the year since, Gwen Compton and her aunt, Hildy, have turned the old Marsden place into a gangster-themed inn. This Halloween weekend is their grand opening, just in time to take advantage of the house's reputation for ghostly activity.

Obviously, Jared has no idea of this, and when arrives in the middle of the night, fully characterized as secret agent Miles Stone (and this is one elaborate role-playing party... Jared's got a complex mission and plenty of props, from a fake weapon to fake IDs), and meets a lovely young woman in the kitchen (and wearing a sexy nightgown, too!), he thinks she's role-playing, just like he is.

Gwen is startled when a strange man suddenly appears in her kitchen (she's not used to having guests all over the place yet), but that's nothing next to her alarm when he reveals he's a secret agent, going after an international arms dealer who's staying at her inn. It sounds like a wild tale, but the man has ID and plenty of proof, including official-looking documents.

But things get weirder still, when light flirting leads to a kiss, and Aunt Hildy comes into the kitchen and sees this stranger seemingly attacking her niece. Auntie is carrying a bag with rolled pennies, which she puts to good use by hitting the guy over the head and putting him out cold.

And guess what ensues? Why, yes, amnesia! When Jared wakes up, he has no idea who he is, and so Gwen helpfully brings him up to date: he's agent Miles Stone, in a mission to catch an arms dealer. The same evidence that convinced Gwen of the story's authenticity convinces Jared, as well, and off they go, trying to catch the dealer together and falling in love in the process.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but surprisingly, I thought it read much more plausible than a simple description would suggest. Well, not exactly plausible, but at least it doesn't depend on the characters acting like morons. Gwen and Jared act like normal people would ask if they were stuck in this unlikely, crazy situation. Maybe slightly gullible normal people, but at least their emotions ring true, especially Gwen, whose current sedate life has had her yearning for some excitement. Oh, and I especially liked that Jared comes clean with Gwen as soon as he gets his memory back, even though he's worried she might not be as interested in a boring writer as she was in an exciting secret agent.

Both of them are likeable characters, and there's some very nice chemistry between them. And not just chemistry, they seem to like each other very much and enjoy spending time together, so I bought that a relationship would develop between them, in time. In time, I say, because what I didn't buy was that they'd be "in love" after this one very crazy weekend. The book would have worked better if the HEA had simply been Jared and Gwen deciding they had a nice beginning of a relationship and were going to be seeing what developed.

But well, this is just light fun. No deep issues or characterization, but a nice way of spending a couple of hours.


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