Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.
If you are a fan of contemporary romance then you must be familiar with Susan Andersen’s books. Because her latest books have been a bit of a hit and miss for me I wasn’t aware that this book was the last one of a trilogy but the synopsis was so interesting that I just wanted to read it. I’m glad I did.
After realizing that Playing Dirty was part of a series the first thing I did was get the previous book Bending the Rules. The books are related but I think that they stand alone quite well, I haven’t read the first one but I don’t feel like I missed anything.
This series is about a group of friends that just inherited a mansion and they are remodeling it in order to sell it. This is the background in which each story takes place. Playing Dirty is Ava’s story. When she was in high school she was overweight and insecure about it, she had an overbearing mother who was constantly criticizing her. Ever since she was little she has been butting heads with Cade Gallari. Everything changes while they get assigned to work on a school project and start spending time together, in a short amount of time they become friends and she ends up losing her virginity to him. The day after, when she enters the cafeteria, she finds out that Cade slept with her because his friends dared him to sleep with the fat girl. Fast forward ten years and he is back in town and needs Ava’s help to film a documentary about the mansion and its former owner. Ava is not happy about it but needs the money, there is a lot of chemistry between them and Cade has changed, but can Ava forgive and forget? That’s up to you to find out.
I really love this type of plot devices where the hero does something to the heroine and he comes back groveling (as long as he didn’t cheat on her, I hate cheating heroes). Even though I enjoy this type of stories, I do know that they might be tricky to pull off. When the guy does something as awful as what Cade did to Ava it takes a very good author to achieve a believable happily ever after and a likeable hero. I think that Susan hit the nail with this one. I can honestly tell you that I was rooting for Cade the whole time and that I liked him a lot and by the end of the book I was sure that they were meant to be together.
Ava was a wonderful heroine. First of all, she wasn’t a size 0, she was curvy and proud of it. She was a very realistic character because after what happened to her she pulled herself together, lost some weight and got to a healthy size 12 instead of a scary starved size 0 (like I’m used to reading when authors use this particular plot devise) but sometimes she was insecure, she still had to deal with her mother and she still had to forget and see past through what happened with Cade. She grows up a lot during the book and it was great to see a character that was strong but flawed and very relatable to any woman who has ever felt insecure about anything in her life.
Cade was a great hero. Susan doesn’t shy away from the errors he made, she doesn’t try to make it look like a misunderstanding, or peer pressure or anything, he was a jerk and that’s that. When he did that to Ava he was going through some very difficult things, but he never uses that as an excuse for what he did even if it does offer an explanation. His character also does a lot of growing up but he does it off-camera, the guy he is now is nothing like the teenager who broke Ava’s heart. I think that I was able to forgive him because he was sweet and goodhearted, but mostly because once he realizes that he loves Ava, he goes for it, he doesn’t care that she is skittish or that she doesn’t trust him, and he just proves that he loves her over and over.
I admit that out of the two of them I ended up liking Cade even more that I liked Ava because there were times when she actually got on my nerves, mostly because she was too hung up on the past; I do think that it was a traumatic experience but sometimes I just wanted to say to her that it was enough already.
There was this weird secondary plot involving some hidden diamonds and a thief that was completely unnecessary and somewhat boring. The book didn’t need it and I’m still wondering why Susan felt the need to include it. It isn’t even slightly suspenseful because you know who the villain is from the get go, and the final confrontation was anti-climactic. Fortunately the main focus of the book was the relationship between Cade and Ava and this part of the story was almost like background noise that I was able to ignore.
Overall I loved the book, the love story was fantastic, the heroine was real and the hero was to die for. If you are a fan of contemporary romance you can’t miss this book. It stands alone perfectly well and even if the story seems like it might be uncomfortable to read it really isn’t. Susan did a wonderful job and I’m glad that I read it because I had a great time. Oh! And the sex was burning hot, there’s a sex scene that was one of the longest I have read all year in a non-erotica novel. That’s it, go and get it, you won’t regret it!
Review by Brie
When old enemies are thrown together, all bets are off…Way back in high school, golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he'd slept with "fat girl" Ava Spencer to win a bet. Now a decade older and a head turner with her own concierge business, Ava isn't the gullible dreamer she once was— and she plans to prove it when Cade, hotter than ever, breezes back into town with an offer she can't refuse.A documentary film producer, Cade is shooting a movie about the mysterious mansion Ava inherited. And he wants her as his personal concierge. She's certainly professional enough to be at his beck and call without giving him everything he wants. Like another shot at having her in his bed. But Ava doesn't count on Cade's determination. Because he's never gotten over her— and he's not above playing dirty to score a second chance at a red–hot future…
HQN Books. July 26, 2011.