Flirting With Intent by Kelly Hunter

book cover with a couple sitting in a limoOne night on Twitter I asked for recommendations for recently published books. I’m slowly working my way through an enormous TBR and was feeling like the books I was reading were not books anyone wants to talk about. Ros Clarke said she really enjoyed this one, and since I generally enjoy this author, that was enough for me to toss it on the reader.

First things first, the back blurb makes the hero look like an emotionally closed off player and the heroine seem like she’s sworn off men after a bitter break up. Neither case applies to the story at all. Not even a little. What we actually have here is an independently wealthy heroine living and working as a social secretary in Hong Kong after her wealthy financier father disappears in the wake of an embezzlement scandal and a similarly privileged hero who now makes a living as a hacker for government intelligence agencies. There’s no heartbreak in her past, he’s anything but a casual user of women, and the story is cute and funny, not dark and angsty.

From the moment they meet at his father’s house, the attraction is sizzling and openly acknowledged.

This time his touch sent desire skittering along her skin, and Ruby frowned as she whipped her fingers away from his. What the hell was that?

Apart from a rhetorical question for she knew desire when she felt it, knew the bite of it and the chaos it could bring. The question now became how could she have let this happen? Between one touch of hands and the next?

To her of all people. Ruby Maguire, who’d been outplaying players her entire life.

‘What’s wrong?’ Lazy smile on a dangerous man. ‘Coffee too hot?’

‘That’s one interpretation.’ Ruby sighed. ‘Regretfully, I’m going to have to ban the touching from now on in. And the teasing. Probably the question time as well. Sorry, Damon. I can’t afford to play with you.’

He wants her, and she wants him, but after years of living with a father who kept more than his fair share of secrets, she doesn’t have the stomach for a man like Damon, who won’t say where he was the week before and can’t say where he’ll be the next.

The set up is a bit fraught, but they work it out through a lot of playful banter. He’s a little manic and awkward, hinting at one point at having ADHD, and she’s a natural-born leader. Whenever he fumbles in an attempt to share more of himself with her, she deftly steers the conversation to allow him to save face. So while the plot tosses heavy objects at them, the tone remains light. Anyone who likes flirtation and courtship should definitely read this one. Their repartee is funny, cute, heartbreaking, angsty and hot, sometimes all at the same time, as they work their way from proximity lust to love.

It wasn’t a perfect book for me, though. For starters, I could’ve done without all the spy woo-woo. I’ve never met a spy plot or character I’ve liked in romance. For whatever reason, they never get me to buy into their spy world. The hero’s hacking performance wasn’t really preposterous — enough hand-waving and vagueness made it so there weren’t enough details to say one way or another how plausible it was — but it wasn’t believable either. I was either annoyed that the spy details were putting the flirting on hold or arching my eyebrows at the convenient lack of specifics.

I also found his family drama distracting and frustrating. It was distracting in that his MIA brother and battle-wounded sister didn’t add anything to his character arc or the romance. They were part of their own little sub-plot. This became frustrating at the end of the book when it’s all left unresolved, I’m assuming as sequel bait.

As always, Hunter created sparkling, rich characters. Little details like Ruby’s ever-present headbands or her always changing into flats to avoid the heel clack on hard floors turn the characters into personalities. The times when Ruby and Damon are onscreen together are A+ sort of reading. I just wish there had been less spy and sequel bait filler. B

~45,000 words
Published October 1st 2012 by Harlequin