Series: 21 Wall Street

Huge Deal by Lauren Layne

Huge Deal by Lauren LayneHuge Deal by Lauren Layne
Series: 21 Wall Street, #3
Published by Montlake Romance on 23rd April 2019
Pages: 268
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three-stars

An alpha among the wolves of Wall Street, Kennedy Dawson rose to the top of the pack by striking the right contracts at the right times. But there’s one deal that’s been giving him a run for his money—a pact to never again let his assistant, Kate, get under his skin. She may be smart, gorgeous, and sharp as a whip, but she’s definitely off-limits.

Kate Henley isn’t a banker, but she knows a thing or two about risk management—specifically, about managing her attraction to her smolderingly sexy boss. She already fell once, and Kennedy showed no sign of paying a return on her investment. So when Kennedy’s brother starts pursuing her, Kate figures she has the best of both worlds. Jack is charming, rich, very attentive, and the spitting image of his older brother.

It’s also making Kennedy think twice. But to win Kate’s heart, he’ll have to broker the deal of a lifetime…and prove he’s worth the risk.

It’s been a while since I’ve bene on the Lauren Layne boat, and ‘Huge Deal’ was one that I stepped into warily. Layne’s recent works have revolved around certain tropes and themes (questionable ones for me at least, when they seem to have to do with sibling dating, manwhores, oblivious/unrequited love) that have made it hard to fully like her books.

And lordy, how do I even begin with this?

Yes, there are feels. And yes, my chest hurt, mostly for Kate, but ultimately, I was left with too many doubts left unassuaged, shadowed instead by feel-good platitudes, of talk but not enough grit and fight in a relationship. Especially one that begins with unrequited emotions.

First, let’s get this out of the way: there’s no question that Layne can write and quite perceptively too. There’s angst, the outpouring of emotions, some nuanced looks at human behaviour in ‘Huge Deal’…but there’s also the uncomfortable underlying implications that affections could be transferred fast and that easily with the slight hint here of double-dipping, that appearances mattered greatly when Kennedy only noticed Kate after her mini-makeover which I couldn’t shake off.

Kenendy’s utter obliviousness to Kate, his underestimation of her, his under-appreciation for her for years when it was clear she had a thing for him was painful to read about. His accidental and meaningless put-downs made it worse—or that he often made it sound like he thought nothing of her except as an assistant—didn’t make the case for coupledom any easier, until Jack the younger brother came on the scene.

Why did it have to take a little bit of competition from his brother, for God’s sake, for Kennedy to wake up and see that Kate was a woman worth being with? That without Jack to peel the blinkers off Kennedy’s eyes, Kate couldn’t stand on her own merit and be deserving of that same attention without the makeover? Would Kate and Kennedy otherwise have gone on their own individual trajectories had Jack not intervened? Would Kennedy have not bothered about Kate otherwise?

The bottomline is, many of these burning questions—appearing when some tropes themselves appear—weren’t sufficiently addressed for me to buy into Kate/Kennedy, not when I found myself reading about affections that were too shakeable, too transferable, too easily swayed, where it had to take a mountain-moving revelation or makeover for an unattainable man to finally notice the woman who’d always been in front of him while going through a score of others in the meantime.

The reversal of everything in the last quarter of the book was surprising to say the least, as Kennedy ironically played catch up and took every effort to convince Kate—whose own POV on love had changed. In fact, I needed Layne to address the imbalance of emotions more or at least why it’d taken Kennedy this much to see her for what she was, but it seemed as though she’d taken another way out with a whole emotional twist that simply felt out of character for Kate.

With the sudden rush to an abrupt ending—the ending conflict was up and done too quickly for my liking—I was still left with the feeling that Kennedy hadn’t put himself out there enough, hadn’t fought for the both of them enough, hadn’t been put through the emotional agony enough, hadn’t made himself more vulnerable enough.

That Kate had all along, been the more multi-faceted character with the most growth and change didn’t exactly put them as equals as ‘Huge Deal’ rolled up to a quick HEA that left me less than convinced at a pairing that should and could have been more tested in a crucible that never quite burned hot enough.

three-stars

Hot Asset by Lauren Layne

Hot Asset by Lauren LayneHot Asset by Lauren Layne
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22nd 2018
Pages: 270
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two-stars

Ian Bradley is the definition of a Wall Street hotshot: seven-figure salary, designer suits, and a corner office. His drive off the floor is just as potent. Every woman who knows him has felt the rush. But now he’s met his match in Lara McKenzie—a woman with the power to bring Ian to his knees.

An ambitious, whip-smart daughter of FBI agents, Lara is a rising star in fighting white-collar crime. Her latest case—the investigation of Ian Bradley for insider trading—could make her career. She knows a scoundrel when she sees one. Ian fits the bill: a cocky, ridiculously handsome bad boy with a slick swagger.

She’ll do anything to prove he’s guilty. He’ll do anything to prove he’s not. But it’s only a matter of time before their fierce battle of wits gets oh so hot and personal. Now, taking down Ian has become more than business for Lara. It’s become a pleasure—and there’s more at risk than she ever dreamed.

Schmooze, you lose. ‘Hot Asset’ has all of the trademark Lauren Layne hallmarks in it: the sharp banter (though there’s an edge here as it starts out hostile), the reformed manwhore by the end of the story and a brewing conflict that one can see coming miles away. Layne’s character voices are distinct, along with a solid introduction to secondary characters who will get their own books, as Ian/Lara’s own tale moves along at a brisk but steady pace, making ‘Hot Asset’ an easy afternoon read.

Written in the alternating first person POV, ‘Hot Asset’ starts off ominously nonetheless—not in the horror story sort—but with a cocky and smarmy male voice who lauds his work achievements (as well as the women he always manages to snag and never for a second-time around because he casually attributes it to ‘faulty wiring’). Whatever Lauren Layne means to achieve with these few starting paragraphs, I wasn’t sure if Ian Bradley tanking to the depths in my esteem is it because he starts off as a protagonist I love to hate.

And ‘Hot Asset’ fails in this particular bit for me, because Ian is the furthest from what I can actually imagine as a romantic hero worthy of a HEA with a woman who frankly, deserves a lot better. Maybe Layne has characterised Brady all too well such that he fits the manwhore financial guru to a ’T’, to the extent where everything he says and does not only becomes predictable, but also eye-rollingly repulsive.

Lara’s steely-eyed determination and perception in contrast, unfazed as she is when faced with these men who think the world of their own invincibility, is no small pleasure I take as she and Ian clash. Still, it’s hard to recover from the respect Ian’s lost in my eyes as he talks about women as commodities or as a sum of her body parts. ‘Leftovers’ for instance, is a word I detest, because it shows the dismissive regards he has for his hookups. That he eyes every woman in terms of her looks (hot or not) and the potential of a hookup made him distasteful, or that he also uses Lara’s attraction to him as a weapon or rather, as an attack on her lack of personal life, undercuts every preconception of what a romantic hero should be when I first started ‘Hot Asset’.

I hated that Ian doesn’t stay the professional path in getting his name cleared, but uses his womanising/flirting skills to get her to prove his innocence and is hurt when it doesn’t really work. Re-thinking his meaningless work-hard, play-hard life because he’s terrified that jail will take it all away from him…surely there’s more depths to plumb in the shallows of Ian Bradley? I never quite got the idea that Lara stands out for Ian other than being someone who is off-limits to him, and that’s the only difference it makes among the sea of good-looking women he’s slept with.

I think the risk of writing such egomaniac womanisers—Layne’s constant emphasis on this truly doesn’t help the case—who finally fall for one woman, is that believability thereafter becomes the issue, where the uphill task thus falls on the author to get a reader to believe that a man like Ian can finally commit and hasn’t till now only because he hasn’t wanted to try enough. Trying to get a reader to see that there are other qualities to this man despite this glaring fault somehow didn’t work with me at all, not when I couldn’t overlook the lascivious ways he eyes women as challenges to overcome and yes, Lara as well, who has become part of his tried-and-true tricks.

I’m painfully aware this puts me in the minority, but Layne’s portrayal of sleazy Ian has been nothing but an immense disappointment. I usually expect more of male protagonists in romantic fiction, at least for integrity and respect they can show women and I struggled hard to find this in Ian, especially in the end when it was one of his (adulterous) flings that caused him to land in hot soup. The only consolation I took was in Lara’s own strength and determination (though she obviously caves to his charm) in seeing the case through, though that didn’t seem enough to redeem this couple that Layne tries hard to build.

The rant is probably enough to say that ‘Hot Asset’ isn’t a read that sat well with me, which is an understatement as it comes. It has sort of diminished my enthusiasm for the rest of the books in the series, to be honest, because I’d always thought Layne could do much, much better than this.

two-stars