When high school golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he’d slept with “fat girl” Ava Spencer to win a bet, he broke her heart. 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.Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen! What an enjoyable contemporary read this one turned out to be... at least for me.
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…
It all begins with one of those dreaded scenes that can only take place in high school between the gorgeous jock and the unpopular "fat girl." I cringed when Ava first began relating her happiness over having slept with hunky Cade. I knew a painful moment was in the offing, and sure enough it hits her like a two-ton truck as she walks into the school cafeteria and finds out that what she thought was a relationship on the making was the result of a bet. Poor Ava! The humiliation! She gave back as good as she got but was devastated in the process.
Thirteen years later and pounds lighter, Ava is a successful businesswoman and part owner of a mansion she and her two friends inherited, and Cade is a well-known, up and coming independent documentary film maker working in Los Angeles. Cade contacts Ava hoping that she will agree to allow him to film a docudrama based on the Wolcott's mystery in the mansion, and to act as the film crew's personal concierge. Although Ava doesn't want to be anywhere near Cade, the jerkwad, he proposes such a sweet deal that she agrees.
Why did I enjoy this book so much? The characters. Both Cade and Ava are likable grownups with vulnerabilities and flaws. Cade was a jerk to Ava when they were teenagers, there's no question about it, but he's not a jerk as an adult. It is clear from the beginning that betraying Ava to his friends and losing her affected him. He knew what he did was wrong and throughout the years attempted to apologize to her without success. I love the fact that to him Ava had always been gorgeous, and that he not only wants her bodacious body but also her joy and laughter in his life. Plus, Cade apologizes prettily and sincerely.
Ava, well... nobody can blame her for not trusting Cade. That's the real conflict in this romance. Ava loved and trusted Cade once, as only a teenager can love, and he betrayed and humiliated her in such a way that deeply traumatized her. That trauma combined with the way Ava's mother nags her about her weight even though she's now a gorgeous and healthy size twelve, makes her less than self-assured once she faces Cade again. The fact that she still burns for Cade is humiliating enough, but when she begins to actually like him? Well!!
Ava is not a character that I would say is defined by her insecurities, though. She is a beautiful, strong, successful woman with a joyful and beautiful personality. She is liked and loved and she knows it. However, seeing Cade again does bring back those painful insecurities here and there. It's a realistic look at a woman whose body doesn't conform to what's considered the acceptable "look" and every so often glimpses the "fat girl" in the mirror. Hmm... if she could only see herself through Cade's eyes.
I liked the fact that both Ava and Cade are portrayed as strong, successful characters who are not perfect. They are equal in that respect so that the characterization is well-balanced. They both suffer insecurities: she with her weight and he with his belief that he's not lovable enough. One of the sweetest things about this story is the fact that they knew each other since they were small children and those memories are made a part of the yearning that Cade always felt for Ava. I loved the way Andersen showed how differently each character viewed the other, as opposed to how they viewed themselves.
The one weakness is a side story line involving a theft in the mansion that really detracts from the rest of this enjoyable romance and interrupts the flow. The rest of the secondary characters make a good contribution to the story without taking the focus away from the main couple. I especially like the way the friendship between Ava, Poppy and Jane is depicted in this book.
Overall I really enjoyed Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen. I loved the characters, the romance, and the friendships. And for all of you out there who are always looking for this type of story, here's a female protagonist who is smart, successful, a size twelve with gorgeous curves and gets the jock and her happily ever after. A great story.
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Sisterhood Diaries
Publisher/Release Date: HQN Books/July 26, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Visit Susan Andersen here.
Sisterhood Diaries Series:
Cutting Loose, Book 1
Bending the Rules, Book 2
Playing Dirty, Book 3