Ouf, took me some time and efforts to write this review, but here it is :) Hope you enjoy!
Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen
published by HQN Books in July 2011
When old enemies are thrown together, all bets are off...Genre: Contemporary romance
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...
Series: Sisterhood Diaries Book #3
The Story: There's nothing more hurtful or humiliating than losing her virginity as the fat girl in a bet... and that's why Ava Spencer has never forgiven Cade Gallari. For the past ten years, Ava has successfully maintained her weight and now a size 12, Ava is proud of her curves. However, some wounds take time to heal and at times, insecurity still flares up.
Cade Gallari knows what he did to Ava thirteen years ago was shitty... and he's been apologizing and trying to make amends ever since, but Ava keeps giving him the cold shoulder. Well this time, she doesn't have a choice to hear him out. A documentary film producer, Cade wants to make a movie about the Wolcott's mystery. To do so, he needs access to the Wolcott mansion which Ava and her two best friends have inherited. In addition, he'd like to hire Ava as the production company's concierge as she is the best in the business.
Ava would like nothing better than to send Cade on his way. Unfortunately in this economy, her business has suffered and the mansion is a big strain on all three women's finances that Cade's offer could alleviate. However, Ava is determined to be strictly and only professional with Cade... He's hurt her once and she's not about to let him do it again, no matter the sparks flying between them.
My Opinion: I am soooo happy that Ms Andersen got to write this book and we, readers, got to read it!! Playing Dirty was definitively an enjoyable read with great characters and totally worth the wait :)
The best part of Playing Dirty was definitively the H/H. Ms Andersen was able to come up with characters that were smart, likable and real :) I can't tell how much I enjoyed Ava. She's strong and determined, she knows how to deal with people, is good at her job and enjoys it and has great friends for support. She's also not afraid to confront her feelings, admits when she's made a mistake and take steps to rectify it. I mean, seriously, isn't she awesome? LOL. Oh sure, life is not perfect. At times, she still fears insecure about her weight and I think it's perfectly normal, especially since her mother keeps harping her about it. Also, she might come from money, but it does make up for absent parents. Still, she's happy and she's comfortable with who she is and her life... and that's really what stood out for me from Ava :)
As for Cade, well from the little appearance he had in Bending the Rules, I was expecting him to be a bit more cold, a bit more aloof, a bit more "I come from money." Surprisingly though, he turned out to be outgoing, quite a likable fellow and a very good hero. I liked his personality and his dedication to his work. And also his patience and determination. To keep apologizing and having his apology shoved into his face... well it's not easy. Sure, he deserved it, but not everyone would keep on apologizing. Another point in his favor is that Cade realized immediately the mistake he did, betraying Ava - how much he hurt her, but also hurt himself because he genuinely liked her... and strangely enough, I think it made him a better person. I also appreciated that he was not simply a stupid jock when he was in high school, but that there was circumstances to the bet. It doesn't excuse it, but at least, it explains it.
I think the romance in Playing Dirty was great. Given the circumstances, Ava and Cade had a lot to overcome in order to have a successful relationship and Ms Andersen handled it well. I think the secret to this story was balance. In order to make this romance work, there was three points in my opinion: 1) Cade had to grovel, 2) Ava had to forgive him and 3) Ava's insecurities about her weight. What I liked is that Cade did a good amount of groveling - perhaps it helped that the bad thing he did was prior to the book. Too often, heroines let the heroes go too easily in my opinion... but it was not the case with Cade. Another thing that works is that Ava wasn't too stubborn about Cade. She still harbored a lot of bad feelings towards Cade at the beginning of the book, but gradually, she changed her mind. She saw him, interacted with him and her opinion changed. She did cling to the bet from time to time, but that was mainly at the beginning of the story which was understandable. Later on, she was able to let go and move on and that was great. As for Ava's insecurities about her weight, I was glad that it wasn't mentioned at nausea. Yes, it was an important part of the book, but Ms Andersen didn't repeat it over and over again. See, like I said, balance :) There was just enough of everything for it to work for me :) Of course, it helped that Ava and Cade were such great characters with very good chemistry :) All in all, I really enjoyed the dynamic between the H/H... They gave as much as they got which made for a great romance :)
Other things that Ms Andersen did well in Playing Dirty was to show the friendship between Ava, Poppy and Jane. I really enjoyed the dynamics between the three women and Ms Andersen gave us just enough of it :) As in, Poppy and Jane did not steal the spotlight from Ava. Also, I really enjoyed seeing Ava works as a concierge, jack-of-all-trade indeed, as well as seeing some of the steps for the documentary. It gave the readers the opportunity to really understand the characters and see another side of them :)
Unfortunately, I also had a few issues with Playing Dirty. As with everyone, I find that the diamonds mystery was a bit superfluous. It would have been more interesting to have Ava and Cade try to solve it, instead of adding a villain. His presence broke the pacing of the book in my opinion, because having his point of view just felt out of place. Another issue is that I felt the last quarter of the book was a bit too rushed. I would have liked to have seen Cade and Ava develop their relationship a bit more before declaring their love. When Cade said "I love you" to Ava, I knew she was going to freak out. It definitively was too soon. It's true that from Cade's POV, he's always loved Ava... but she has just forgiven, you've just started "seeing" each other and already, you're saying the words... Nope. At least, Ava realized that she needed to grab onto Cade :) Also, there was the relationship between Ava and her mother. It was nice to see Ava's mother finally realizing what she's been doing all those years... but I thought it was a bit too perfect. Like Ms Andersen was trying to wrap up everything a bit too nicely. Perhaps if it was a bit more developed... LOL, I guess I just wanted the book to be longer LOL.
All in all, I think Harlequin was wise to come back on their decision and allow Ms Andersen to write this story. Also, big big kudos to Ms Andersen to deliver, because this was a book readers were looking forward to and it was really good :)
My Grade: B+