Layla has it all together. A couple months shy of graduating from MIT, she's just been offered a job at the NSA, and that means she'd better make her last Spring Break count. Throwing caution to the wind, she hops in her car and heads to meet her best friend at South Padre Island, Texas, where she'll cut loose and maybe find a hot guy for a week-long fling. But her plans for the beach are ruined when her car breaks down in Atlanta and her wallet is stolen in a dive bar where she's nursing a beer and studying a fascinating and way-too-hot pool shark. But then he turns his attention to her, and Spring Break might just be the carefree vacation she's needed after all.
But...For a series called “Hot & Nerdy,” I was expecting a bit more geekery. Sure, Layla was a student at MIT who was about to head off and work in cryptography or something at the NSA, and she wore some nerd-centric t-shirts. But that was about it. Her character could have been an art major or an aspiring botanist, and it wouldn't have had any impact on the rest of the story. Aside from her studying the angles necessary to make a pool shot (which pretty much everyone does, nerd or not) and pseudo counting cards during a friendly game of gin rummy, the nerdy thing just didn't happen.
Judging Covers: It's an attractive cover, but now that I've read the book, it doesn't seem to fit, primarily because Layla is described as having short hair, while Phin's is long enough that he keeps it tied back. Yes, he cut his hair toward the end of the story, but that part covered just over twenty-four hours of the characters' lives. I know the stock photos out there don't feature a lot of short-haired women, but that was a pretty defining visual characteristic, so it's odd now to see a long-haired woman on the cover.
The Verdict:While I expected something a bit different, I can't say I was disappointed. Layla's character was easy to like, and Phin was an entirely new kind of romance novel hero compared to what I usually read.
It's hard to believe that the majority of the story took place in a single week, and if I hadn't been so into what was happening, I probably would have questioned it more. However, the physical connection between Phin and Layla was immediate and strong, and Phin was such an intriguing character, that I can understand how Layla was swept up in things so quickly. What was supposed to be a fling turned into a comfortable routine with someone who had no expectations of her whatsoever, and that seemed like the freedom she was looking for.
While I've read about plenty of romance novel heroes who hadn't put down roots, the fact that Phin was a gypsy made him altogether different. I can't say I know much about the culture, but what little I do know seemed to match perfectly with the life he was willing to explain to Layla. The fact that he wanted a normal life, complete with roots and friends and a permanent home, made Layla his perfect woman, even if he didn't immediately realize it. Sure, she wasn't expecting anything lasting to come from Spring Break, but she was the very reflection of everything he wanted in life.
The chemistry between these two was off the charts, and while there was nothing really romantic about their hook-up at first, I kind of appreciated that. Lust at first sight is a hell of a lot more believable that the love at first sight that so many books serve up, and I had an easier time believing in a fling that grew to something more than some sort of soul mate realization the moment they met. Their strong physical connection made the speed of their emotional connection more plausible, and… Well, let's face it. It's hard for a woman not to fall in love with a somewhat mysterious alpha male who exudes sexual prowess — unless he's got some serious character flaws, that is.
What I loved most about the story, though, was how Layla didn't just give in at the end. Too often, the romance heroine simply accepts a heartfelt apology at face value, and the characters ride off into the proverbial sunset. It was really refreshing to see Layla stand up for herself and refuse to immediately offer forgiveness the moment Phin acted contrite. Without really setting out to do so, she made him feel the way he'd made her hurt, and while getting him back for his actions and words wasn't really the point, it was a much better way of getting the message across than the usual teary nonsense.
Her Best Shot was completely unexpected in the best way. The characters had just enough Everyman to resonate, but they had a uniqueness that made the story stand out. Without going the saccharine sweet route, their feigned casualness made the romance all the more believable, and it was a great –albeit quick — afternoon read.