“Too Hot To Handle” has all of the Hallmarks of being another steamy Power House series for Tessa Bailey. A line-up of completely different siblings who set out on a cross-country road trip rife with more than just the typical variety irritants of “Aaron’s touching me”, “I’m hungry”, “Is there a bathroom nearby” and “Are we there yet”. This new Tessa Bailey series, Romancing the Clarksons is set during this road trip and if “Too Hot to Handle” is any indication, it is going to be a racy and amusing ride. Although, this first book is not a pre-planned stop in the story line – it’s a broken down car which is the jumping off point. The Hero and Heroine, Jasper and Rita, are both riddled with insecurities and self-confidence issues and they both deal with them in different ways which often times erupt in “rage” or “emotional” sex causing major set-backs in Jasper’s attempt to form a whirlwind and lasting relationship in one day. Although, there is a chain of events that occur which lengthens group’s stay in the small town – but that’s another story. This book is sexually charged, emotional, and there is one scene in particular that is breath-stealing HILARIOUS.
The Heroine, Rita, followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a chef. She was the heir apparent to take over the family restaurant, Wayfare. However she has been laden with self doubt because her mother’s mastery in the kitchen was natural whereas Rita needed to work at the craft. In addition to that Rita recently came off an extremely humiliating public debacle on a televised cooking competition, which crushed her self confidence even more. While the foursome is clustered around the broken down car a man on a motorcycle rides up, and although he can’t help them he can take one of them back to town. Then they can get mechanic to bring the tow truck to pick them and the car up and to the garage. Since the moment Jasper pulled up his eyes have been locked on Rita. She intrigues him and her attitude and demeanor draw him in. Even though the very perky, pretty, and oft engaged Peggy is doing the universal jumping up and down “pick me” dance, Jasper quickly dismisses her. Rita and Jasper’s eyes are locked appraising each other almost the entire time, he says that she is the obvious choice because she is dressed appropriately. The only other appropriately dressed person is Belmont and Jasper doesn’t think he would feel comfortable riding behind him. Jasper is the Shakespeare of sex talk – seriously – T-Bay did a magnificent job with Jasper’s “talk dirty to me”. But Jasper is a Hero with self esteem hang-ups himself. He has a reputation of being the town’s whore – the “Good Time Charlie” for women. Two years ago he heard the women talking about him as though he was a joke and since then he’s cleaned up his act and been staying away from the circling she-vultures – and he’s had no real interest in women – until Rita. He’s tempted to throw all of his efforts to clean up his image away because he wants Rita so badly. Rita is torn because she is incredibly drawn to Jasper but she knows that she and her siblings are in town for only one day. With her self-esteem in tatters, his efforts to want to take things slow sexually, and the clock ticking things are seriously precarious.
There are two catalysts for this expedition, the first is a journal left by their recently deceased mother who related a story from her youth. When she was 18 years old she spent a year living in New York City. She had the opportunity of jumping into the Atlantic Ocean with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club on New Year’s Day and took it. She recalled that it was a pivotal moment in her life. That leap into the icy waters opened her eyes to her future and it gave her focus – a vision. So in her journal, she said that she wasn’t one for hokey words of wisdom or things like that but if she had one wish it would be to see her four children, Belmont, Rita, Aaron, and Peggy take that same plunge on that same beach on New Year’s Day. The second catalyst for the odyssey is Rita herself. Rita is the child that followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a chef and ran her mother’s restaurant Wayfare. Then it burned to the ground on her watch – literally she stood in shock and watched it burn. One by one her siblings show up at the cinders that was once their mother’s legacy and Rita shows them the journal and tells them she’s going to New York and she’s going to jump into the Atlantic on New Year’s Day and they can join her or not. The siblings agree to go after some deliberations and negotiations are made. Belmont requests that his youngest sister, Peggy, bring a particular friend of hers, Sage, Aaron needs to stop in Iowa, and Peggy wants to stop in Cincinnati to visit “an old friend”. It’s this trip, and the necessary stops that two of the siblings request plus the invitation of the non-related traveler that are going to be the basis of the series.
“Too Hot To Handle” is filled with so much sexual tension, misunderstandings, regret, guilt, insecurity, and desire. There are also sub-plots involving the eldest brother, Belmont, and a non-related passenger, Sage, on this trek, as well as bridges trying to be repaired between the siblings. Everyone is carrying secrets and as I mentioned the comically side-splitting scene involves these characters baring various secrets. The story-telling moves quickly but the emotions are complex. The sex scenes are inferno-like though the aftermath is sometimes as devastating as Tokyo after Godzilla attacks. The mending of the deep rooted emotional scars of the siblings is emotional and yet sometimes pretty humorous. T-Bay packs a wallop in “Too Hot to Handle” but you end up sticking the landing with a smile on your face more than ready to take on the next stop on the journey.
I’m giving “Too Hot To Handle” Lightning Bolts and a Storm Warning.
This novel was provided for an unbiased review.