Kristin Hardy – “Sealed With A Kiss”

20 Apr


US title: U.S. Male (Harlequin, 2005)

GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: Mills & Boon, 2009
(2-in-1 edition together with Her High-Stakes Playboy)

SERIES: has a prequel, Her High-Stakes Playboy

WHY THIS NOVEL: Kristin Hardy

The back blurb:
Sealed with a Kiss
“John ‘Bax’ Baxter is stunningly hot and the best private eye in the business. Joss, Gwen’s feisty sister, knows he’s her last chance to find the missing multimillion-dollar stamp. Bax wants nothing to do with the corrupt case. But could a saucy encounter with Joss change his mind?”

Sealed with a Kiss didn’t work as well as Her High-Stakes Playboy. I liked the setting (Stockholm). And there’s nothing to complain about the writing, the plot, the suspense, the characters, the dialog. The only problem was: I was not all that invested in the romance, so it was easy to put this book down.

Joss is determined to get back the last missing stamp of her grandfather’s retirement investment. She and her sister are pretty sure who has it, but that doesn’t matter to Interpol because there are no leads for them to act on. Joss decides to go to Stockholm (where the suspect lives) and see if she can discover a lead on her own. As hare-brained as that maybe sounds, she at least hires someone who knows what he’s doing: Bax, a former FBI and Interpol agent who now owns his own security business. Of course, he wants to go on his own, but Joss is persuasive:

[Bax] “So why do I feel like I’m getting glommed onto as someone useful?”
“Of course you are. I’m trying to hire you, although you’re making it difficult. What’s it going to take with you?” Impatience filled her words. “I have to get that stamp back and I need your help to do it. Why not go over there and play pretend?” She leaned forward until she was just inches from his face. “Or do I have to make it for real? Would you do it then?”

They set off for Stockholm together.

Joss is described as “feisty” in the back blurb. But she is not the foot-stomping-curls-tossing kind of feisty I dread, she just knows how to get what she wants. Bax is the kind of man who is afraid to depend on someone else and who was burnt once. When their “friends with benefits” arrangement turns into something more, he of course panics.

As I said, I wasn’t all that invested in the romance. I admired Joss for her guts, and Bax sure seemed competent (in and out of bed), but overall the romance lacked suspense for me. Joss and Bax were “together” right from the beginning, investigating the suspect. When Joss later realizes that they could be something more than friends with benefits, the resulting conflict (Bax panicking) lacked impact because, although I knew that would be the final problem, their friends-with-benefits relationship seemed just such a conflict-free and easy relationship for a long time in the story on the lovers level.

Sealed with a Kiss is a action-driven story and what the romance lacked in suspense, the mystery delivered. The suspect is a shady Swedish businessman who knows what he’s doing and who appears far from easy to scam. He is good at having things go his way. At times, I wondered if he is too good at being the villain and if Joss and Bax could have a realistic chance at getting back the stamp. There are coincidences that help them, like finding the one of the few persons in Stockholm who knows the way to the villain’s island, but overall, the mystery was the stronger part of the story, IMO.

Verdict: On the one hand, there’s nothing I can really complain about with Sealed with a Kiss. But on the other, I just wasn’t all that invested in the story. So I go with the middle ground: 3,5/5.


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