Wild Fling or a Wedding Ring? (Harlequin Presents Extra #108)

Wild Fling or a Wedding Ring? - Mira Lyn Kelly Calista McGovern is only hanging out in a Chicago jazz club because her boss commanded it. After throwing her career away years ago to move across the country for a man, only to have him cheat on her within the month, she's been entirely focused on work and regaining what she'd lost. This Chicago project she's been assigned to is a step towards the London assignment she's been coveting, and she's determined not to lose that focus. All the determination in the world, however, is not enough to resist the pull of the sexy man who rescues her from a drunk's proposition at the bar, and Cali soon finds herself breaking her own rules and indulging in a taste of some "man-candy."Jackson Tyler doesn't do relationships, not even the casual ones. Since his marriage fell apart after his wife carried on a long-term affair, he's stuck to casual encounters with the sort of women who neither want nor expect more from him. The conservatively dressed, yet fascinatingly sexy woman at the bar is clearly not that sort of woman, but he can't resist flirting with her and seeing where it leads. When it leads to a hot (and I mean HOT) makeout session in a phonebooth at the back of the club, he knows he should run from the deadly combination of sizzling chemistry and sparkling personality, but he doesn't seem to want to follow his own rules with her.The two meet again the next morning when Jake shows up at her hotel room, leaving Cali horrified to know that "Jake" from last night was the brother-in-law named "Jackson" her boss constantly talks about. He wants to pick up where they left off the night before. She doesn't want to risk her career by getting involved with someone she suspects her boss of being infatuated with, nevermind risking her emotions with someone whose company she enjoys and can't keep her hands off when she knows she's not staying in Chicago long-term.The book manages to take a number of well-established HP tropes - namely the career woman not looking for love and the commitment-averse man - and yet tells the story in a completely fresh way. Cali still feels the repercussions of her earlier decision to choose love over her career. She'd gotten that job due to some favors from her references and quitting it on short notice to move cross-country burned almost all her bridges. She's far from a cold-hearted business woman who sees only dollar signs and stock quotes. Quite the contrary, she has a tremendous capacity to love and knows it will only trip her up professionally if she doesn't watch herself.As for Jake, he's also damaged goods emotionally. I really appreciated how well Kelly handled both the reasons for his aversion to commitment and his reasons for overcoming it. He's not a callous user of women or a woman-hater. He dreads domesticity and familiarity because he likes it too much and never wants to risk having it taken away again as it had been by his wife's betrayal.So while there is the external conflict of Cali's job and her temporary stay in Chicago, the crux of the story is the two navigating their own hangups. Kelly does a sparkling job of pacing, so as to avoid the waffling "will they or won't they" dynamic. She shows them growing together, tosses an entirely reasonable wrench into the works and then manages them back out believably. While there's angst, tension and frustration between them, the characters motivations are displayed clearly enough that it's clear a simple conversation would be inadequate to solve their problems, so it's heartwrenching rather than exasperating to watch.Kelly created such complete and rounded characters that I wondered how they'd ever figure it out without compromising who they were. Both remained sympathetic throughout the book and I wanted to do a fist pump when I saw how Kelly resolved it. All the good in the book would've been for naught if she flubbed that ending, so I was psyched at how it all worked out.This was a wonderful debut novel, and Kelly's now on my auto-buy list. Girl writes scorching hot love scenes with a delicate hand.