I was looking for a comfort read the other day and for some inexplicable reason, this old category romance came to mind. I read it over and over for a few months, but I got over it and eventually got rid of it with the rest of my books from what I now refer to as The Great Blaze Binge of 2008. I didn’t even remember the title or the author, just that it featured a bounty hunter in a black t-shirt and a hot kiss where the hero backs the heroine into a closet door. Luckily that was sufficiently specific that I was able to turn up The Big Heat by Jennifer LaBreque.
Heroine Sunny Templeton is running for Memphis city council when the guy she’s running against pulls a photo of her in a bikini off an internet dating site and uses it to brand her a party girl. She loses the election and her reputation is damaged, but it’s not until he waves to her sarcastically from his brand new Cadillac that he really gets under his skin. And she rams him with her car. Sunny is smart, sexy and the owner of her own web design business. If she has any flaws, they’re endearing. Normally this would drive me up a wall, but she’s just so darn likeable.
Hero Cade Stone works in the family business, which just happens to be bail bonds. When his younger brother backs a skeezy poltician in the Memphis city council race to get them some publicity, and said skeezy politician undertakes some dirty tactics to win the race, Cade feels guilty. So when Sunny’s sister stops in to post bail to get Sunny out of jail, but can’t stay to finish the deed, Cade agrees to go across the street and pick her up. But his protective instincts are riled and circumstances conspire to send Sunny home with him to his house.
There are some hilariously goofy things about this book that could never happen anywhere but Harlequinland. It’s all coincidence, temper tantrums, unlikely family dynamics and alphamale shenanigans. But it’s hard to care. Because what these characters lack in depth, they make up for in charm. And if the conflict is a little too readily resolved and the courtship a little speedy (first kiss to marriage proposal in 2.5 weeks), it has enough redeeming moments that none of that bothered me.
Cade is exactly the kind of alpha hero I can get behind. He’s loyal, caring and protective of both his family and his heroine. He restores muscle cars, drives a yellow Corvette, dresses all in black, catches baddies and buys crotchless lingerie (for her). He’s strong and a little bossy, but not overbearing. Just enough to make for some hot alphasex scenes, complete with caveman carry, but not so much that he runs roughshod over Sunny. Sunny is smart, funny and resourceful. She may go home with Cade when her lawn is overrun with reporters, but she has her own car towed, calls her lawyer, changes her phone number and gets her work done all on her own. There’s also a spiritual overtone to the entire book–with animal totems and hints at clairvoyance–not precisely paranormal, but a little mystical. I rather enjoyed it.
I enjoyed it enough that I’m inspired to go back to some more of the Blaze books I remember loving–Lori Wilde was a particular favorite as I recall and I bought the first of these Big, Bad Bounty Hunters by Rhonda Nelson as well. I’ll see if any of the rest of them hold up. Maybe not every book has to be so deep and serious all the time, yeah?
Speaking of everything not having to be so deep and serious, I was tempted to scrap this recipe when it didn’t completely knock my socks off. The thing is though, my friends liked it just fine and everyone had at least seconds, if not thirds. Five people (mostly guys, but still) ate three and a half pounds of pork. Sometimes the great is the enemy of the good. That said, I made it again, doubling the spices until it met my standards.
With the BBQ sauce I made for my review of Alexis Hall’s Liberty and Other Stories (stashed in the freezer for a couple months) and a simple sandwich-style coleslaw, the full effect is appealing. This isn’t contest-winning pork barbeque, but made in a crockpot, served with a five-minute vinegar-based coleslaw and letting the sauce be the star? It worked.
If you’re wondering what the connection is, The Big Heat is set in Memphis, home of serious tomato-based BBQ sauce, and the hero and heroine stop for BBQ takeout when he rescues her from jail. By the way, how much do I love that the heroine gets thrown in jail? So much. Why can’t more romance heroines be temporarily incarcerated? It’s certainly a new angle on the damsel in distress.
Finally, this isn’t really a coleslaw designed to be eaten on its own. It’s a condiment, not a side dish. Which is good because I don’t even like coleslaw. At least not creamy, American-style coleslaw. I’d be open to suggestions though. Who has a favorite coleslaw recipe?
Coca-Cola Slow Cooker Pork BBQ and Five-Minute Sandwich Slaw
Makes: About 12 sandwiches
2.5-3.5 pound bone-in pork half shoulder
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 12-ounce cans Coca-Cola
12 soft white or wheat hamburger buns
1/2 cup tomato-based BBQ sauce
8 ounces pre-shredded, bagged coleslaw mix
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, smoked paprika, dry mustard, cumin crushed red pepper, turmeric, garlic salt and black pepper. Coat pork shoulder with spice mixture, patting to adhere.
2. Heat oil over medium heat until hot, but not smoking. Sear pork on each side, 1-2 minutes. Reove pork to crock pot and drain off the fat, leaving any browned bits. Deglaze the pan with the Coca-Cola and pour the mixture into the crock pot with the pork. Set slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hours.
3. At some point before the pork is done, combine coleslaw mix, celery see, red wine vinegar, salt and sugar in a medium bowl and mix to combine, refrigerating until ready to use.
4. When the pork is done, shred it using tongs or two forks and remove to a bowl. Serve each sandwich with a heaping helping of pork, a spoonful of coleslaw and a tablespoon of your favorite BBQ sauce.
Disclosure: Unusually, for recent reviews, I don’t know Jennifer LaBreque from Adam and I bought this book myself.