Mandy Keeling has just become the poster girl for "oops" pregnancies, and her jerk of an ex-boyfriend had the audacity to try to buy his way out of her life and the baby's. Mandy finds that she wants her baby very much, but she knows that single motherhood is not going to be easy. Her floundering toy store hasn't turned a profit in the three years she's been in business, so Mandy decides to do the responsible thing, sell the store and get a "real" job. Mandy's roommate, Caroline, arranges for her to have an interview at the company where she works, with an executive who is in need of an assistant. The only problem is, the man has a reputation for being an ogre and his last four assistants have up and quit, the most recent one in tears. Mandy is desperate for this job though, and absolutely determined to get, so she goes to the interview in spite of being in the throes of terrible morning sickness. She decides not to reveal that she is expecting until she gets the job and is well-established, and instead feigns illness when she can't help but "toss her cookies" into the wastebasket that just happens to be sitting right smack between her sexy new boss's legs.
Damien Sharpton isn't quite sure why he hired the odd woman who applied for the position as his assistant, but she's turning out to be a damn good one. The strange thing is, she's as elusive as a butterfly. He never sees her for more than a minute at a time, but she still manages to anticipate his every need and stays in constant contact via email and text messages. Even though, Damien can barely remember what Mandy looks like, he finds himself feelings desires and emotions toward her that he thought had died three years ago along with his marriage. When Damien has an upcoming trip to the Caribbean, he all but orders Mandy to book a seat for herself as well, even though he knows he won't really need her. It is supposed to be an award vacation, but Damien wants to get to know Mandy better and can think of no better way to get her to come out of hiding than the pretense of a working vacation. What Damien doesn't know, is that Mandy has the hots for him too, and has been having some very sexy dreams about him lately. The relaxing and romantic island atmosphere works it's magic on them, leading to some very passionate encounters, but since Damien and Mandy both have serious complications in their lives, they agree that their affair cannot continue when they return home. However, once back in New York, neither can stop thinking about the other, and wondering if perhaps they could have something more, but Damien has been harboring a big secret about his first wife. He will have to deal with the past and reveal everything to Mandy before they can ever hope to have a future together, but will she still love him if she knows the truth?
The Pregnancy Test was a generally entertaining and enjoyable read that was mostly light, sexy fun. The hero does carry a pretty big secret that is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story and toward the end, it becomes a little weightier as he deals with issues from his past. Otherwise it is a fairly breezy tale that has a hint of a Sex and the City vibe with an underlying plot about four girlfriends who share an apartment in New York, as well as all the details of their lives. In fact, based on reviews, it seems that a number of readers mistakenly thought this book was chick-lit, only to be disappointed and/or scandalized by the racy content. While it does have a certain chick-lit quality to it, in my opinion, The Pregnancy Test is still solidly grounded in the romance genre, and I can't say that I've ever heard of Erin McCarthy's books being categorized as anything else but romance. As an aside, the cover blurb for this book makes it sound like it is written in first-person point-of-view, so I was somewhat surprised to discover that it's not.
At less than 250 pages, The Pregnancy Test was a pretty quick read that I thought could have benefited from being a little longer. I liked that the hero and heroine had know each other for two months before their tryst in the Caribbean, but during that time they rarely saw each other in person with most of their communications taking place via text messaging and e-mail. I thought it was a rather neat way to build a relationship, because it was virtually all based on them being attracted to each other's personalities and intellect rather than just looks, which is something I really appreciate. However, the whole two-months worth of interactions took place during a scant single chapter, that didn't really create enough of an emotional connection between the characters to suit me. The book is very fast-paced, but the first two-thirds or so seemed almost rushed to me. I just found myself wishing that things would slow down a bit, so that I could savor the moment. When Damien and Mandy begin to realize that they have feelings for one another is the point when I thought the story developed a little more depth.
Damien is a very appealing hero, who we are led to believe at the beginning, is an ogre of a boss who scares away all of his executive assistants. It becomes quickly apparent though that he is mostly just a workaholic who uses his job to hide from the pain of the past. I thought that the circumstances of his first marriage and especially what happened to end it were rather unique and not something I've come across yet in my romance reading, but the experience quite understandably left Damien very cold and lonely. I really liked that he had been celibate for three years and hadn't been with anyone since his wife. In my opinion, it showed that he was more of a relationship kind of guy and not just one who was into casual flings, and to me, it made his time with Mandy more special because she was the one with whom he wanted to end both his emotional and sexual drought. I also loved that Damien barely batted an eyelash when Mandy told him she was pregnant, and if anything, it made her all the more attractive to him, even though the baby wasn't biologically his. I really like when romance heroes still find their pregnant wives or girlfriends sexy, because that's a time when many women tend to feel unattractive. I thought it was cute that after reading Mandy's pregnancy book, Damien was trying to be so gentle with her, practically treating her like she was a china doll and thinking he might hurt her. Even though it practically drove Mandy to distraction, his attentiveness to her pregnancy was very sweet too. In my opinion, it showed that he was ready to step up to the plate and be a father to her baby in every way that counts. I also enjoyed that Damien wanted to take their lovemaking slow and savor every bit of Mandy for as long as he could. What woman wouldn't want a guy like that?
I really liked Mandy too. She had grit and determination to throw her ex-boyfriend's offer of money to never bother him with the baby again, back in his face, sell her dream business, and then apply for a job with a guy who had been dubbed "Demon" by everyone in the office, while in the throes of morning sickness. She is also a very intuitive heroine, anticipating Damien's every need as his assistant and recognizing the pain in his eyes almost from the moment she meets him. I loved that when Damien's secret comes out, she stands by him completely, sympathizing and never doubting him even for a moment. Mandy starts out the story with her own secret, trying to hide her pregnancy from Damien, at first so he'll hire her and later so that he won't fire her. Yet the moment Damien started pursuing her on their trip to the Caribbean, she told him the truth immediately, leaving no room for silly misunderstandings which was a big relief. I thought it was also rather amusing and different to have Mandy be the one who was being more sexually aggressive, while Damien was trying to take things slow. Mandy is also a somewhat unique heroine in that she was born and raised in Britain but now living in New York. I'm sure it's probably more common than I think, but I can't say that I've run across a main character yet in my reading of contemporary romances who was a native of another country, residing in the US. I was also really impressed with the author's use of a number of British colloquialisms in both Mandy's dialog and thoughts.
While the author may have added some unusual elements to this story and thankfully avoided any "big misunderstandings," she did unfortunately still fall into the romance cliche of the hero and heroine fighting their feelings for one another. Mandy doesn't think that she should get seriously involved with anyone because of the baby, and Damien thinks that he can't have a real relationship because of his past. Although each of them had some decent reasons, I still thought they protested a little too much, and this kind of push-and-pull can be a little irritating to me. I think I just have a preference for characters who simply lay their hearts on the line. I'm also not a big fan of relationships that begin with sex-only agreements. It's a plotline that's just too predictable, and I always know where it's going to end up. Not to mention, as I've said many times before in other reviews, I simply prefer for the hero and heroine to be in love or well on their way before making love. That said though, Damien's aforementioned celibacy and their more-than-skin-deep attraction did make it more palatable for me, and I can't deny that the love scenes were very steamy and well-written. The Pregnancy Test may not have been a perfect read for me, but the characters were certainly enjoyable. Overall, it was a pleasant distraction with many things to like about it. The Pregnancy Test is the first book in the NY Girlfriends series. The second book in the series is You Don't Know Jack which features Jamie, one of Mandy's roommates, as the heroine. So far these are the only two books in the series, and Ms. McCarthy's website indicates that the series has been suspended for now. I had previously read one short novella by Erin McCarthy that I greatly enjoyed, but this was the first of her full-length novels I've tried. Since I had an agreeable reading experience with both, I am definitely open to continuing the series and trying more of her works in the future.
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