I’ve got a great relationship with my car, a Nissan Altima I call Mrs. Gladys. Her zippy 2.5 liter, 5-speed manual transmission gets me where I need to be, and fast. And while I comfort myself with the fact she’s efficient, she’s no sleek Porsche Cayman. But don’t tell her that.
My best friend in high school had a brother four years older than us, and she, her brother and her father used to restore old hot rods. The ’68 Camaro was my favorite, and I loved the sensation of unleashed power that flowed through my veins when I was invited to tag along in those hot machines. Tied up in those memories is her brother, with his long, heavy metal wild blonde hair that made him look like Roger Daltrey (in the Tommy years). Wow. That memory is probably why I had such a visceral reaction to Tara Janzen’s first title in her Steele Street series, Crazy Hot.
Everything about the book made me breathless, from the hot desert weather, to the hot classic cars, to the hot alpha males plaguing the McKinney sisters. The setup is classic romance suspense: Regan McKinney’s grandfather is missing, so she seeks out the one man who is sure to be able to find him— Quinn Younger. But there’s much more than a formula.
Some of the most intriguing characters in Crazy Hot, and the Steele Street Garage series overall, are the cars. And they’re written as sexy and aggressively as the men in the stories. Janzen’s hotrods grumble and growl like beasts, her wording flies across the page, dragging your eyes and your heart with it in a race to find out what happens next. It’s the literary equivalent of Steve McQueen’s famous chase scene in Bullitt.
We’re introduced to Quinn’s classic Camaro, Jeanette, early on:
That’s what he called his ugly car. Jeanette.
Her [Regan] eyes flew open, and her arms shot out to either side, her hands clinging to whatever she could find to hold on to—the door panel on her right, and the gear console on the left. The whole freaking car was shaking and grumbling and growling. He pressed down on the gas, revving the engine, and the growling turned into an out-and-out roar.
Holy Mother of God. Wilson’s Dodge hadn’t sounded or felt anything like this.
Eyes wide, knuckles white, she looked at Quinn and wasn’t the least bit reassured to find him frowning at a gauge. Something was wrong. He revved the engine again, and the resulting surge of power poured through her from the tips of her toes up the length of her spine.
She felt like she was riding a rocket. Jeanette was a beast—all ugly on the outside and pure animal from the rims up.
Satisfied with the working of the gauge, he began inching the car out of the barn. Like a prowling tiger, the Camaro crawled across the dusty floor. A whole new fear took hold of her.
One hundred and twenty and oh, shit … they were flying Jeanette low to the road, roaring, the beast unleashed.
Jeanette features prominently throughout the story. She’s their means of escape and their means of safety. She provides the setting for the growing tension and desire between Quinn and Regan, and is the backdrop for sexy interludes. It makes sense when you learn the very reason Regan met Quinn nearly a decade before was because his punishment for stealing cars was spending time at her grandfather’s archaeological dig in Rabbit Valley.
Quinn’s colleague and friend, Kid Chronopolous—known appropriately as Kid Chaos—is in charge of keeping Regan’s sister, Nikki, safe. Kid Chaos drives a Porsche he calls Nadine that he “bought off a guy who had her in Panama during Noriega’s regime.” Nadine is partially armored and stealth-like, with flat black paint and no visible chrome. When he’s dispatched to collect and protect Nikki, Nadine proves her own badass value in a scene that gave me gray hair.
He pushed Nadine even harder, screaming around the curves, looking for those extra few seconds to put them out of sight when they hit the passing lane and made the turn. The acceleration was enough to hammer his point home. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her duck down.
He checked the rearview again, and when it came up blank, nothing but black, he readied himself and down-shifted. Then the white lines of the passing lane started slipping beneath the Porsche, and he executed the maneuver like a fucking Duke of Hazzard. Nadine spun around, tires squealing, brakes burning. Kid hit the lights, slammed her into first, sidled her up to the canyon wall, and lay there, catching his breath and lurking on the narrow shoulder of the road in the dark.
“Hold on,” he warned as they flew up a small rise. At the top, one look proved the straightway was clear of traffic. He didn’t hesitate. With the flip of a bright-red switch on the console, he unleashed a ten-pound bottle of nitrous oxide into Nadine’s carburetor—and they disappeared down the road in a rocket blast of power.
As an adult, Quinn is different; he’s complicated, rougher around the edges—more aggressive. And he’s a bona-fide American Hero, canonized forever as one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People. But with all of that, he’s flesh and blood, and human. “Recovering” from his wounds at the beginning is more a fact on paper than any true physical restriction on his lively character. Oh, man, what would it be like to roar down a desert highway at 120 MPH with a hero like that?
What elements in a romance, other than fast cars and alpha men, make you breathless?
P.S.: The next story in the series is about a righteous dude they call “Superman.” Bet you can’t wait to read that one.
1968 Camaro image from Musclecross.com
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.