Harlequin / September 17, 2013 / $3.99 digital
Art student-slash-bike messenger Wren Davis pursues what she wants. And what she wants now is Gregori Ivanov, rock star of the Seattle art scene. With his tattoos, piercings and sensual sneer, Gregori is the ultimate bad boy. Wren's gotten to know the man beneath the body art, too—and it only makes her crave him more.
But Gregori loves women like he loves cake and champagne—intensely, but only for the moment. And after Wren experiences just how scorching sex with Gregori is, she's determined to show him that just one taste won't be enough...
I really enjoy Lauren Dane's writing, and especially love her characterization. Cake is a great example why; for all the edgy content and sexy scenes, it has a lot of warmth. I also liked that there wasn't irrelevant or excess drama. Everything was so natural and realistic. Of course, it's not “real world” for us normal people to be artists, much less insanely successful ones. But then, the glamour and glitz is a big part of the draw in romance. And Cake definitely has that—art shows, after parties, and dirty getting down time with the bad-boy artist.
But Lauren Dane is extremely skilled at focusing on the relationship and connection between people, regardless of who they are. The trappings are all there to draw you in—an artist with multinational reknown, a younger heroine (we know those are popular in the extreme right now), and the great setting of downtown Seattle. In fact, Wren and Gregori already have the art connection, but the real basis is they start off as friends. Wren sees Gregori as a person, not just as all his trappings, which are many. Sexy brooding tatted up insanely successful Russian artist with a “statement” mohawk? Yeah—it might be hard to see beyond the flash. Wren does, however, because she's so grounded and real. She's very confident, and while she of course has her vulnerabilities, she's as strong as a pillar. Wren actively guards against taking advantage of Gregori or using him. In fact, she refuses help from him that she might accept from others because she doesn't want to appear to him as a user, or get grouped with those people, if even in his subconscious.
Gregori and Wren are so similar, yet different, and Dane exploits this to show how the romance works between them. You might not know it because it's just “throwaway conversation,” but when they aren't flirting (and sometimes even when they are), Wren and Gregori discuss art. Beyond creating dynamic characters, it ties in the work, which I appreciated. Too often a character is whatever profession and it's never mentioned again in the book, so s/he might as well be whatever random cooking cutter job. Not so in Cake, or with Ms. Dane's stories.
The banter between characters is the biggest winner for me in Cake. Dane gives her heroine a really great set of friends, who are there for Wren, but also fit into the story. Her roommate Zoe is the person who convinced Wren to go to art school instead of a traditional college. Her cousin Kelsey is Gregori's personal assistant. While Wren doesn't need someone to stand up for her, it's lovely that she has such people. (Too often rare in romances.) It's when Kelsey takes Gregori to task that he has his lightbulb “I'm in love!” moment. It's still Wren who really demands he acknowledge his feelings though, and I was impressed by the way Dane layered so many steps into the official exchange of “I love yous.” I was a big fan of Kelsey not taking any crap from Gregori, and the girls calling him on his shitty behavior. Dane clearly shows being in love doesn't mean the heroine has to be a doormat.
There's no major grand gesture (although there is a cross country trip), but that's fine. Cake is a love story, as simple, and complex as that. You have real life drama—school, work, friends and family, and of course, exes. Dane's story considers the development of a relationship and normal life is dramatic enough. After all, with such extraordinary characters, shouldn't it be? With the well-rounded and established characters so skillfully written you might take it for granted, of course you root for them to fall in love. And that's what Dane delivers. A great love story. Every time.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Cake by Lauren Dane before its release (September 17, 2013):
http://tartsweet.com - A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet