Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Black Tie Affair - Sherill Bodine


A Black Tie Affair
Sherrill Bodine
Grand Central/Forever

Contemporary Romance

The author of TALK OF THE TOWN returns with a sort of spin-off novel, starring the Smith sisters, improbably named Athena, Venus, and Diana. I think Venus got the short end of the name stick. That’s a lot to live up to, really. The Smith sisters of Chicago are wealthy and very fashionable. This is Athena’s story, though it’s clear that the other two will get their turns shortly. In the meantime, they’re opening a jewel-box boutique store filled with vintage couture and accessories called Pandora’s Box.

Athena works at the Chicago Institute of Fashion, where she’s currently working on an exhibit concerning the First Families of historic Chicago. Proceeds from the exhibit will go to fund a scholarship for her young intern, Makayla. No, I don’t know why the wealthy Athena doesn’t simply fund it herself. That’s not the point. The point is that, once upon a time, Bertha Palmer used her wealth and social position to help those who needed it and champion women’s rights in a time when that was not at all fashionable. Rumor has it that the Clayworth family’s collection contains four of her gowns in pristine condition. Athena knows that displaying these gowns would be a huge draw for the exhibit.

The Clayworths are another of Chicago’s First Families. They founded and still run the top-flight department store in the city. Drew Clayworth and Athena have a history, dating back some fifteen years. He was 19 and she was 17 and a betrayal has kept them apart all these years. More in the present, the Clayworths fired Athena’s father, a lifelong employee, on suspicion of embezzlement. Athena believes in her dad’s innocence and this development simply proves that the Clayworths are heartless and cold. But she definitely needs to work her connections to get to those Bertha Palmer gowns.

When she does, things go horribly wrong. Some substance in or on the gowns poisons her. This substance gives everyone who touches or breathes it a euphoric feeling, followed by a need to tell the truth. Not good, but temporary. Unfortunately, before the gowns can be tested, they’re stolen from the storage facility. Now there are unsuspecting people out there, getting dosed with whatever is on the gowns. Naturally, the Clayworth lawyers are in a tizzy over possible lawsuits. But Athena is worried about the gowns being damaged. She and Drew realize that, for their mutual benefit, they need to work together despite their past.

It shouldn’t be a spoiler to tell you that the substance allows Athena to admit to herself that she still has feelings for Drew, even after all these years. Drew clearly feels the same way, although he’s got the same problems with stubbornness and pride that Athena does. The source of the betrayal honestly doesn’t seem like something that would keep two intelligent adult people apart for years, but my disbelief was suspended by that time, caught up in the search for the gowns. The pace is very fast, the dialogue snappy, and we’re even treated to a cameo appearance by Rebecca from TALK OF THE TOWN. The story of Drew and Athena is wrapped up here, but there are plenty of loose ends (including the situation with her father) that signal more to come. If you’re looking for fast, fun reads, this author will not disappoint.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2010
ISBN# 978-0-446-61839-5 (paperback)

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