Bare Essentials is two 2002 novellas put together under one cover. The first one — Naughty but Nice by Jill Shalvis — is about Cassie, much-maligned daughter of the town vixen. Cassie returns to her hometown to start a racy “women’s shop” to spite all the gossips. I loved that she was up for fun with Tag, the new sheriff, while keeping her heart safe. Shalvis wrote some very steamy scenes here, running the gamut from a fling-y diversion all the way to making love because Cassie was falling in love. The plot is simple, the secondary characters pretty flat, and the sex toy conversations a little over the top, but the romance won me over. I rooted for Cassie and Tag all the way to the happily ever after.
The second novella — Naturally Naughty by Leslie Kelly — parallels Cassie’s story but tells it from Kate’s point of view. Because again the secondary characters play such small roles, there is no repetition or redundancy. The story seems new, with a touch of familiarity. The flirting and the sex are graphic and steamy, matching Kate’s outspokenness and sense of fun. Kate and Jack were happy living the single life… until they found each other. They enjoyed each other’s, ahem, company so much that they didn’t even realize they were falling in love. While I found it hard to relate to Kate, and her friendships with the other female characters were awkward, I enjoyed watching her grow as she learned about her family history.
Shalvis and Kelly did a bang-up job writing novellas from the viewpoints of two best friends. They succeeded in creating sexy romances with strong female characters. And with the help of hot heroes, they let Cassie and Kate develop from sullen victims of hometown gossip to women who had something to contribute to Pleasantville. The girls finally realize that how they thought the people of Pleasantville perceived them was really only how they had perceived themselves.
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