Miss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, but Stacey’s Snowbound With the CEO is both salvaged and marred by its brevity … and it contained elements that helped Miss Bates overlook the office-romance ick-factor. The workplace, especially involving the corporate world, is difficult for Miss Bates to imagine as terribly romantic, with its ladders and ambitions and competition, though she’s aware that many a relationship has had its beginnings over the water-cooler, “statistics prove.” But the corporate world is also the place where women have to work very very hard to earn their place, where they are subject to harassment and discrimination. All of that to say it’s difficult to laud a romance narrative that has its setting in the boardroom and the bedroom. Nevertheless, Stacey pens a fairly appealing little narrative because she makes the boardroom the problematic arena and the bedroom the oh-so-right one. The brevity of the novella form, on the other hand, aids in this and takes away from it. The writerly hand giveth and taketh away.
Snowbound With the Ceo sees Adrian Blackstone (of Blackstone Historical Renovations) and personal assistant, Rachel Carter, get personal after five years of working together making his company top-notch in the renovation/restoration of historic buildings. When the novella opens, they are ensconced in New Hampshire’s Mount Lafayette Grand Resort Hotel, one of Adrian’s proudest achievements, awaiting a potential client, Rick Bouchard en famille, and their dilapidated Tuscan villa. This would be quite the coup for Adrian. Rachel, competent, poised, and super-organized, is there to ensure that he has everything he needs to clinch the deal. However, “he best-laid plans of mice and men” go astray in the form of a winter storm (it’s the week before the Christmas holidays) stranding Adrian and Rachel in the luxury hotel and the Bouchards in Boston.
Though the novella form did not allow Miss Bates to know these characters as well as she’d have liked, Stacey does a good job of making them immediately sympathetic, likeable, and endearing. Adrian is a self-dubbed “chameleon,” a man who’ll play boardroom games to do what he loves, resuscitate old buildings. He is a self-made man, a hard-working man, a man caring of his employees, maintaining of high standards for his business, and fair in his business dealings. He’s also a looker, a charmer, and can carve a mean Christmas ornament. He is of humble origins, Vermont-born-and-bred; his father, a carpenter, gave him his love of renovation, but a single-minded pursuit of education, business acumen, and aspiration brought him to this point … and keeps him there. Rachel Carter, blonde, blue-eyed, and full-lipped, is the perfect match to his qualities, attuned to what he and his company need to be the best. She’s also beautiful, desirable, adorable … and untouchable. As a valued employee, Adrian cannot give in to his desire for her and risk losing one of his greatest human resources. Until, stranded at the luxury hotel, with beautiful white stuff coming down and cozy fires in every sitting room, idleness and want trump practical necessity.
Stacey is adept at succinctly setting up her characters and their attraction. Of Adrian, she pens, “He was a man who felt the heart and soul of a building while watching the financial bottom line;” and, of his feelings for Rachel, she writes that he was “a CEO awaiting an update from his executive assistant. She would never know he wanted her more than he’d ever wanted a woman in his life … reminding himself every damn day of all the very good reasons he couldn’t touch her.” One of the nicest things romance fiction does is portray tenderness. The scene that introduces us to Adrian and Rachel has such a moment, “When she moved slightly … the sun caught her hair, reflecting off wet crystals. He reached up to brush them away but caught himself.” Rachel, on her part, is playfully tender, “Just once, she’d like to see him in jeans and a T-shirt – something faded, soft and body-hugging. She wanted to know his favorite movie and whether he liked vanilla, chocolate or twist soft-serve.” Stacey’s prose is accomplished; she captures the yearning, liking, and desire her hero and heroine kept hidden and now reveal. She does so with these tender little moments where corporate is replaced by corporeal.
Unfortunately, the length constraints of the novella compel her into rushing them into bed. She resorts, once the storm strands them, to a gimmick that we’ve seen a bit of in the romance genre lately: the pretend pick-up (see Miss Bates’ review of another novella which uses the same device). Adrian sees Rachel in the bar; they play the pick-up game and … yada yada yada … end up spending the night of their lives. Or, as Rachel puts it most wittily, “Tonight was for the bedroom. She’d worry about the boardroom later.” Adrian says of their precipitous fall into bed, ” ‘Let’s expedite this first meeting and schedule a lengthy, in-depth followup.” Expedite is the key word because it is, unfortunately, how the remainder of the novella feels: hurried along and coaxed to conclusion. When an author does this, she puts herself at the mercy of the declarative sentence. Stacey’s narrative is rife with them.
The narrative exhibits some redemption when Adrian and Rachel return to the boardroom, when the “real world” and their awkwardness with each other is manifested. The idyllic snowbound world of the luxury resort hotel is eclipsed by the realities of sharing an office and navigating the power imbalance of employer and employee. Rachel’s characterization, in particular, shines under these circumstances: in love with the dense Adrian, she admits her feelings, but does not allow the situation to get her down. She doesn’t wallow in self-pity or take a passive-aggressive stance: she gives Adrian what-for in brutal and loving honesty. Adrian responds with a winsomely loveable grovel. A forced and fakey fairy-tale-like epilogue spoils what was a lovely concluding mood.
A great start and a lovely ending (pre-epilogue) with the sin of the declarative sentence marring the middle make this a good read, but not as good as its potential and therefore, a romance narrative that is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Snowbound With the CEO by Shannon Stacey is published by Carina Press. It’s been available digitally in the usual places since November 4th.
Miss Bates is grateful to the publisher for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
More often than not, romance novellas have been misses for Miss Bates. As a result, she hasn’t read that many. If you have read a successful one(s), please leave a recommendation, and the whys and wherefores if you’re so inclined, in the comments. She’d be grateful.