Beautiful Bastard was published on February 12, 2013. I received an advanced reader copy from Simon & Schuster.
Beautiful Stranger was published by Simon & Schuster on April 16, 2013.
Let’s just get this part over with: I know that Christina Lauren (two authors who have combined their names into a single author identity) started their career writing fan fiction and now that fan fiction is published material off of which they are making money. Part of the reason I know this is that my friend Avi explains these things to me. The other is because I always read acknowledgments and in the acknowledgements for Beautiful Bastard, their first full-length published novel, they wrote:
And although a blanket, heartfelt thank-you to the fandom will never suffice, it’s the best we can do in this space. Rest assured, the space you can claim in our shared history is much more massive. Your love for this story, even after it’s been down for other three years, has kept it very much alive. We hope you enjoyed the reworked book as much as you did the original. May you all have your La Perlas ripped at least once.
I believe Beautiful Bastard was originally titled The Office when published as Twilight fan fiction.
This is what I will say about the fan fiction “issue”: I don’t understand it. I don’t read fan fiction. I don’t have any idea how close Beautiful Bastard is to The Office. I don’t really know what the difference is between a writer keeping a blog that eventually turns into a book versus writers composing fan fiction and then selling it to Simon & Schuster. But I do know that there are a lot of people who have lots of feelings about this fan-fiction-being-sold-for-money thing. If you want to discuss that in comments, please feel free. Just know my ignorance when it comes to this particular aspect of these books.
Whip-smart, hardworking, and on her way to an MBA, Chloe Mills has only one problem: her boss, Bennett Ryan. He’s exacting, blunt, inconsiderate—and completely irresistible. A Beautiful Bastard.
Bennett has returned to Chicago from France to take a vital role in his family’s massive media business. He never expected that the assistant who’d been helping him from abroad was the gorgeous, innocently provocative—completely infuriating—creature he now has to see every day. Despite the rumors, he’s never been one for a workplace hookup. But Chloe’s so tempting he’s willing to bend the rules—or outright smash them—if it means he can have her. All over the office.
As their appetites for one another increase to a breaking point, Bennett and Chloe must decide exactly what they’re willing to lose in order to win.
Escaping a cheating ex, finance whiz Sara Dillon’s moved to New York City and is looking for excitement without a lot of strings attached. So meeting the irresistible, sexy Brit at a dance club should have meant nothing more than a night’s fun. But the manner—and speed—with which he melts her inhibitions turns him from a one-time hookup and into her Beautiful Stranger.
The whole city knows Max Stella loves women, not that he’s ever found one he particularly wants to keep around. Despite pulling in plenty with his Wall Street bad boy charm, it’s not until Sara—and the wild photos she lets him take of her—that he starts wondering if there’s someone for him outside of the bedroom.
Hooking up in places where anybody could catch them, the only thing scarier for Sara than getting caught in public is having Max get too close in private.
I liked both of these books. I liked Beautiful Stranger more (I actually LOVED it).
Both start with an abrupt sexual encounter between the two main characters. It was more jarring in Beautiful Bastard and just seemed so out-of-place. Even when I re-read the book, which I’ve done a couple of times, I’m always put off by that first sex scene despite knowing how much I enjoy the rest of the book and the fact that CL does eventually explain the lead-up to this scene.
Here is what I do like about Beautiful Bastard: Chloe’s job matters. It matters to her and to Bennett. Early on, after some heated sex and heated fights, Chloe explains to Bennett why she can’t just dive into a relationship with her boss. He has just said to her, “You’re thinking too much.”
I pulled back as much as I could, gaping at him.
“You’re not thinking enough. This is my career we’re talking about. You have all of the power here. You have nothing to lose.”
And when Bennett pushes for more in their relationship, Chloe is the one who balks. She fears how it will impact her career and she fears that he doesn’t recognize how much it could impact her career.
It builds to the point where CL walks away completely from both Bennett and her job. She takes a job somewhere else, chooses to complete her MBA internship with another company all together.
It comes down to this: I liked Chloe and Bennett together. They make sense. But I also like the way that work out how they are going to have a relationship when they both work in the same career field and he is, without a doubt, a much bigger player than her.
This book is based on Twilight (a book I’ve never read or seen the movie adaptation of) and Bennett certainly tries to dominate this couple. But comparing it to Twilight-based erotic romance like 50 Shades, Bennett is not an unhealthy, abusive boyfriend. I’m not arguing he’s some kind of perfect prince or even that I’d want him to be my guy but he didn’t read as problematic to me.
On to Beautiful Stranger.
Sara, the heroine of this book, appears multiple times in Beautiful Bastard. She was in the same MBA internship program at Ryan Media Group (the company Bennett’s father ran) as Chloe (the heroine of the first book). At a pivotal point in Beautiful Bastard, it is Sara who yells at Bennett and helps him set in motion the things that come to pass in the final section of the book. Max knows Bennett from university were they were flat mates for three years. It was Max’s place in Marseilles where Bennett took Chloe to propose to her (an event we learn about in Beautiful Stranger).
In Beautiful Stranger, Sara has just moved to New York City from Chicago after breaking up with her philandering fiance (a Democratic congressman from Illinois). She has been in NYC for five days when she goes to a club and searches out a man who can help her live a little, at least for one night. She meets Max, who is British and has lived in the city for six years, working at a venture capital firm he helped start. [side note: we also find out that Chloe and Bennett have moved to New York. Chloe’s work for Ryan Media Group has thrown the company into overdrive and when the need for a NY office arises, they move there to run it.]
They find a dark corner in the club and then Sara says to Max (at this point, they haven’t told each other their names): “I’ve been the only person to give myself an orgasm for the past year. Can you change that?” [note: Chloe has had some alcohol at the point where she and Max have sex. Her consent is never in question from the way it is written but that’s a warning in case that plot line is triggering for someone].
When Max learns that he can meet Sara through his connection to Bennett, he wastes no time.
He woos her. He compliments her. He continues to give her orgasms. Eventually he pushes her for more.
One of the things I love about this book is watching Sara learn that she can just enjoy liking Max, liking how he makes her feel, liking how he makes her feel about herself. But it’s not easy for Sara all the time because of the past betrayal she faced in the one major relationship she had ever had. For example, this exchange about halfway through the book:
“Why are you so nice?” she whispered, and then kissed me, muting any possible reply.
But this one stuck. It felt too big to disregard and pave over with my hand in her underwear or a grind under a tree. I pulled back. “I’m nice because I’m genuinely fond of you.”
“Do you ever lie?” she asked, eyes searching mine.
“Of course I do. But why would I want to be dishonest with you?” […]
After a lingering look, she stretched and kissed my jaw once, carefully. “I’m fond of you, too.”
The casual sexual relationship with Max turns quickly and easily into a full-blown relationship and eventually into mutual love between the two. And help me if I didn’t swoon along with them.
When eventually Max tells her that he loves her, Sara says it back to him but then says:
“I didn’t want to fall in love with you,” I said.
He took a step closer. “If it makes you feel any better, you put a very impressive fight.”
But as is customary for romance novels, their bliss is tested by a rather large speed bump. And CL do a great job right up to the last minute leaving us in agony, wondering how it will all resolve into the happy ending we are so desperate for by that point in the story.
I give Beautiful Bastard 3.5 out of 5 stars because of that beginning that I can’t get past.
I give Beautiful Stranger 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a favorite of mine, one I know I will re-read many times over, enjoying it every time.
Both are on My Favorite Romance Novels list.