Riding on Instinct, by Jaci Burton
The third title in Ms Burton’s Wild Riders series, Riding on Instinct tells the story of Spencer King, who played an important secondary rôle in the events narrated in Riding Temptation, the previous novel (review here).
To recap, the Wild Riders are a group of unconventional covert operators who, because of their rather unconventional backgrounds, are able to take on missions that more formal government outfits cannot. In this case, because an unidentified DEA agent is suspected of aiding drug smugglers, the Wild Riders are a logical choice for the assignment. And since this would be Shadoe Grayson’s first mission-and she has an eidetic memory-she’s a perfect foil.
It is important to note that all novels in the Wild Riders series are erotic romance published by Berkley’s Heat imprint, which means the adult content includes graphic sex and language. All minors, as well as adults who object to either, should avoid this novel (and probably the review as well).
Here is the blurb, from the author’s website:
Department of Justice agent Shadoe Grayson is out to prove she’s no rookie, and eagerly accepts her first undercover assignment at a strip club in New Orleans. Working with the Wild Riders, a government agency of bad boy bikers, her goal is to bring down a corrupt DEA agent. All she has to do now is learn to strip like a pro.
Standing in her way is the arrogant and smokin’ hot Spencer King, her partner and one of the Wild Riders. Spence thinks she looks more like a schoolteacher than a stripper, and doubts her ability to do the job. But when he mockingly challenges Shadoe to strip just for him, he finds out there’s more to the surprisingly sexy agent than by-the-book rules and government issue pantsuits.
Now Spencer has to resist his baser instincts while Shadoe learns that taking off your clothes doesn’t always equal losing control…
Riding on Instinct revolves around two conflicts-the external one, provided by the investigation and by the fact that Shadoe is based out of DC while Spence is based near Dallas; plus the internal one stemming from both the protagonists’ natures and pasts.
Spence has spent most of his life ignoring his emotions and living in, and for, the moment. From a rather horrid childhood, he has become a self sufficient person, successful in his chosen career. He doesn’t do loneliness and he won’t get entangled in relationships-friendship towards his fellow Wild Riders is plenty of commitment, thank you very much.
As for women? Lust after ‘em, enjoy ‘em, leave ‘em-no harm, no foul. So when his attraction to Shadoe transcends the physical, he’s pretty much at sea trying to figure out what is different this time, and why it should be different at all.
For her part, Shadoe is no wilting flower or innocent débutante, but neither is she particularly into sex or men. She has her own issues, thank you very much. Growing up the only child of a military man who wanted a son to carry on the family tradition, has made her all the more determined to perform better than any man, as well as to avoid emotional entanglements which would only get in her way.
Once again I find myself conflicted on weighing characterization vs plot for the purposes of writing this review. On the one, hand, I keep feeling that too much of the investigative stuff is amateur hour rather than professional work. I mean, even though Shadoe is a rookie and the situation pretty much immerses them in sex (hello, stripping?), I would expect Spencer to have much better control of his reactions and his actions towards her in the middle of a mission. After all, aren’t all these covert operations on the dangerous side of the scale?
On the other hand, I find it interesting that, even while I’m wondering at the logistics and planning of the operation, the connection and chemistry between these two characters work quite well for me. For example, I enjoyed Shadoe’s take no BS attitude-when Spencer’s moods rub her the wrong way, she tells him off. And she does one better: by being honest herself, she gets him to be honest with her and with himself. Big kudos there.
On the background angle, I truly appreciated Ms Burton’s care in researching the world of strippers, exotic dancing, and clubs. Exhibitionism, particularly sexual, is one of those things that I just don’t get. It usually pulls me out of a book or movie pretty much immediately, yet the way stripping is presented in Riding on Instinct, it is less about sex (for the woman doing it, not her audience, mind) and closer to performance art. In that light, I could believe Shadoe overcoming her natural reluctance to stripping in front of a crowd relatively easily.
Mind you, having her performing in a well known club after only a couple of days of practice, and doing it so well, stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief quite a bit.
The thing is, my mind? it works in really weird ways. While appreciating that Ms Burton is portraying the world of strippers by choice in a positive light (key words there: by choice), as a career like any other, wherein people work at improving their performance and climb the ladder of success…way too much of my mind spent thinking, well, okay, that’s fine and dandy if you take really good care of your body and have no health issues, but still, once you hit forty (or likely much earlier if you have kids) then what?
(Projecting much here, aztec? heh)
So back to the novel, and the review.
I quite enjoyed Shadoe and Spencer, individually and as a couple. From the beginning their interactions and reactions to each other showed enough friction to make their mutual attraction perfectly believable under most circumstances. (Most and not all, because I’m still not convinced lust would obliterate good training in a matter of days.)
I particularly liked the final resolution. I imagine it comes across as odd to say that the ending of an erotic romance is sweet (hello, graphic language and sexual content!) but that is exactly the case here. In context, “Now what?” is one of the sweetest phrases ever, and I can believe that these two will do their damnedest to make it work between them.
Weighing my enjoyment of the characters vs what I perceive as weakness in plotting, Riding on Instinct gets 7.25 out of 10 from me.