Don't be fooled by the cover art of Black Ties and Lullabies, Bernadette `Bernie' Hogan wouldn't be caught dead in a flouncy red dress. Jeremy Bridges is a gazillionaire who wears running shoes with his tuxedos and leaves his tie undone when frequenting endless high brow philanthropic events. Bernie is a tough as nails, no nonsense bodyguard who has a razor sharp tongue and doesn't mince words regarding her distain for her boss's lifestyle. She is military trained, loves guns-is a crack shot, plays a mean game of poker with the guys and detests anything remotely `girly'. Her colleagues and friends are actually afraid of her lethal defense skills. Bernie is also devoted to her ailing mother.
Jeremy has a typical rags to riches background. He is a self made billionaire who built his company, Sybersense Systems from nothing into a mega conglomerate. He is ruthless in business, wealthy beyond measure, and lives in a veritable castle that he had custom designed and constructed. Jeremy is handsome and a compulsive womanizer who has no intention of settling down. He likes blondes with large surgically enhanced breasts. Bernie has dark hair, wears black understated outfits, and uses no make-up at all. And, she has an aversion to plastic surgery.
After picking up his latest blonde bimbo at a Benefit to "Save The Whales", Jeremy and his entourage, which includes Bernie, and Carlos, his chauffeur, return to his mansion where Jeremy has one thing on his mind. He dismisses said entourage but Bernie returns because she smelled a rat from the minute she laid eyes on the female Jeremy chose to bring home. Bernie warned Jeremy about said female but he ignored her. It turns out that Jeremy should have listened because the blonde holds him at gunpoint and forces him to admit a crew of burly thieves onto his property and into the mansion.
Bernie does save the day, but she is enraged. So, while Bernie and Jeremy hold up in his opulent safe room a round of fast angry sex ensues with the participants being almost fully clothed-although they did remove the essentials to do the deed. Then Bernie quits her job and walks out. No woman has ever walked out on Jeremy Bridges before and he wants her back for more than one reason. Bernie is ashamed and disgusted with herself and is determined never to return, no matter what the rich guy offers to pay.
Okay, this is where things get, well, weird. Due to condom failure, Bernie ends up pregnant with Jeremy's child. Now, we all know that this does happen but what didn't sit right with me was that after Bernie finds out she is carrying the child of a man she despises she goes to her lawyer and has papers drawn up for Jeremy to sign relinquishing all rights to their baby. Given the fact that Jeremy practiced what he thought was safe sex and had no idea he conceived a child I asked myself why a bright woman like Bernie would even tell the guy she can't stand being around she was pregnant? Why not just walk away-he never would have known the difference. One can only assume that the story had to be plotted this way so that this rather odd couple would eventually get together.
What kept me reading and saved this book for me was the humor. Ms. Graves pens extremely witty banter into the narrative that caused me to laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Here is an example of a little of the fun early in Black Ties and Lullabies. Bernie is playing poker with her friends who happen to also be her colleagues. She is pretty green around the gills suffering through some early morning sickness. Bernie thinks she has the flu.
"Bernie can't have the flu," Lucky said. "She's too mean for the germs to survive."
"I'm fine," Bernie said, even though she was beginning to believe she wasn't.
And then she felt it again. An even bigger wave of nausea, undulating like a riptide dragging her out to sea. She did her best to keep her face impassive, but it was a hard-won battle.
Bill stared at her, his eyes narrowing. "You know, Teresa looked like that once for three solid months."
"Teresa had the flu for three months?" Gabe said.
"No. She had morning sickness for three months."
In unison, the other three heads swiveled around and looked at Bernie expectantly. Until that very moment, the possibility hadn't even crossed her mind. But now...
No. No Way. She'd seen Bridges put on a condom. She was sure of it. Pregnant? That was ridiculous.
But just as she was blowing off the possibility, another wave of nausea hit. She gritted her teeth against it, sliding her hand against her stomach.
"There!" Bill said, pointing. "That's it! The look! White as a ghost, weaving back and forth, hand on stomach---"
She jerked her hand away and sat up straight. "I told you already. It's nothing."
"So you're telling me you couldn't possibly be pregnant?"
"For God's sake, Bill!" Teresa called from the kitchen.
Bill leaned in. "When's the last time you got laid?"
"Bill!" Teresa shouted. "Will you stop?"
"Well," Lucky said, "if she was with a guy, he's a goner now. Don't black widows eat their mates?"
Black Ties and Lullabies © Jane Graves
There are also some emotional moments in Black Ties and Lullabies, particularly when Jeremy does something really insensitive and nearly loses Bernie for good after he has proven himself to be a descent human being. He does redeem himself in the end and I did (for the most part) like Jeremy.
However, Bernie? I didn't get her. Aside from the niggle already mentioned I found her character inconsistent, it just didn't seem right that this woman who presented as hard assed, disciplined and principled would morph into the soft, sort of mushy individual she became despite impending motherhood. That being said, the story did move along at a fast pace and provided a couple of surprises, particularly when there are pregnancy complications. Further, Ms. Graves did create strong secondary characters who I found endearing, most notable was her friend and fellow bodyguard Max, who becomes Jeremy's protector when Bernie quits. If you enjoy a contemporary romance with pregnancy, and an antagonists turned lovers themes, you may like to give Black Ties and Lullabies a try.