Revenge at Bella Terra (The Scarlet Deception #2)

By Christina Dodd

Publisher: Signet Select
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Suspense
Source: Purchased

Eli Di Luca lives in Bella Terra, but now the family vineyard he runs is in financial trouble. Enter Italian magnate Tamosso Conte, who makes a proposition Eli can’t refuse: marry his daughter, and Conte will solve Eli’s money problems.

Unfortunately, the beautiful Chloe has no intention of getting married without a fight. Soon she discovers Eli’s been keeping secrets from her, and the truth will put them both in mortal danger.

Goodreads Summary

~There will be some minor spoilers below for the first book in the series, Secrets of Bella Terra~

After a backstabbing accountant disappeared with his money, Eli Di Luca is left with limited options and even less time to save his family vineyards from the IRS. His pride won’t let him go to his family for help, but he’s considering an outrageous offer from a rich Italian businessman – marry his daughter without her knowing about their deal and his debts will be paid in full. Chloe is young, American and far from a fool. Her father’s been trying to buy her a husband for years so when she hits a writer’s block on her second mystery novel and he suggests she stay with his “business associate” Eli at Bella Terra, she immediately smells a rat. All hopes Eli had of a generally-convincing lie followed by a quickie wedding fly out the window when the shrewd Chloe sizes him up. A desperate man like Eli has no choice but to go on the offensive with a little reverse psychology. It didn’t hurt that when he first saw her, his first reaction to her new haircut was one of horror, so now that she’s already convinced he doesn’t find her attractive, all he has to do is play dumb about her dad, then leave her alone for a couple of weeks.

He finally thinks he ought to be doing something with her, so a few weeks after her arrival at Bella Terra, Eli checks in with Chloe, only to find her a disaster, the guest house wrecked, her writing at a standstill. He starts teasing her with a local mystery legend and she races out the door to spend the day with him. As he’s showing her around, they come across a gruesome discovery and a set of clues to a mystery even more dangerous than the old legend. They decide to keep some of it to themselves, unsure who to trust with it – it’s all wrapped up in the same feud that got Eli’s grandmother assaulted and his sister-in-law nearly killed earlier.

Eli gets some bad financial news, just as he’s starting to make progress with Chloe and it pushes him into disclosing family secrets to her and emotional declarations from both of them. Eli asks her to take leap of faith and marry him – and when his Nonna figures out what he’s been up to, it’s just barely less dangerous than the man looking for Chloe and the secrets she’s been digging up.

I feel like I could go at this review three different ways because this felt like three really disparate elements of style that didn’t come together all that well. There was the mystery (quite good), suspense (okay) and the romance (flat) and the “glue” – Eli – that was supposed to keep the story together in this installment in the series was completely inconsistent.

This is the second in Dodd’s series revolving around a missing bottle of vintage wine that was bestowed upon Eli’s grandfather when he was born by an area vintner. The first book revealed that a rival wine-making family thought they should have been given the bottle and were willing to go to drastic measures to get it. The bottle remained lost though, since Eli’s grandfather suffered from dementia and never told anyone where he put it before he died. Part of Eli’s effort to woo Chloe is his telling her all about a local bootlegging operation and a missing man and when he takes her to the old still, they find something that makes the missing bottle even more valuable and dangerous. There’s clue-gathering, poking around in the dirt and dust and lying to the cops – all great mystery components and there are plenty of whodunits and whydidtheys later on too.

There were plenty of opportunities for suspense and some good places for action, but they didn’t really have much punch for me. The one long scene that really did work was of just Chloe and her own reactions – as soon as Eli was brought into it, it stopped feeling authentic.

Chloe was a fun character in spite of what some of Dodd saddled her with. She’s in her early twenties, a New York Times bestselling mystery writer with an incredibly rich father who’s been trying to fix her up with men and on top of that, she’s tiny, pretty and blonde – although by the time she meets Eli she’s had an ill-advised haircut and looks like a “dandelion” with some red streaks. I found her to be pretty easy to relate to – she runs around in her pajamas when she’s writing, hair sticking up all over, a bra draped over the couch. She’s smart and funny and thinks out loud.

The romance in the book was the biggest problem because while Chloe was fine, Eli wasn’t and I never bought their relationship. They really only spent a week together before he spilled his big family secrets (from his mother’s side) and he demanded she marry him because she loved him and it wasn’t much later that he had his epiphany about her. Up to that point in the story, he was as deep as a puddle and about as interesting. He was rude, showed no real romantic interest in Chloe and other than seeing him with his family or moaning about how horrible things were, there wasn’t anything to him. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what he looks like. The sex (I can’t even call them love) scenes didn’t really have any chemistry or oomph.

My Summary: I wouldn’t read this as a standalone – along with the first in the series, Secrets of Bella Terra, this is more like a mini-series and the whole thing ends on a cliffhanger which won’t be resolved until the last book, Betrayal in Bella Terra is released in April, 2012. Eli and Chloe’s relationship didn’t work at all for me, even though I liked her, so don’t read this looking for a great romance. The mystery is interesting and is turning out to be really the only reason to continue.

My Rating: C



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