I think Dirty came to me at the right time, as it had been some time since I had read even a passable (non-paranormal) contemporary romance. Kylie Scott has always been reliable for me, and she keeps getting better, particularly in the feminism department. Her heroines are gradually becoming more and more fully realized, behaving less like romance archetypes and more like regular human women. Her heroes, while definitely starting from a recognizable template, are drawn with flourishes that make them more three-dimensional than “sardonic rake” or “brooding man who broods.” I’m not really sure how to explain how this works. It’s not like she gives them more hobbies or personality quirks to be SO UNIQUE, but it’s something in the way that a lot of the dialogue comes together and in the choices they make that gives the reader a strong sense of who these characters are. In fact, it’s rather like Scott has hit the sweet spot of doing justice to truly normal women — not the Bella Swans and Anastasia Steeles who are supposed to be everywomen, but are presented nonetheless like someone better than the rest of us for being somehow able to lock down their preternaturally special men — but actual everyday women who just happened to have the right chemistry with the heroes.
Take Lydia and Vaughan. Lydia begins the story falling through the window of Vaughan’s house, immediately checking “clumsy” off of the Romantic Female Lead checklist. But where the Romantic Female Lead is relate-able only in the most abstract way (“She hasn’t found love because she’s MARRIED TO HER HIGH-POWERED CAREER JOB, and I guess I work hard too!”) Lydia has a recognizable set of questions, insecurities, and anxieties that touch on issues large and small. Her actual circumstances are delightfully silly fiction — on her wedding day, she sees a video of her groom-to-be hooking up with his best man — but behind that specific setup is the larger question of how any of us would react to finding that a significant other had cheated on us. Likewise, behind the detail of her ex-fiance’s family being the rich “royal” family of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, there’s the more general issue of feeling judged by your significant other’s family for any reason. The way Lydia reacts and adapts to these shocks and setbacks is both aspirational and realistic at the same time.
Vaughan, meanwhile, has another larger-than-life initial setup that traces back to a common sentiment. He’s struggling to figure out how to move forward after his on-the-verge band broke up, and while most of us haven’t been rock stars or even close to it, probably many of us have had to figure out what to do when it seemed like that thing that we were truly passionate about wasn’t going to work out, or if something that had been going well in a career suddenly wasn’t. For his part, Vaughan is in Coeur d’Alene because he thinks he may be able to sell his family home to get a little money to live on while he figures out his future. He’s understandably bemused to find Lydia in his tub, having fallen through his bathroom window, but his wry humor and her candid self-deprecation get them to a place of understanding and good spirits, all things considered.
From the beginning, the two of them had such a natural, easy-going vibe that translated very well for me as a reader. I’ve mentioned ad nauseum my disinclination toward heavy angst, especially since the infatuation stage is supposed to be the easiest and most fun. Therefore, I always enjoy a story where the relationship between the hero and heroine can be the thing that gets them through anything else that may be going on. Here, Vaughan is a wonderful support and confidence-booster for Lydia while she’s reeling from her ex-fiance’s betrayal, while Lydia is a great model for Vaughan how to take setbacks and upheaval in stride and get pleasure out of smaller personal achievements. Their sexual chemistry is hot, and their teamwork against life’s lemons is equally strong.
The success of a romance is so often in the eye of the beholder. For that reason, it’s difficult for me to say that any one is unreservedly perfect. What I can say is that Dirty is was perfect for the mood I was in when I read it, and for what I was looking for. It’s a very minimal time investment with as least as much payoff as is put in.