If writing entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud paranormals has a formula, then I think the one for Victoria Davies' LOVE AT STAKE might be "Pride and Prejudice" bites "Emma". Take one rich, high society, rigidly set in his ways, and prejudiced (against humans) vampire. Introduce him to an irresistible, matchmaking, but socially inferior human. Let the requisite sparks fly as these two opposites battle their inevitable attraction and sit back for the fun.
Abbey Sinclaire is the lone human employee at Fated Match, which is struggling to retain its title as the paranormal world's premier matchmaking service since 1704. Despite her suspicions that Fated Match's sophisticated computer matching program doesn't always get it right, Abbey is committed to ensuring its success via her administrative support role. She just has one rule: she doesn't do vampires. Not for a client who might get peckish, not for a date who might see her as a liquid Happy Meal, and certainly not for a mate who looks down on humans as inferior in every way.
Unfortunately her boss Vivian ignores that memo when she orders Abbey to convince Lucian Redgrave, the sire of a wealthy and influential vampire princess, to allow his daughter to become a client of Fated Match. The two meet in a clash of wills, and to Abbey's shock, the stuffy and insulting Lucian gives his approval--conditional on Abbey finding him a mate within one month. The battle is on, with Abbey confident that Fated Match has an army of lovely, non-human, scientifically-matched potential mates.
As the month goes on, however, she finds herself battling an unwelcome suspicion that the actual solution is a little closer to home. Luckily, Fated Match's computers produce a match for her as well, with a smoking hot alpha werewolf whose profile predicts one of the highest match percentages ever seen at Fated Match.
Victoria Davies' prose is lively, at times even laugh-out-loud funny. For example, Abbey describes Lucian's elegant old-world mansion as "The whole place looked like a gothic church having an identity crisis." And LOVE AT STAKE's love triangle could well have played out like a Jane Austen novel. The three-dimensional main characters are allowed to grow and develop, changing their opinions and attitudes. Plus, the sizzling sex is approached with humor as well as heat.
"I have a bed," she said...
"Next, next time."
"In that case, I also have a kitchen table, a shower, an oddly spacious closet, a--"
His lips cut off her words.
LOVE AT STAKE is an addictive, shut-yourself-in-the-bathroom-and-don't-come-out-until-it's-done, one sitting read. With only two minor caveats, I give it five stars.
Assuming that my review copy is not the final draft, I expect that my first complaint, a significant number of editorial mistakes, is probably going to disappear in the final version. My only other issue is that, unlike Ms. Austen, Victoria Davies seemed to feel the need for a villain. Abbey's over-the-top nasty boss, the siren Vivian, doesn't hesitate to threaten Abbey's job and future job prospects if she refuses to prostitute herself for the client. But the evil boss is so one-dimensional and her demands so outrageous that it is impossible to reconcile the smart, self-aware Abbey with the doormat who meekly agrees in order to keep her job. Luckily, Vivian's role is minimal and readers are free to concentrate on the real question: Will Abbey end up with a beautiful ("Not 'pretty in the right light' beautiful, but 'move over George Clooney' beautiful...") vampire or a smoldering, perfect match werewolf?
This is the first book I've read from Victoria Davies, and I feel like I've just gotten a present. Not only was LOVE AT STAKE a terrific read, but I can't wait to explore her other books.