Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

February Winters despises Valentine’s Day. It was practically inevitable given her punny name, the many, MANY repetitive jokes about her Valentine’s Day birthday, and how isolating the hearts and flowers apocalypse can be for kids who aren’t chosen. Her disdain for Valentine’s Day, prix fixe menus, and other conventions is so intense, she refuses to open her restaurant, Under the Table, for said holiday. Critics have snidely remarked upon that for years and doubted her ability to come up with a worthwhile menu—challenge accepted. With the help of her sexy bartender, Jax Dillon, February comes up with the perfect, unconventional spin for the hated holiday that will wow the critics and silence the detractors.

Normally a hacker/digital assassin for Redemption Inc., one of the legalish branches of the Madigan family empire, Jax has been sent undercover to intercept a spy whose foodie inclinations have him playing restaurant critic. They’re not sure they’re equipped to handle field work, and they’re definitely ill-equipped to handle the distraction Feb poses. For three months, Jax has tried to restrict the attraction to flirtation, because they are lying to Feb, but as Valentine’s Day approaches, they throw caution to the wind and accept a date with her.

Unfortunately, the trap laid to catch the foodie spy goes tits up, and the team is left without their quarry and without Jax. As time ticks down to catch a traitor, Feb is once again caught in the middle and reliant on trusting Jax and their family to keep herself, her staff, and Under the Table safe. Will Feb be able to extend Jax that trust when the danger passes or will their simmering attraction get scorched?

Under the Table follows an unconventional chef and a hacker-cum-bartender and is part of the Accidentally Undercover multi-author romantic suspense collection. Feb is a hardworking chef who loves her restaurant and her employees. Her focus, determination, and creativity make her restaurant one of the best in the city. Feb’s intrigued by Jax from the moment she sees them, and their kindness, intelligence, and loyalty increases her interest daily. Jax is observant, dependable, and there to help Feb before she even realizes she needs it. Jax admires Feb’s vibrancy, take-charge but warm attitude, and the familial environment she’s created among her staff.

Despite spending little time with the couple, it’s easy to see the affection and ease in their burgeoning romantic relationship. The traitor storyline is interesting and fun (though shaky in places), and the Madigan clan is warm, welcoming, and filled with big personalities that are scarily competent assassins, lawyers, and bakers (among other things). The pacing is good overall, but there is quite a bit of time eaten up with name-dropping interludes that, while adding some spice, could have been lessened. The MCs are likable individually and as a couple; thus, I was extremely disappointed to have them sidelined in their own novella.

I don’t mind fast-paced romantic suspense where the couple only gets together at the end or spends most of the story up to their eyeballs in drama. However, I do mind when less time is spent establishing the building blocks of the couple’s relationship in favor of cameos from MCs from other books. Under the Table takes place in Reyne’s Fog City universe, and boy does it let you know it. Every MC and many side characters (even a kid) from that five-book series are here. Yes, the Fog City Crew™ is Jax’s found family, but there is no balance between their presence and the couple’s romance. Feb and Jax spend only about 1/3 of the 125 page story in scenes together, and some of those have Madigans sprinkled in too. The rest of the story has the couple immersed in Madigans and separated for a nice chunk of time as well. I mean, they don’t even get a first date! Date night is subsumed by a Madigan et al. party. Jax and Feb finally get to spend some time alone in the last few of pages of the book. Feb spends a lot of time meeting Jax’s family without them having one date.

This is what left me so exasperated by Under the Table; the MCs don’t actually get closer to each other, so there is no relationship progression. Feb and Jax start and end the book in the same emotional space because what they like about each other is established before the story begins, and they don’t learn much else. Jax finds out that Feb is pretty brave under literal fire, while Feb learns Jax has been lying to her and that their family has some legit and not so legit enterprises. You get more emotional depth from two secondary characters, who are also probably part of the Fog City universe, as their storyline feels like an HEA or jumping off point for their HEA.

I’ve run into the ‘remember us’ overload in another novella of Reyne’s, but it wasn’t nearly as lopsided. I feel like I received only an amuse-bouche of Feb and Jax’s potential as a couple. That being said, Jax and Feb are enjoyable MCs, the writing is good, and overall the story is fun. I think fans of the Fog City series will really eat this novella up.