I had a chance to sit next to Elizabeth Bevarly (and to later hear her speak) at the LaGrange Writer’s Seminar on February 27 of this year. Despite being the most published and commercially successful writer there, Liz was very friendly and approachable. Her website (elizabethbevarly.com) says that she is working on novel #60. She’s published romance novels for most of the major New York publishers, and she is currently working on a Women’s Fiction novel. None of that success, though, made her difficult to talk to about life, Louisville (our shared hometown), or writing.
Though I have not read a Harlequin or Silhouette novel in many years, I was excited to read something by Bevarly after having met her and heard her speak (about writing, agents, publishing, etc.). So, I searched for her name on the Sony eReader website and found a series of books connected by “Male” in the title. I downloaded all three. The books focus around characters in a government agency referred to as OPUS. And, the last book has an intro from Bevarly noting another book in the series. I couldn’t find any information about which books were “OPUS” ones, so I sent Liz a message on facebook, and she told me that the other OPUS book was the first, Just Like a Man.
While I didn’t get to read the books in order, I want to talk about them here that way.
Just Like a Man (Avon / January 2005)
In this book, we are first introduced to Adrian, a character that is consistently the “bad guy” or the foil through the series. We are not sure what havoc he is trying to wreak, but we know a presidential election is scheduled to be in town soon. OPUS (the Office for Political Unity and Security, a branch of homeland security), his former employer, calls his former partner out of retirement to stop him from whatever mayhem he plans. Michael Sawyer, aka Raptor, reluctantly agrees. He sidles up to Hannah Frost, “the overworked, overextended, overdressed, but egregiously underpaid—not that she was bitter or anything—director of a tony private school” (11) where he enrolls his son so that he can keep an eye on Adrian who apparently is on the school’s board of directors. As Hannah and Michael fall in love, we also meet a teacher at the school who is falling in love with Adrian’s employer, the “Pax” of the company’s CompuPax name. Both couples fall in love, encounter obstacles, and resolve them to live happily ever after (as they do in romance novels). One of the things I like about this novel, though, is that there is a child. Romance doesn’t often include children. Now, of course, this child is being used as a cover story, as his dad admits: “’Oh fine,’ he told himself derisively, ‘Just use your son to further your own treacherous agenda, why don’t you? Some father you are’” (59). Nonetheless, it’s nice to have a child character and one with some, well, character. He is witty and fun by himself! Nonetheless, even after bringing in more OPUS agents, including the devastating blonde She-Wolf, Adrian, the Sorcerer, gets away, setting up the connection for additional books.
You’ve Got Male (Harlequin / April 2008)
Of this series, this book is my favorite. It is the most full of pop culture references and hilarity. It is also about a character that I can completely empathize with (though certainly I have no clue what it is like to be a socialite or grow up in a multi-million dollar estate). Avery Nesbitt has been disowned by her family and has spent two years in prison for unleashing a computer virus on the world that was responsible for mega-damage. She is not an evil-doer, though, but simply a heartbroken girl who wants to payback the man who cheated on her. Having this past turns Avery into an agoraphobic. Evidently, though, she has not learned her lesson. She is again in love with the wrong man and ready to unleash her computer savvy mayhem on him. She doesn’t know that the man she believes to be Andrew Paddington is really the Sorcerer, Adrian Padgett. Adrian courts Avery online because he wants her skills. They both, though, are under surveillance by OPUS agents Dixon and Tanner, a rookie agent filling in while Dixon’s regular partner She-Wolf is out on grievance leave to clean up after her mother’s death. Dixon convinces Avery to help OPUS lure Adrian out into the open, and they all take up residence at her parent’s Hampton estate for safety. Avery battles her agoraphobia and her feelings about her parents as she falls in love with Dixon. In a side plot, Avery’s hardened sister Carley falls for the younger agent Tanner. And, in a twist of fate, we also learn that Lila / She-Wolf has not returned from her leave and that she has gone rogue, attempting to murder the head of their OPUS division, He-who-must-not-be-named—yep, just like Voldemort! Both Nesbitt sisters, though, learn to love and their OPUS, career-driven men make room in their lives for romance and relationships. And, the Sorcerer slips away yet again.
Express Male (Harlequin / May 2008)
In this book, we begin with a woman who doesn’t understand why everyone is calling her Lila. Her name is Marnie, Marnie Lundy. She imagines herself at Carnegie Hall when she plays for a living in the lingerie section of a department store, and then as she is accosted in the parking lot by a number of people who believe she is secret OPUS spy Lila Moreau—codename She-Wolf, she realizes she actually likes her less-exciting life. After much interrogation, OPUS agent Noah Tennant is finally convinced that Marnie is not Lila, but he believe she must help them catch the Sorcerer, Adrian Padgett, who still believes in the mistaken identification. Noah and Marnie grow closer as they spend time together attempting to lure Adrian out. The reader follows the budding romance of the main couple and gets a second-helping with the subplot which traces the romance of Noah’s secretary, who is training to be a spy. We also learn more about Lila, as we finally learn that she went awol from OPUS because they had hid her father and twin sister from her. Marnie, the twin sister, and Lila meet for the first time, and Lila decides to come out of hiding so that Marnie will not have to be placed into danger trying to capture Adrian. The book ends with Adrian / the Sorcerer getting away again, but this time we know Lila will not rest until he is captured.
Overnight Male (Harlequin / June 2008)
The last of the series focuses on the story of She-Wolf, a character first mentioned in book one (though we don’t learn her real name, Lila Moreau, until the next book). Throughout the series, we have learned that Lila is the best agent OPUS has and that she is a very dangerous woman. That’s why, when in You’ve Got Male she is reported as rogue, people are afraid of her! This book concludes the search for Adrian Padgett with the last of the love matches within OPUS. Here, Lila and Joel Faraday are forced to work together when OPUS places Joel in a supervisory position over Lila to oversee her reinstatement and her search for the Sorcerer. Posing as a couple on a college campus, Lila and Joe fall in love and teach each other a thing or two about romance, themselves, and the spy business. This time, the subplot is not focused on other OPUS agents but instead focuses on Adrian himself. Adrian falls in love with Iris, a woman half his age, who is on the run from her mob-boss family who wishes to see her marry into the family business (of killing people?). In the end, Adrian agrees to sell his and Iris’s computer virus to OPUS for enough money to disappear and live happily ever after.
Words like “quirky” and “hijinks” are often used in positive reviews of Bevarly because her books (at least the four I have now read) are full of humor and zippy one-liners in which the protagonists dream of escaping from real life or pretend to be someone they are not. They handle life in way I wish I could on my bad days. I wish I could stand in the hallway at school and wish myself away to an imagined Royal receiving line in which in this other life I would be standing and doing the perfect princess wave while my hoards of admirers and fans pay their respect (from a distance!). Alas, I am not as creative as Bevarly’s characters or nearly as witty, so they intrigue me. They are fun to read! I think you will like them too.
Happy Reading! (I am going to add Liz’s Derby series to my reading list next)