A relationship that starts with a bet is a really, really hard trick to pull off. Crusie manages to pull off a non-problematic bet trope, which would have surprised me now, and certainly surprises me with a book published in 2004, or the Decade of Problematic Nonsense With The Added Indignity Of Low Rise Jeans.
Plot: Calvin is a small business owner that knows that the only way a small business succeeds is keeping his clients happy. So when one of his client challenges him to convince some random woman to sleep with him (the random woman in question being his ex-girlfriend, who he broke up with 5 minutes prior because they’d dated for 2 months and she still didn’t want to have sex with him), he tries to figure out a way to avoid this obvious moral harm but without aggravating the client. They settle on a $10 bet if she leaves with him, which Calvin figures is mostly fine, only our girl Minerva heard about the bet and has her own thoughts of how to get even. Shenanigans ensue.
To say that I loved Minerva is an understatement. She’s a big girl trying really hard to learn to love her body, despite a family of reed thin people who judge her for being unable to fit into a size 4 bridesmaid dress (well her mother does, and the rest of the family just lets it happen). I would have of course breathed fire on all these people, but Crusie refuses to call anyone in her books a bad person, even when they objectively are. Unfortunately, everyone gets a happy ending, even people that could not have deserved it less. Minerva isn’t just body issues though, she’s funny and sweet and smart and curious and trying so hard to find her place in the world. She’s a raging bitch to Calvin to start (given that he’s a stereotypically handsome man that only spoke to her because of a bet) and it is hilarious. They can’t seem to get along for more than a few seconds at a time, but their bickering isn’t the anger a lot of serious books mistake for foreplay. It is actually playful. Their disagreements are on nothing too serious except for her refusal to eat carbs and his refusal to let her starve just to lose a few pounds she doesn’t even care about losing. You know why things taste good? Because you put butter in them. So despite the fact that they’re constantly fighting, it still builds the relationship quite naturally. The bet trope is carried all the way through the book, but it doesn’t really lead to the kind of major Act 3 fight you might think, because there is some earned trust there already and mistakes are made, and acknowledged, by all parties. Except the ex, because Crusie doesn’t believe in consequences.
It’s funny and sweet and hot and totally holds up to a more critical read.