Author: Lucy Parker
Publication: Avon Books, paperback, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Setting: Present-day LondonDescription: Battle Royal was the first book in Parker’s much anticipated Palace Insiders series in which Sylvie Fairchild and Dominic De Vere are rival pastry chefs competing to make the wedding cake for Britain’s Princess Rose. In this new book, Dominic’s bubbly little sister Petunia has secured a job as personal assistant to Princess Rose’s new husband, Johnny Marchmont, known for his good personality and unfortunate talent for putting his foot in his mouth. Johnny’s stoic bodyguard Matthias Vaughn worries about keeping Johnny and Pet safe, especially when an awkward moment captured on social media creates a false impression that Johnny and Pet have feelings for each other. The Palace staff decide a distraction is needed and ask Pet and Matthias to pretend they are dating so the media will leave Johnny alone. But some of those who know Pet and Matthias have guessed they are already interested in each other and perhaps just need a push to make this “false relationship” a real one . . .
My Impression: "Codename Charming" is the name given by the Palace public relations to its campaign: Pet and Matthias’ fake relationship. Some of the media are skeptical of the alleged romance (it’s too convenient and why would these palace employees, required to be discreet, suddenly start canoodling on the job?) but others run with it, playing up what they consider a Beauty and the Beast theme. This arouses Pet’s protective instincts while Mattias helps her investigate her parentage, as their friendship grows and inevitably the sexual tension between them increases as they are forced into close proximity:
“Any kind of – mission,” he said, wrapping a mental fist around his rapidly fraying control, “comes with its own brand of adrenaline, and that can provoke feelings, reactions, that a person wouldn’t experience under normal circumstances.”Parker’s books are full of entertaining characters and quirky situations. One of her noteworthy skills is the ability to blend serious situations and humor (many authors think they can do that but either aren’t amusing at all or are too slapstick). Pet grew up in an unhappy household which made her brother Dominic cold and sarcastic as an adult (until he found true love in the previous book) and destroyed her self-confidence, although she masks this with a breezy optimism. In personality, Pet and Matthias are too similar to the protagonists in the previous book. And while Codename Charming is emotional and lively rather than witty – perhaps due to a taciturn hero – readers will enjoy the palace setting and cameos from people in earlier books. I miss the theatrical backgrounds of the London Celebrities series but I hope there will be more of that in the future and, in the meantime, this was entertaining, if not all I had hoped.
He could actually see the complete physical withdrawal in Pet then. It was as if she’d slammed a door in his face that he hadn’t been consciously aware was open.
“So, you –“ She spoke with tangible reluctance, as if she didn’t really want to hear the answer. “You have done this kind of thing before? K-kissed someone on an assignment and –“
“No.” his reaction was forceful, a gut-deep rejection. “Christ, no. I’ve never done anything remotely like this.”