Naked - Megan Hart This novel was an emotional read for me. As you will note from the synopsis the narrative is written in the first person, and as a reader I didn’t just ‘see’ Olivia Mackey’s story through her eyes, she felt real. Olivia is a gifted photographer who has recently set up her own studio, working hard to make it a success. She is gradually building a clientele but to make ends meet she also works for a photography studio in a mall and does freelance work. Olivia visualizes much of her life through the lens of a camera, in snapshots. She is beautiful, intelligent but also conflicted with a portfolio full of personal baggage she is working through.

Olivia was in love and engaged to Patrick a gay man who was closeted at the time of their relationship. He betrayed Olivia in the worst way, but after a time, fences were mended and while for her the hurt is still there they established a close friendship. It is at a party Patrick holds to celebrate the festive season where Olivia first sees Alex Kennedy.

“Alex doesn’t like girls.” Patrick said this like a warning. I’d been staring at the man from the corner of my eye, framing him as part of the overall picture here at Patrick’s annual Chrismukkah party. Alex was prettier than the bunches of Martha Stewart--inspired poinsettias and twinkling fairy lights, but so were all the men here. Patrick had the hottest friends I’d ever seen. Seriously, it was like a convention of hot men.”

Naked © Megan Hart

Alex indeed falls into the drop dead gorgeous category, as well as being cultured and world traveled. Oh, and did I mention rich? However there is the small issue of his sexual preferences in that it is evident he likes men. The red flags therefore fall by the dozen for Olivia and while she feels a strong attraction to Alex she writes him off as a potential date. Once burned, twice shy after all, she learned a hard won lesson from her experience with Patrick.

The plot thickens when Alex agrees to rent the spare apartment in the building Olivia owns. She can certainly use the money and discovers they do get along well making her set aside misgivings about having him live downstairs.

I loved the way Megan Hart developed the relationship between Olivia and Alex, they become friends, sharing a meal and a movie together. Their intimate relationship evolves over time into an intense love affair and despite Olivia’s fears after the heartbreak that was Patrick she is unable to resist Alex. I can only describe Ms. Hart’s sensual prose as exotic.

I along with Olivia feared Alex would hurt her in the same way Patrick had, and worried she would one day come home to find him gone. I have to say, he works very hard to earn her trust and to convince her, he is not Patrick. Ms. Hart pens a surprising twist with respect to what causes trouble between Olivia and Alex.

Naked, isn’t only about Olivia’s blossoming relationship with Alex, themes of interracial relationships, sexuality, adoption, and religion are addressed and woven into the plot with an impressive sophistication and eloquence. Olivia has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with her mother, who is a very interesting character.

Then there is Patrick who I found to be quite immature in his attempts at meddling in Olivia’s life. He cannot be her lover, but doesn’t want her to have anyone else either.

At first I was longing to know more about Alex’s history and then when preparing this review I noted from Ms. Hart's website that he is introduced in Tempted the book connected to Naked. Tempted is on its way to me.

Naked was a read that caused me to laugh out loud (some of the dialogue is hilarious), but it also very nearly brought me to tears. I admired Olivia’s open mind and how well adjusted she was with respect to some aspects of her life. On the other hand she is still trying to figure out "what she is". Just when I thought I had her story all figured out Ms. Hart would write a twist into the plot that surprised me.

I found Naked to be a sensual, compelling story and when it is released on August 1, 2010, I will likely purchase my own copy to be added to my keeper shelf. If you have enjoyed Ms. Hart’s novels in the past and have been looking forward to Naked, I don’t think you will be disappointed. I will say, if you are interested in this book and haven’t read Tempted you may like to read it first. I love the cover art for Naked and IMHO the title is perfect. :-)