Posted in: willaful, willaful reviews
Tags:Contemporary Romance, series, Susan Mallery
Sensuality Rating: steamy, sweet, and plenty of both
I started this in a dubious frame of mine. I haven’t been that crazy about the series (I’ve mostly kept reading it for relaxation,) I didn’t really like the heroine from previous books, the hero sounded improbable, and I tend to be put off by “abused heroine must be gently coaxed into liking sex” plotlines. To my surprise, I liked almost everything about it.
What got me is the characters. Charlie (she eschews her birth name, Chantel) is a tall, strong firefighter who’s always felt oversized and unfeminine, especially next to her tiny ballerina mom. As she sees it, the one time she tried to be stereotypically “feminine” it backfired in the worst possible way, so now she’s just given up on the whole idea. Here’s a typical thought:
“He was taller than her. Stronger. Masculine enough to make her feel feminine. Sort of.”
(If you’re worried Charlie is going to be made-over, don’t be. That’s about as girly as she gets throughout the entire book.)
Charlie has no real interest in changing, but she wants to be a mom, and she knows that her sexual and relationship hangups aren’t a good thing to pass on to a child. So she asks Clay to help her get over her fear of sex, hoping she’ll then be able to find some nice normal shlub to be with.
Clay, a famous former underwear model, is far from ordinary and he gives new meaning to “not just a pretty face.” He’s worked hard to stay grounded and down to earth, helped by his wife; her death has left him sad, without being all emo about it. At 31, he’s ready to begin a new career — and when he meet Charlie, he thinks he might also be ready to feel something special for a woman again. Here’s how he sees her:
“They were at eye level with each other. He liked that. He liked how she was strong and very much his equal.”
The two pair up surprisingly well, with Clay’s self-confidence a good match for Charlie’s awkward standoffishness. The love scenes between them are not just tender — Clay, thorough as always, has read up on how best to help women in this situation — but sweet and funny:
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Face me. I’m not ready.”
“It’s just a penis. You’ve seen them before.”
“The last one attacked me.”
“Mine is more well mannered.” His voice sounded as if he were amused.
She glared at his back. “Are you laughing? This isn’t funny.”
“It’s a little funny.”
The story succeeds so wonderfully because these two seemingly disparate people are alike in many ways. Both have trouble being taken seriously: everyone assumes Clay is too pretty to be smart or reliable, and no one believed that a girl like Charlie could have been raped, not even her own mother. And they have so much to offer each other. Clay appreciates Charlie for being strong and real, and for seeing more in him than a great butt; unlike virtually everyone else in his life, she takes his plans and ambitions seriously. And Charlie desperately needs someone who recognizes her beauty and likes her just the way she is.
There’s a bit of sequel baiting — how many books does this series need? On the other hand, it hit one out of the park on the 9th book so never mind — and near the end they both get stupid, Clay more forgivably than Charlie. Even so, I loved this pair so much, and it was such a delightful surprise, I have to give the book 5 stars. You can buy it from Amazon here or Barnes and Noble here, in paperback or ebook format.
Published by Harlequin, 2012. Review copy borrowed from the public library.