His Until Midnight by Nikki Logan is the second Harlequin Kiss book I’ve read. I have to say that so far, I’m really liking the new imprint. I read His Until Midnight over the course of one …um…extended…lunch hour because once I got into the book it kept pulling me along. The thing I liked most about this story was how unusual the structure was—80% of the book takes place over the space of one day—and how it really built momentum. Unfortunately, the hero really pissed me off at the end.
Oliver Harmer is an Australian billionaire who lives and works in Shanghai. Audrey Devaney is the wife of his best friend, Blake, and lives in Sydney. Every year, near Christmas, Audrey and Oliver meet in Hong Kong and share a lavish, multi-course lunch that lasts the entire day. I was never entirely sure why they do this without Blake (you find out why Blake doesn’t join later), but I was willing to go for it.
For Oliver, it’s a chance to spend a day with the woman who got away. Audrey is the woman he compares all others to. She’s interesting and exciting: Audrey has a job hunting down antique string instruments that have been stolen. Despite the fact that he’s infatuated with her, he’s always maintained his distance, respecting her marriage.
For Audrey it’s a chance to spend an afternoon with her fantasy. Oliver is larger than life, a playboy billionaire. She’s secretly loved him for years, but won’t let herself get too close. Her marriage to Blake is more one of convenience than passion, which she tells herself is fine. She’s convinced that Oliver would never want someone as plain and ordinary as her.
She’d grown lazy harbouring the feelings deep inside, exploiting the fact that he was safe to have feelings about as long she was married. Like some kind of Hollywood star that it was okay to pant after because you knew you’d never, ever be acting on it. She them close to her chest—clutched them desperately, really—and enjoyed the sensations they brought. Enjoyed the what-if. Enjoyed the secret fantasy.
I love, love, love the trope where the girl who thinks she isn’t good enough for the guy finds out she is.
The first three chapters of the book take place in the past, at the last three lunches Audrey and Oliver have shared.
In the first two, there is palpable sexual tension simmering between them. The most recent Christmas lunch, however, is just Oliver feeling sullen and alone because Audrey hadn’t come. She had good reasons—Blake died in a drunken driving accident, and Oliver never came to his funeral.
Then we get to the meat of the book—the pre-Christmas lunch, present day. Audrey is there, having already been in Hong Kong searching for a stolen cello. Oliver is there too—and the room is filled with unspoken desire, hurt, and confusion.
In a lot of ways this book was one long, intense conversation between two people who have a shitload of baggage and unspoken, unacknowledged feelings. They’ve both loved each other from afar. Audrey feels hurt that Oliver never showed up to the funeral or even offered her any support after Blake’s death (he had his reasons — I didn’t buy them, but he had them). Oliver feels like a horrible person because he’s in love with his dead best-friend’s widow.
When they first meet up it’s awkward and cold, before they really start discussing the issues between them. Audrey still doesn’t believe that Oliver could want her. Her longing is palpable:
Yet somehow, while [the cigar] tasted awful on her own lips, she caught herself deciding it might taste better on his. And then she had to fight not to stare there. Oliver made that a whole lot harder by leaning forward, picking up the cigar where she’d dropped it, rolling it under his nose and then sliding the sealed end between his teeth. Preloved end first.
Something about the casual intimacy of that act, of him putting her saliva into his mouth so effortlessly—as if they were a long-term couple perfectly used to sharing bodily fluids—sent her heart racing.
As the lunch progresses, they start to unravel and confess all their feelings—the hurt, the confusion, the want. Oliver spends a lot of time in this book making Audrey realize how desirable she is, how she didn’t have to settle for Blake. He also reveals to Audrey that Blake was unfaithful to her—with other men. He assumed she knew, that it was an open marriage. For Audrey, it’s another blow she has to suffer.
I loved how so much intense feeling was packed into one day, years’ worth of damage being examined and repaired by our main characters. I completely believed the compact time frame and thought it worked beautifully in the context Logan presented.
I did have issues with the conflict, however. I expected that once Oliver convinced Audrey he really did love her, things were over. Instead, after they’ve hashed all the bad blood and acknowledged their long-held feelings, after the sexyimes, Oliver makes it clear that he can’t offer Audrey any sort of real relationship. Spoiler: His father was a philandering asshole, and so Oliver feels like he’s predisposed to doucheiness. He can’t ruin Audrey the way his father ruined his mother, etc, etc.
He spent so much time building Audrey up that this felt incongruous to me, almost like a cruel joke. I wanted to punch him in his goddamned face. When their night is over and they’re both supposed to go their separate ways (she to Sydney, he to Shanghai) I physically hurt for Audrey.
I never bought that Oliver redeemed himself. He was such a shithead at the end that I never forgave him, but I loved Audrey enough to want her to find happiness with him. So for me, the book was tainted in that I didn’t really buy the HEA when it happened.
Still, it was such a unique, emotionally rich story that I hesitate to give it anything below a B. It was fascinating the way Logan laid the story out, and even when I hated Oliver, I still refused to go back to work until I’d finished the book.
A word of warning though; each chapter title features the menu item that Audrey and Oliver are currently eating in that chapter. Things like Obsiblue prawn and caviar with Royale Cabanon Oyster and Yuzu. Don’t read this book if you are hungry. It had me looking at my wilty salad with a sad face.
Prawns aside, I was super invested in the characters in His Until Midnight, and heartbroken for the heroine. If Oliver had pulled his head out of his ass sooner, I would have given this book an A for sure.