There, how’s that?
Ok, fine, here’s some more.
Hot Finish is book three in the Fast Track series by Erin McCarthy about stock car racers. If you have preconceptions about car racing books, put them aside and try this series, especially this book. I suspect people will not want to jump into book three because it’s the third of the series, and you don’t have to. McCarthy has done a wonderful job of building the story of Ryder and Suzanne in books one and two, but you don’t have to read them to appreciate their relationship. You get a fuller picture, sure, but the portrait in this one novel is plenty as well.
Ryder and Suzanne are divorced (so she thinks, anyway). They had a passionate whirlwind of a courtship and marriage, and then things fell apart. They split up, but remained friends with tension. Not friends with benefits, but friends with usually good-natured teasing and a long, deep, unanswered cavern of sexual attraction between them. Ryder, since he’s a driver and a pretty successful one at that, has a lot of money. Suzanne does not, and as a single woman she’s determined to be successful on her own, without taking much of anything from Ryder. It’s a point of pride and ambition with her. She’s set up a wedding and event planning business and her first client is the bride of a fellow driver, and goody goody joy joy, Ryder is the best man.
The bride, Nikki, is a bit of a nightmare, but a clueless, vapid, astonishingly dim nightmare, not a mean and spiteful one. The groom, Jonas, wants his bride to be happy. With a high profile couple as her first client, Suzanne stands to reap a lot of referrals if she can pull off a successful wedding, so she’s working her tail off – something Ryder notices. He has really no idea why he’s been chosen as the best man, but he knows why he was going along with it:
“The truth is, Nikki’s pulling the strings here, and she wants a splashy media wedding. She has half the top ten drivers in stock car racing in her wedding party. Talk about a photo op[,]” [Elec said.]
Ryder had already figured out that was her motivation. He didn’t really care all that much, but he did have better things to do than waste a whole weekend wearing a monkey suit. Like watching TV and tossing a load of laundry in. And other stuff, none of which he could think of at the moment. But the truth was, he would do it, and not for Nikki or Jonas.
“Well, I for one feel cheapened and used,” he said….
Then, as the other drivers start thinking about backing out of being in the wedding party…
Ryder hated to break up this anti-wedding sit in, but he was going to have to own it. “Not me, guys. I can’t bail.”
“What? Why the hell not?” Ty asked.
“Because of Suzanne. She’s the wedding planner for this crazy-ass mockery of marriage, and I have to do it. I’ve gotta support her.” He did. He had to support Suzanne whatever way he could since his ex-wife had refused further alimony from him.
He had been busted up about that for weeks, worrying about Suz. She was stubborn to the point she made the mule look like a pansy-boy.
Ryder has a lot of awareness of his feelings of responsibility and the fact that he cares for Suzanne, but has absolutely no idea how to understand some of her reactions to him, or to understand what she wants. Suzanne knows why she left Ryder, and while there’s never any of those annoying scenes of “Look, if you don’t know I’m not going to tell you,” crap, I don’t think Ryder and Suzanne really discuss in real and painful terms what went wrong until they have to in order to move forward.
Suzanne is a tough character. She’s very afraid to risk being hurt again, and she knows Ryder can really hurt her because of how much she cares for him, but she also knows that she can’t go back to their relationship the way it was, and she’s not sure either of them can change sufficiently to make any changes in their relationship stick. She knows she still has it bad for Ryder, but she isn’t pleased about it and tells herself repeatedly that she’ll get over it and over him eventually.
After the bridal party meeting with all the groomsmen and bridesmaids present, Suzanne and Ryder find out that because Ryder hadn’t signed and filed some paperwork they weren’t actually divorced. As a result, they’re faced with the decision of doing what they thought they’d already done (finalize their separation and get divorced) or try do to something different – and try again.
The difficulties in their relationship were balanced, as each one had to make a significant change to their standard operating procedure in order to move on. I don’t want to reveal too much, since the realizations on their parts occur mid-way through the book and are delicious to read. Being older and wiser and deciding to change routine to go after what you want and realizing you are resilient enough to take risks and evaluate your own past experience (wow, could this sentence be ANY MORE BROAD?) makes for some powerful romance when done right.
Along with the steps toward reconciling that made me all squishy inside, this book is FUNNY. Spit my gum out on the bus funny. Like when Nikki decides her ideal wedding theme is “Gone With the Wind.”
“That was the Civil War, wasn’t it? Anyway, whatever. Plus I want the big dresses they wore in the movie, and the guys in those long coats, and horses, and curled hair, and well, all of it.” Nikki beamed.
Maybe she’d like cannons, poverty, and runaway inflation in her wedding as well.
A total aside: I love how, when the characters are drinking at a bar, they pay attention to who is sober, and leave cars in the parking lot if they can’t drive knowing a friend will help them go fetch their cars later. I can’t tell you how much I respect McCarthy’s awareness of her characters drinking and driving – which makes sense considering that they are professional drivers. Mad props for that alone.
My only quibble with the book is how quickly and smoothly they recognize their feelings for one another and that they’ve to some degree “always been there” even through 2+ years of separation and pseudo-divorce. At one point, Ryder reminisces that he had “never stopped loving her, not even when he had tried to tell himself he had, and it was a happy relief to be able to let that out a little.” That seemed a very pat explanation, and while there are definitely scenes that reveal the degree of Ryder and Suzanne’s hurt at one another and over their failed relationship, the, “oh yeah, I’ve always loved her” realizations came with little shock and a comfortable adjustment that surprised me.
Reconciliation can be painful but when the characters grow up, acknowledge how they’ve grown, they can move towards one another wiser, stronger, and with a convincing dedication to their for-real-now happy ever after. It was terrifically satisfying to see Ryder and Suzanne work their problems out, because they are both stubborn and strong people who I liked and rooted for without hesitation. I mentioned in my review of “Red Hot Renegade” that I’d been reading a lot of reconciliation romance lately – maybe it’s a TREND?! Nah, probably not – and Hot Finish was one of the first in that streak of getting-back-together stories. It was hands down easily one of the very best.
So! It’s Save the Contemporary time! When Jane from Dear Author and I find a contemporary romance we love, we want to spread the word as far and as wide as we can, so we fire up the SavetheContemporary.com website and ask you to help us. This week, if you tweet about this book with the #stc hashtag, write about it on Facebook, or blog about it or host our spiffy .gif about the book, let us know about it, you’re entered to win an iPod Touch! We’ll monitor the hashtag, and you can join us on Facebook to be entered to win, but if you blog or write about it on Facebook, email us at sbjcontestsATgmail.com.
One winner will be selected Friday 6 August and we’ll send them an 8GB iPod Touch, suitable for reading all the best of Contemporary romance – and everything else that’s awesome in romance, too.
Disclaimer: we are not being compensated for this promotion, except that we got to read a really freaking good book. Many bags look alike. Do not remove under penalty of law. Hang up and drive. Curb your dog. Rode hard, put away wet.