There are two things you need to know about this book: you like tortured, healing heroes who are genuinely good guys? Go find this book. O’Reilly’s mastery of the incredibly sexy, almost-three-dimensional man continues in this book.
Second, I was unfortunately predisposed to dislike it. I knew that Daniel is a widower whose wife died in the World Trade Center. And so when I read the first sentences:
Since the summer he turned eleven, Daniel O’Sullivan woke up every morning the same way. With an aching hard-on. After he was married, the first light of dawn became his favorite time. He’d roll over, impatient hands searching for his wife. After making love to her, he’d shower, shave, and together they’d take the subway to work. What more could any guy want?
But then one September morning seven years ago, bright sunlight mocking in the sky, that all exploded, along with two airliners, two buildings and two thousand, seven hundred and forty peopleâ€”one of whom was his wife.
For the next five years he rolled over to look for her, impatient hands searching blindly, and she wasn’t there. And so the hard-on stayed.
The morning wake-up call evolved, the change coming so gradually that initially he didn’t notice it. In those beginning moments of wakefulness, when his brain was more than half-unconscious, he stopped looking for his wife, impatient hands no longer reaching for someone who wasn’t there.
Daniel was starting to forget.
…my inner monologue was as follows: Nooooo! You cannot start talking about hard-ons in reference to 9/11! Nooooo! Do not want!
Silly, silly Sarah. As I kept reading and got to know Daniel, it made perfect sense. Of course that’s the frame of reference for the hero, Harlequin Blaze or not. While the people who died in 9/11 are memorialized in so many different ways, and the families who mourn them are examined in equal number of ways, the basics aren’t usually part of that discussion. What’s the most simple response to death? Sex, of course. And in losing his wife, Daniel lost not only someone he loved, but someone he made love to, and the deep abrupt tragedy of her loss makes his sleepy, semi-unconscious reachings for his wife, Michelle, that much more painful for him.
Jayne, in her review, and Jane, in an email to me, both pointed out the extraordinary external force acting against the Daniel and Catherine: the entire city of New York will not let Daniel forget his wife. It’s true.
More than that: strange voyeurism that allows anyone to find out anything about 9/11 victims. Daniel’s late wife is not just a former wife; she’s memorialized online, in multiple sites, and because she died on September 11th, she’s called a victim and a hero. Thus it’s easy for the heroine to find out more about her, to find her picture, to find snapshots of her short life. Her life, and her death, are matters of public record and display, and by extension, the end of Daniel’s marriage.
O’Reilly did two very smart things in regards to Daniel’s first wife: one, she didn’t allow Catherine to indulge in nasty, pointless jealousy, or allow anything to taint the memory of Daniel’s wife. It’s an old cliche, to highlight the strength and attractiveness of the heroine at the expense of the hero’s past relationships by comparison, but to do so in this case would have cheapened the significance of Daniel’s moving on into a new relationship. In a lot of widower romances that I’ve read, the former wife is a spectre hanging over both parties, either as a formidable nemesis, even from the grave, or as a source of guilt for one or both parties. Not so here.
Secondly, O’Reilly created a heroine who
complemented Daniel as he is now: quiet, reflective, and deeply loyal, who understands his desire for simplicity and clarity, and who serves as a compliment to his current personality, and a catalyst for him to leave the stark, mournful pattern of his life. If anything was going to spur Daniel into changing his life after Michelle died, it would be irresistable attraction, which is not only one of my very favorite plot devices, but is used in this plot in particular to reveal more about both characters. Neither one is pleased to be removed from their comfort zones, particularly when they realize the many, many reasons that their relationship could be uncomfortable.
Additional “whodunit?” conflict is taken care of off stage, which is kind of a let down – I think I said out loud on the bus, “Wait, that’s it?!” but it is absolutely realistic. Daniel is an accountant investigating potential financial shenanigans at Catherine’s family’s antiques auction house, and he’s not going to ride a white horse into the boardroom and slay the wrongdoers, or have some showdown in the stairwell that might involve firearms or some crap like that. He’s going to write a report and submit it to the folks who do things. That’s his job.
I do wish more screen time could have been granted to Daniel’s brothers when they meet the heroine for the first time, because I would have loved to have seen/read their initial reactions to the woman who brought Daniel back to living again.
And I wish that in one scene, Catherine would not have been chasing after a black market faux designer bags, as their sale and distribution has been linked by Interpol to terrorist activities. It seemed a poor choice of activity for Catherine, particularly since she is so attentive to detail and quality as she vets antiques. Terrorist ties or no, counterfeit bags are usually craptastically cheap and fall apart easily – to say nothing of the dye that comes off on Catherine’s hands at one point.
Brothers and handbags aside, I come away from this book with the following conclusions: Kathleen O’Reilly is an author name that will immediately pop out at me from the Harlequin rack, as her men are simply wonderful. This book supports my suspicion that O’Reilly writes men of Nora Roberts quality, which is high praise from me, as I love just about all of Nora’s heroes.
And finally: if there had to be a book I read that was the first in my experience to deal with 9/11 as a part of a character’s backstory, I am glad it was this one. O’Reilly handled with deft sensitivity an issue that could easily have been overdrawn and overwrought, and she deserves mad props for the effort.
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Sex, Straight Up by Kathleen O'Reilly
April 1, 2008