It’s rare that I read a category romance that doesn’t come from Jane, who is the source for all categorical recommendations. But it’s even more rare that she recommends a category to me AFTER I’ve read it and can then reply and say, “OMG. LOVE.”
So I don’t make the mistake of forgetting the plot summary, here you go: California purse designer Jessica Beane is on the cusp of major design fame when she picks up Rick Marshall, a hot cop with murky depths of emotional pain, for a one night stand. Their morning after turns into a road trip from San Francisco to Reno then to Texas, during which she learns to depend on people and trust someone to take care of her, and he learns that moving on to find happiness and joy doesn’t equal betrayal. Plus they have frequent hot sex. Like damn.
In order to appreciate what I enjoyed most about this book, I invite you to eavesdrop on my inner monologue, which is absurdly active when I am reading.
Sarah’s inner monologue: Oh, no. The heroines creepy ass ex-con ex-husband is outside. On a cell phone. Stalking her after he followed her home from the bar at which she totally picked up the hero for a hot one night stand and …. great. She’s going to act like an idiot and not do anything to help herself despite said one-night-stand being a cop. He’s a cop! He’s right there! Go wake him up! Nooooooooo.
Lori Borrill: HA! I thwart your assumption that my heroine is TSTL!
Rick Marshall: (after heroine has explained everything that happened after she ran out of his apartment while he was still sleeping, including creepy-ass ex)
“So let me make sure I understand this.” Rick’s voice was slow and deliberate as he stopped pacing and stood ominously before her. “Your husband—”
“—is released from jail, crosses three state lines in violation of his parole, threatens and harasses you while standing out on the street—” Then he paused and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “And not once did you consider waking up the police officer sleeping in the room next to you?”
Sarah’s inner monologue: He calls her on it! He totally calls her on it! Go Hero Dude!
Lori Borrill: But wait… there’s more!
The anger in his voice squeezed her insides.
She swallowed, trying to decide how far back in her lifetime she needed to go to convey the fact that not once had anyone besides her grandmother ever come to her rescue. That no matter how many times her knee-jerk reaction was to believe someone might defend her, her good senses always won over, reminding her that in her life, Jessica Beane could only fully count on Jessica Beane.
Oh sure, her mother had stood up for her on occasion, which usually spurred some sort of fight at home. But whenever a choice had to be made between her daughter and her new husband, Jessie always drew the short straw. The trend started at home and spanned throughout practically every relationship she’d had. So assuming things would be different with a man she’d only just met was too much of a stretch even for her optimistic nature.
Sarah’s inner monologue: Wait, she totally has a valid reason for doing something that was kind of dumb? And it fits with her character, and isn’t some spastic effort to make the character more quirky? It’s… understandable? Sympathetic?
Jesus Flapjack. I can’t handle this kind of blatant stomping on my expectations. They make the book all good and hard to put down and shit.
Sarah to her inner monologue: Shut up and read.
Lori Borrill: Yeah.
Not only was the plot twisty and active and full of unexpected turns, but it kept a level of humor and joy to it, even when the characters were dealing with some painful shit. It could have been maudlin, but the heroine’s “Get up and get over it” attitude paired with the hero’s determination to help people professionally and personally combined with the plot made for a road-trip based romance that was fun, but packed an emotional wallop.
The other part I truly enjoyed was the heroine’s frankness, not only about her own history and the true lows she sank to personally at the hands of shitful people in her life, but about her sexuality and her enjoyment of sex. She likes sex, she’s attracted to Rick, and she has no shame about that. She’s terribly realistic, both as a character and in the way she views her own life: she knows what hard rock bottom is like, and since she’s been there already, facing it again means she knows how to build back herself up again.
But that rock bottom is part of why I can’t give the book an A. Jessica suffers because of the behavior of some people who really ought to have been looking out for her and not their own best interests, and in the end, I didn’t think they’d truly received any kind of come-uppance. Not satisfactorily enough. Yes, I just finished saying that she as a character was very realistic, and certainly there’s only so much she herself can do to these people aside from moving as far away from them as possible, but in the epilogue, it seemed that she’d forgiven or at the least still spoke with one person in particular who had behaved so horribly I was astounded Jessica, as ballsy as she was, would put up with having that person in her life for one more minute.
Of course, that causes me to question what I expect from a happy ending – not only do I want the hero and heroine to have a marvelous ending, but I want the bad guy to get it and get it good. I want people who behave abominably to get handed back to them the full effect of their behavior, or at least a good 60% of it. That might be the true fantasy of romance for me – I fully believe that happiness and romance and healing and hot sex happen to people now, in the past, in the future, on distant planets, in carriages, in cold lakes, for God’s sake, and anywhere in between. I totally buy that and pay retail. But the true fantasy of a romance for me as a reader is the restoration of order and the conclusion of the morality play within the romance narrative, where the good guy gets an orgasm (and the girl too, obviously) and the bad guy gets gloom, despair, agony, pain, and really fiery hemorrhoids.
I of course question whether my expectations – and my inner monologue – are placing unfair demands on the story. After all, Jessica is fabulously real, ballsy, courageous, and unbelievably strong. Should be plenty to be happy about, right? But her apparent continued relationship with relatives who caused her a whole bucket of hurt out of pure selfishness and arrogance causes me to question the overall happiness of her future, which is a shame because Jessica and Rick are a marvelous couple to read about and road trip with. My minor quibble about the ending aside, this book is great big heaping piles of sexy, 75 mph fun.