BLOG REVIEW: Come To Me Softly by A.L. Jackson

The 3 months since 23y.o. construction-worker Hero left 20y.o. college student has been a struggle for her,
especially since finding out she was pregnant with his baby.
His roaring back to her life unexpectedly one day leaves her in a quandary.
For a moment. Before she welcomes him back,
after his promises to never leave her again and build a home with her
and to love her openly.
The problems come with her family
and his,
which, after a night of passionate and tender loving,
sometimes ends up with her all alone   
with him fighting to keep his ghosts at bay by himself.
When he could no longer hold them in, all hell breaks lose.
And she reaches her limit, no matter his apologies.
What can he do to keep her in his life?

Although this book was a 2nd-chance romance, it primarily dealt with Hero's past losses. The timing of my reading this Jackson book was apropos.  I just lost a loved one unexpectedly a few days ago. So, reading about Hero's intense struggles with guilt and love for the mother he lost 7 years ago became personal. It brought to head the variety of emotions and memories Hero struggled with in losing his loved one and why he worked so hard to push them away. It also helped me gain a better understanding of why he left heroine in the previous book, Come To Me Quietly (my review here).  Before my personal loss, I thought Hero's guilt and brokenness was a bit OTT(over the top). I couldn't fully understand why he was still so steeped in his past and couldn't get over it already.  My recent loss made me realize that the death of a loved one could take quite a bit of time for some people, especially if the loss was unexpected and the relationship with the deceased was a close one. It's not that easy to just snap back into life. Your life can change quickly, vastly and permanently. Things may never go back to what normal was.

It was sad to realize how much guilt Hero suffered for his beloved mother's death from the car accident where he was driving. The thing was it wasn't just his own warped beliefs that drove his guilt. The hurtful actions and harsh words of his loved ones drove the nails in more deeply. 

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details---------------

1. his father
When Hero was hospitalized for his suicide attempt, his dad blatantly blamed him for taking his wife away from him. Then he walked away from Hero, who was then placed in a juvenile facility. His father never saw and contacted him ever since. He sent Hero's little sister to their grandparents so he also alienated 16y.o. Hero from the rest of their family. 

It was serious blame and deliberate abandonment on his dad's part. His dad admitted to it to Hero later on in the book, after Hero showed up on his doorstep due to heroine's urging. His dad wasn't a strong person and depended on the love of a woman for his emotional stability. He may have moved on with his life, marrying again and seeking out Hero's little sister & taking her back to live with him. But he hadn't searched for Hero in all that time. It took Hero to show up to finally get his dad motivated to make amends with him.

2. heroine's father
Heroine's father also blamed Hero for making a mess of his family and forbade him from their home 7 years ago. Her father's judgment of Hero worsened when he found out about their romance and her pregnancy. He verbally confirmed Hero's view of himself as unworthy of heroine and having a great potential of hurting her.

     -----------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS----------------------------------------------

Hero was tormented constantly by abrasive judgments of his worth and he was plagued with nightmares daily. He didn't have as much suicidal ideation in this book but it was not far behind.
It was through heroine's eyes that he was able to begin to have physical and emotional stability and have the courage to receive the good that was offered to him. He was really a talented, hard-working, creative, confident, respectful, and loving guy. But his torturous thoughts undermined all that and made the destructive and rageful part of himself take over. His constant self-recriminations came from a vicious cycle that seemed only to be interrupted by heroine's unconditional love and belief in his goodness. 

The mainstay of this book was heroine. I liked how her character was portrayed. She was a sweet, innocent, and positive person who had seen and continued to face the the bad, depressed, rejecting, and uncertain part of life.  She could've easily chosen to be dragged down by the negatives of life and the people around her but she chose not to. She may look like a doormat to take Hero back after he left her 3 months ago. But she actually had quite the backbone. What I liked about her the most was her steadfastness to stay hopeful and fight for what's good, after considering what life would realistically be like with complicated Hero. She was no Pollyanna who ignored the bad and tra-la-lad to the Land of Sweet and Light. Heroine knew Hero struggled with insecurity, depression, and suicide. She saw it when she was a child and she continued to see it now. She didn't like that he left her incommunicado for 3 months and just showed up on her doorstep one day. She knew he could leave her just as abruptly again. But she also knew he was capable of more and she told him so. She didn't hold back on what she thought of him and what she wanted with him.  

        -------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't know the book's details-------------------

I liked that heroine eventually confronted Hero about what he did during their 3-month separation, specifically if he slept with another woman. Hero denied having slept with any other woman since he first kissed heroine. He did confess to having slept with the woman who was coming on to him at the bar when he was waiting for heroine. But he slept with her before he and heroine first kissed and began their secret affair. He also denied having any desire for any other woman, including the 2 times he left heroine: the 1st one was during book 1 with the 3-month separation and the 2nd time was the 4 days he left after she gave him an ultimatum. I liked that, despite his attempts to destroy himself through drugs and alcohol and reckless driving, he honored heroine and his love for her by staying celibate. 

     ---------------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------

She did a hard thing towards the end and set her limits with him and didn't budge on it, even though she was very tempted to. Her doing so showed her maturity for doing what's the best for her and her baby and for him. Her honesty and vulnerability with him came from a place of strength that Hero could not easily shake. And it's this unshakable strength and faith of hers that gave Hero the emotional stability and healing that he drastically needed. I liked her.

Despite Hero's emotional conflicts, this book was not as poignant as the first book. Hero and heroine's love was firm and we got to see how they managed their relationship despite the opposition from family and friends. We got to see 3 months of them progressing into a more stable relationship, with scenes from their day-to-day life living together. Heroine's pregnancy was featured quite a bit and it was great to see it link them even closer together. This book was more about finding an even ground in Hero and heroine's romance. Both the quality and book pace was fitting to this aspect of their story.

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: His Unlikely Lover by Natasha Anders

26y.o. auto-repair mechanic and shop owner has been keeping a secret for 6 years
from her 31y.o. best friend Hero. 
She's in love with him but he doesn't seem to see past their years-long friendship, preferring women who look and act nothing like her.
One drunken kiss on the dance floor completely changed things for them.
Now, Hero can't get her out of his mind and is fascinated by what he previously ignored.
He sets ground rules for their affair and she agrees. 
She's willing to take what she can from him, no matter her disappointment with his rules.
Hiding their affair from their close friends and family becomes a trial, especially since Hero works as the CEO of her father's company.
And it becomes more and more apparent that her appearance and way of life 
is a huge issue for Hero.
How can they keep their friendship when their affair ends?

A mixed read. The first 60% of the book was great. It was exciting, funny, angsty, and sexy. The emotional and sexual tension was electric and ripe. I loved the angst that came from heroine's unrequited love for Hero and the see-sawing between brain and heart about their secret romance by both Hero and heroine.  The tension between their conflicting needs and wants continued to escalate as each day of their 5-day secret romance passed. And then about 60% in the book, Hero did something that felt really out-of-place in the story:

     ----------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details----------------

During the past 4 days of their secret affair, Hero and heroine were often going back and forth between wanting to be with each other and being dissatisfied with their relationship. Hero set clear rules of their affair that both agreed to when they started it and they were: 
1.) their affair will be held in secret  
2.) their affair will be temporary until they get their desire for each other out of their systems
Since the 1st day they slept together, both were secretly chafing at Hero's rules. Heroine religiously stuck to his rules and got dressed and left ASAP after they had sex. When Hero asked her to stay with him that night, she reminded him of the rules he just set a few hours ago and rejected his offer. Hero disliked heroine leaving him after sex wanted to spend some time cuddling and sleeping with her, which was something he didn't do with his former lovers. But he was glad that she was consistent with their bargain and thought that time was going to take care of this desire of his to spend time with her. For the next 4 days, their struggle between wanting more with each other and keeping to their affair's rules heightened. Heroine kept to her part of their bargain, even when it was emotionally hurting her. In the meantime, Hero kept trying to break his own rules and have heroine do the same and would get frustrated at it yet would rationalize later why it was good that she did. In the meantime, their emotional connection, attraction, desire to spend more time together, and frustration about the secrecy of their romance increased. I was loving the tension.

Then Hero had mouth diarrhea on day 5 of their secret affair. It came out of nowhere and seemed so uncharacteristic of him and how the story was unfolding. He basically told heroine off in the midst of their mutual friends at a soccer party. He publicly bulldozed her with putdowns about her appearance and questioned how he could even be in a relationship with someone like her and how someone like her was supposed to fit in his life. He worsened it by then saying: 
"I need someone else, someone who knows how to dress and handle herself in public...someone who won't show up at events with questionable bruises." (p. 145)
I couldn't believe what a jerk he was being to publicly humiliate her like that and cut her so personally. And the precedent for it was him seeing heroine getting a bit bloody from their soccer game. His motive for haranguing her then was supposed to be because her injury worried him and he wanted to protect her. But I don't get the connection at all. His publicly voicing out their secret affair to their friends via his offensive tirade of her person came nothing close to his desire to protect her from further hurt. It's a huge rationale disconnect.  It didn't fit Hero's character and how he'd acted for the last 145 pages to express his frustrations with her in that manner. I really didn't get it.

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After that event with Hero occurred, the whole story took a turn for the tepid. The last 40% of the book felt very different story-wise and emotionally for me. It's almost as if I was reading 2 different books with slightly different main characters. I get that heroine matured from that experience with Hero. She did become stronger from it and more determined to want more for herself and not just settle for crumbs. Yet she also presented as unreasonably stubborn about her appearance. To the point that she, who was willing to bend over backwards for Hero just 2 weeks before, now won't bend even a bit just to get a better dress (she only had 1 dress she wore over and over again for parties) and brush her hair for Hero's sake.  

Hero was the one who presented much more differently in the last 40% of the book. He became determined to get another chance with heroine but in a sappy way. His sending her multiple bouquets of flowers with his love poems were corny. There was quite a bit of emphasis of the type of flowers he sent her and what they signified and his attempts at poetry coincided with those flowers. It was to show that Hero was being openly romantic and persistent in his pursuit to get her back. But it was really too sweet for his character. In the attempt to show that Hero was groveling for a second chance with heroine, it ended up making him look like a sap. Especially in light of how hardened and firmer heroine had become in not wanting to be sucked into the emotional mess with Hero again. All that sexual-emotional tension I felt previously was gone. The last 40% of the book was bland. I actually became sleepy from it and found my attention wandering, compared to how riveted I was with the first 60%.

Overall, Hero did do enough to redeem himself from his mistakes with heroine. He did do his best to show her that he was openly proud of wanting a romance with her now and that he found her desirable, no matter what she wore and her degree of dirt. His motive was to get her back with him ASAP but his long-term motive was unclear. He stayed away from any admission that he was in love with her as she was with him. So his wanting heroine back seemed more out of his wanting her company and friendship + sex back. He hadn't thought their whole romance through, making him look selfish and immature. Which was weird because all the flowers and poems and constant texting and phone calls he was sending her made it seem like he was in love with her. I guess, he was being depicted as very clueless about romance. Maybe to add some needed tension in the last 40% of the book. But it ended up just being confusing and ill-suited with his sappy actions. But I did believe that he fell in love with heroine. Just as I believed in his instant attraction towards and obsession with heroine after their first kiss. I just wished it was done better without emasculating Hero and making him look sappy. The switch from friends to lover was done well in the 1st half. I wished those ingredients were applied in his emotional switch from friends-with-benefits to being-in-love in the 2nd half as well.

I moderately recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Perfect Kind of Trouble by Chelsea Fine

21y.o. waitress had no choice but to quit her diner job and move out of her apartment in Chicago. 
Although she hadn't had any contact with her dad in the last 5 years, she was attending his funeral.
She couldn't help notice their former yard boy, 21y.o. Hero, standing at at distance & looking very saddened by her dad's death
just like everybody else in their small Arizona town, who her father left his massive estate and belongings to. What makes her madder and more hurt than she already is that all her father left her in his will is his odd video message,
requiring her and Hero to hunt down clues around town for whatever he's left both of them. While being handcuffed together the whole time or else, forfeit the money. She's not happy about having to be handcuffed to the spoiled rich guy the girls in town call "the Woman Whisperer".
Part-time employee Hero isn't thrilled about being with stuck-up and cold heroine either, no matter how gorgeous she is.
But he's desperate for whatever it is heroine's father left him. And so is she.
What they thought was going to be a quick task ends up being frustrating 
and revealing,
uncovering the truth about the rift between her and her father.
and exposing a depth in each other neither expected.
Forging a connection they no longer want to resist.
But with morning, comes recriminations.
Will they let their insecurities get the better of them?

I was briefly introduced to Hero and heroine when I read Best Kind of Broken (review here).  I was intrigued by the inimical relationship of these 2 hotties who were handcuffed to each other and wanted to know more about them. This book gave us their full story & I enjoyed it. Hero and heroine didn't like each other because of what they've heard about the other. Although they grew up in the same small town and Hero worked at her father's house since they were both 13, they had no interaction until the present time. I liked the transformation of their relationship, from judgmental strangers to open-hearted lovers. The progress was a combination of humorous, sexy, rude, sweet (sometimes too sappy), and heartbreaking. A lot happened in their 4 days being handcuffed together. All in all, the book covered about 5 days of Hero and heroine's relationship (minus the epilogue).  Five days seemed premature to develop a meaningful romance but this one was believably written. I think a big part was because Hero and heroine both came with such strong views of and dislike for each other and they were able to quickly see how differently the other actually was in reality. I liked that Hero and heroine confronted each other and talked things out as well as avidly observing the other's actions. It gave credence to the dramatic change in their views and feelings towards each other. it corresponded to the growth we got to see in their characters. Talking openly does change things. Even within a day.

Heroine had a different kind of insecurity than most women. She was insecure because she was so beautiful that people judged her immediately as cold, bitchy, a man stealer, and snotty. She was objectified by both men and women. She resented her beauty because of it but couldn't escape it. So she didn't trust easily. She also became a loner because of her family and financial situation. She took care of her drug-addicted mother and worked hard to help ends meet, after her father cut both her and her mother off financially and personally. At meeting Hero, she was jobless, homeless, and family-less. Both her parents died within months of each other. She had no one in her life. What I liked about heroine was that she transcended her crappy life situation with her practical and strong attitude. She didn't whine and feel sorry for herself. Instead, she held her head high without being prideful. She viewed herself as able to surpass her troubles and was willing to work whatever respectful job came her way to support herself. She really could've taken the easy way out and used her beauty/body to get out of her financial hell-whole. But she had dignity and wasn't willing to sell it. And it's her sacrifices and maintaining her dignity through the wretched few years of her life that made what she found out about her past poignant:

     ------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

Heroine thought that her father shut her out of his life 5 years ago. She also believed that he only minimally supported her and her mom a few years after their divorce and then none at all the last 5 years. She was very bitter and angry with her dad for many years and even ignored his phone calls in the last few years. She had no clue he had cancer and didn't even get to talk to him before he died.  It confirmed his loss of love and care for her. His handing down his estate and possessions to the town added fuel to her bitterness and pain of being rejected by him. Even in his death, her father still had the power to hurt her. So, going through the scavenger hunt to find the money he may have left her, was a difficult emotional task for her. If she didn't need the money so much to survive and give her a future (i.e., pay for nursing school), she wouldn't have done it. 

Getting to know her father via Hero's viewpoint of him and the shared opinions of the townspeople confused her. Reading the letters her father and mother wrote to each other the last few years both hurt and relieved her.  She realized she misjudged both her parents. Her father had always wanted heroine and her mother in his life. It was her mother's idea to divorce her father and resist his invitations to reconcile. It was her mother's idea to cut him off from both of their lives because she wanted to be single in Chicago and continue her drug use. But she told heroine it was her father who rejected them. It was her mother who ran through the trust fund heroine didn't know about and put them in poverty. Her mother blocked many of her father's correspondence to heroine the last 5 years. Her mother died never informing heroine otherwise. Her mother killed herself via drug overdose, leaving heroine on her own. Her father, on the other hand, may have thought heroine didn't want a relationship with him. But that didn't stop him from singing her praises to the townspeople and always thinking well of her.  Heroine's knowing the truth after both their deaths made it more poignant because she couldn't get closure by talking to them. She could only reconcile the truths within herself and forgive and be forgiven in absentia. 

           -------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------------------

This was another major change in heroine's life. It's the kind of change that redirects a person's life. Fortunately for heroine, Hero was on her side.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like Hero. He was a young man who lived a hedonistic and non-committal life and he had no life direction. Unlike many romance Heroes, Hero wasn't ambitious nor was he successful in his career. In fact, Hero had no career. He held several part-time jobs to make ends meet. He was pretty much an irresponsible, Porsche-driving player in the beginning of the book. The only thing he admittedly had talent for was charming the pants off a woman and sexually pleasuring her. Thankfully, we saw more of him and there was much he was hiding from the world.

       ------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

Hero's spoiled-rich kid and man-ho persona smacked us at the start. Then, it dwindled from there as we got to know more of him and understood the reason for his exterior persona.  I liked that Hero was portrayed more realistically as a 21-year-old man. His good-time, part-time working, and aimless life seemed average for an American 21-year-old male in 2014.  What wasn't average was what he was hiding:
1. Hero may be living in a mansion in a wealthiest part of town but it was under foreclosure but just hasn't been listed yet. The house was vacant of almost everything but his bed and clothes because he had to sell their possession to pay for his and his dad's living expenses and an injured man's medical expenses.
2. He may be driving a Porsche but its' payments were delinquent and just got repossessed by the bank.
3. He wore spiffy and expensive clothes he was really dead broke and only had $40 to his name until payday. His clothes were not new and he took good care of them to maintain his rich-boy image to the world.
3. His dad was wealthy but, after Hero's mom left him for the town's married preacher, he lost his livelihood and squandered all their money, uncaring of debts accrued. 
4. His dad  became a bitter alcoholic after their mom's divorce. He was currently in jail for severely injuring a man in a car accident while driving drunk and he didn't feel that bad about it.
5. Hero had to work several part-time jobs to survive and pay for the $50K medical expenses of the man his dad injured because he took responsibility for what his dad didn't. He didn't make enough to pay for the car payments and even to eat. His work as a kitchen help at the restaurant was mostly so he could eat that day. 
6. Hero may be a charming and cocky man-ho but he was insecure about his worth as a person and found sexually pleasing women to be the easiest way to felt valued. He was afraid he was only good for sex and was a loser in everything else.

      ------------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS----------------------------------------------- 

There were a few people in his life, heroine's dad included, who saw past his exterior and liked him for who he was.  That helped prevent him from going over the edge when his life got tougher, especially within the past year when he felt depressed and suicidal.  Like heroine, Hero survived on determination to not be knocked down by his negative life circumstance. 

What quickly drew Hero and heroine together was their similar circumstances. They were both judged to be someone they were not but they kept up the image anyway to ward off anyone from finding out the truth: that they were broke, alone, and made great personal sacrifices for their parents. Their similarities connected them deeply. It made them feel understood by the other and pretty much eradicated their previous misjudgments of each other.  Even though it had only been 3 days, they got to know each other quite well and felt meaningfully connected after the truths about each other and their past were revealed. It heightened their physical attraction to each other so that, when they finally had sex, it was emotionally driven.  The problem that arose the next day, when Hero talked to his father, was characteristic of his age and his insecurities. The good thing was that heroine and Hero's friends weren't going to let him get away with it.  Since he wasn't foolish, he grabbed at his chance with heroine and they get an HEA(happy ever after). The epilogue (3 months later) let us see that they're both on track in improving their lives. Together.

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Wednesday Nights with Jamie by Daisy Dexter Dobbs

34y.o. realtor may be the consummate professional, 
when working with her 30-something real-estate broker boss Hero.
But, every Wednesday night, she has a sexual fantasy ritual with Hero starring as her fantasy lover.
She doesn't think she even stands a chance with him, when there are other beautiful & thinner women, such as her Barbie-look-alike co-worker, who are after him.
And she's only ever seen him date black women.
An emergency with her sister necessitated Hero to give her a ride to the hospital.
Giving them their first opportunity to spend time alone with each other, which led to some revelations and clear awareness of their mutual attraction
neither were willing to avoid, 
even at their workplace.
Their problems, however, are with their families. Her mother is very vocal about her dislike of their romance.
His mother and sister are none too happy either,
causing tension between them.
Does this spell the end of their relationship?

I was a little leery when I started reading this book. I knew it was erotica due to it being an Ellora's Cave book and the few Black Hero-White heroine (BH-Wh) romance I've read were basically all about sex. I was searching for a BH-Wh romance book with good romance with some steam and this Dobbs' book hit those points. All in 139 pages! I was impressed by how much this book was able to convey within those pages. Part of what made it good was how the interracial issues where dealt with by Hero and heroine with humor, practicality, and seriousness. Neither Hero and heroine had ever dated outside their race before. Both their mothers were strong, opinionated, and openly opposed their interracial romance.

     ----------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------------

Both their mothers had prejudices about each other's race that were partly due to racial stereotypes and partly social-class snobbery. Heroine's mother expected Hero to be poorly educated, have family on welfare, have a criminal record, have gang connections, and/or be a pimp. When she found out how Hero's background defied her assumptions, she instead viewed his being with heroine as his trophy for having made it to the rich white man's level. She was very prejudiced and she didn't want to change. Hero's mother had the same attitude. She wanted Hero to stay Afro-centric like her. She'd immersed him and his sisters in their upper-class African-American community and even going as far as only vacationing with them in Africa and the Carribeans. She looked down on heroine's blue-collar parents and upbringing and she wasn't apologetic for it. Hero's mother viewed heroine as being with Hero as her sexual trophy.

Both their mothers' reactions to their engagement were shock and opposition. I liked how Hero and heroine prepared for it, both knowing and accepting that their mothers were bigoted. They were prepared to what they could to make them face the reality of their permanent romance (i.e., use heroine's cute baby niece as a way to melt their respective mothers' hearts, bar the door to their wedding room). Yet they also had their limits of how much offense they were willing to take from their mothers.

     ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------------------------

I really liked how Hero and heroine zeroed in the current and potential problems they'd have as a BH-Wh couple.  They problem-solved their current problems with their non-supportive family members and prepared for how others would view their being together. What I also liked was how both Hero and heroine were honest about the newness of their being romantically involved with someone of a different race. They were able to laugh at some racial stereotypes as well as be turned on by the difference of the other. Hero and heroine were both comfortable in their own skin and that helped ease them quickly into their relationship.  

I liked heroine. She had a good head on her shoulders and wasn't fazed by other people's negativity. I thought it was very telling that she admittedly had no problem with the skin color of Hero's prejudiced mother and sister but did have a problem with their skinny-ness. Heroine was put down for her plus-sized curves all her life, especially by her mother. She had problems with her body image before but she had come to like her curves. I liked that part of her Wednesday-night pleasure ritual was her dressing up in lingerie and admiring her sexiness in the mirror. She was self-confident without flaunting it. And Hero's desire for her body boosted her confidence in her appearance. She'd learn to handle her mother's insults for the most part, although she still didn't like to hear them.  Heroine had seemed to have matured from her insecurities from when she was younger and it is this more confident woman that Hero got to know. It was understandable why he quickly fell for her, when they finally got to spend a few hours together by accident. Heroine didn't shy away from uncomfortable situations and discussed them openly and congenially (i.e., the complications of their new romance as a boss and employee). I liked that she didn't need Hero to fix her problems for her but did like to team up with him. 

Hero was a sexy and confident man. He was the consummate professional at work and was cool-headed and didn't react impulsively. Yet he was hot for heroine and was putty in her hands. I loved how he lusted after her curvy body and enjoyed her sassiness.  He was spouting off romantic and sexual words to heroine. There were those times, though, when their romantic declarations seemed OTT(over the top).  They would have long love declarations during his hard pistoning and thrusting.  The declarations were sweet and sometimes pretty sappy and would've been better said during their post-coital canoodling. He had his alpha-male protectiveness over heroine yet he only intervene when he needed to. Most times heroine took care of her problems on her own. His confidence didn't overshadow hers. They fit well together and they both communicated well. Their maturity, good sense of humor, and love for each other will see them through their HEA(happy ever after).

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Cage of Shadows by Anne Mather

19y.o. was about to start art college with her father's encouragement,
when her writer father suddenly dies 5 months ago. He leaves nothing to her and everything to her ambitious stepmother, who he naively trusted to continue to financially support heroine.
Her father's publisher makes a deal with her: find out what her father's friend, 39y.o. medical researcher Hero, is presently working on and she gets a much-needed £6,000 for living expenses and art school. The problem is she has to go to Florida to find him, based on an old address from her father's diary.
Also, the last time she saw him was when she was 8 years old and her father's photos of him confirm her memory of what he looked like then.
His highly-secured estate is only a temporary setback to finding him.
Pretending to stumble upon his beachfront home while out on a swim proves to be successful.
However, grim and unwelcoming Hero appears very different than how she remembers him to be.
The feelings he's arousing in her is unlike anything she's ever felt before. She can tell it's reciprocated 
and she welcomes it.

But Hero insists on keeping her away from him.
Her determination to get to know him better is driven by different reasons.
The main one being their fierce attraction to each other,
which becomes his downfall.
The unexpected arrival of heroine's stepmother becomes her downfall, 
as the truth of why she's there gets revealed. However, the truth of what Hero's been up to the last 3 years comes out as well.
What does the truth do to their new romance?

This Mather book worked for me. There's a big age-difference between heroine and Hero, who she used to call Uncle when she was younger. Their 20-year age gap was justified by their relationship distance (i.e., they haven't seen each other in 11 years & heroine only ever saw him occasionally when he'd visit their house in London in between his international work) and heroine acting as the aggressor in their romance.  Heroine wasn't generally aggressive or self-indulgent nor had she ever pursued a romantic relationship. But she knew that she wanted Hero, that he struggled with his attraction to her, and that time was very limited.  The urgency of time and the fear that he'll want nothing to do with her after he finds out why she's in Florida made her uncharacteristically determined to have her way with him. Her naivete and impulsivity from being a 19-year-old likely added to her dogged determination to have him, no matter the cost. And its this cost of a long-term romance with Hero that made me wonder how much she'd really thought things through.

     -------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------

1. Hero's big secret
The reason why Hero left England and became a recluse 3 years ago was because he contracted leprosy while helping diagnose and find a cure for it in the countries he worked at. He needed time and space to heal. But he was also suffering shame from having contracted the disease like many lepers do and didn't want to face the social stigma from having the disease, especially since it was the very work he was sought to help cure.  He was also conducting his personal research on another man with a more debilitating leprosy condition who lived in his estate along with his wife. Although Hero's leprosy was treated, it made me wonder how prepared heroine was to deal with the social backlash from those ignorant and/or prejudiced against those who suffered from leprosy. Their time together was quite short (about 3 weeks) and cocooned in a secluded Florida island, where no one knew either of them. What would it be like when they both returned and lived together in London? An epilogue would've helped.

2. their age gap
Heroine was just starting her life as an independent adult and attend art school. She was financially sheltered by her wealthy father so she'd never had to work and had always been provided for. Her father's death spelled the end of her financial dependence, knowing how her stepmother resented her.  Her reluctant acceptance of her father's publisher's request to find info about Hero for a good sum of money was due to her lack of financial independence. She had planned on getting a job and renting a room somewhere. But she was smart enough to grab the opportunity to make a quick £6,000 plus enjoy the sun a bit at Key Largo. She had to wrestle with the question of betraying Hero for the money she needed. It would've been better if she actually came up with alternative means to support herself without the promised money. But it was bypassed by her stepmother and then later Hero saving her from her financial struggles. 

Heroine also had never had a boyfriend but had gone on dates before. There were no mention of her friends and it was her housekeeper she went to for help and support, when her stepmother kicked her out of the house. So heroine didn't have much of a social life. Hero, on the other hand, had gone through college years ago and had an established career. He also had quite the social life before he isolated himself. He actually dated heroine's stepmother for a while before she met and married her father. Even in his isolation and leprous condition, he caught the eye of his sensual housekeeper (who was the wife of the leprous man who lived with him) and had a drunken sexual cheating incident with her.  Hero was at a stage of his life that he was ready to settle down, while heroine was just launching from the nest. It's not a big problem really. But they hadn't dealt with any age-related issues in their relationship during their 3 weeks together. It may not even be a big issue at all.

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Their 3 weeks of pursuit and resistance gave us a glimpse of their romance. Other factors that could affect their romance in the long-term was hardly or not touched on at all.  I wished we got a glimpse of their settled life in England in an epilogue, say 3 years later. That would've given me more certainty about their HEA (happy ever after), which I believe is quite likely. A little more nudge in that direction via an epilogue would've helped.

A major reason why I'm rating this book a 4-star (versus my initial 3.5-star rating) was because of its unique storyline and fuller characterization. Comparing this 1983 Mather book with the more recent Mills & Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents (HP) books I've read made their differences glaringly obvious. There were no sex-scene details in this book. We just got general information that Hero and heroine had sex twice. There was some foreplay description but they were quite tame and only went as far as breasts. This book, however, drew me into the main characters' romance much more than the sex-romp HPs of late by how their relationship and characters were portrayed. In less than 200 pages, I became invested in their romance and the character development, making me root for their improvement for the sake of their individual happiness and HEA. The sexual chemistry wasn't explicitly depicted but was still very obvious in the emotional tone of their interactions. The secondary characters, especially heroine's stepmother and Hero's housekeeper, gave their romance an edge and a step towards angst. I like how HPs like these present a conflict or barrier in the main romance just enough to grip my emotions but it doesn't actually follow through on the cheating, complete rejection/abandonment, etc. to really inflict total angst and ruin the romance.  It stirs enough emotional movement in less than 200 pages to make it a favorable read with a good-enough ending. This combination has been difficult to find in the recently-published HPs. It's a sad state of affairs that a 1983 HP is written much better than most of the HPs written within the last 5 years.

I recommend this book.