and a constant support to her busy biology professor husband Hero of 10 years was fine.
Until she walked in on him kissing one of his graduate students on a night when he called to miss dinner due to work.
It shook her to the core.
Making her wonder about how Hero had changed from being so obsessed with her the instant they met in college
and what happened to the bliss of their early marriage.
How did their scorching and frequent sexual connection
become reduced to a mild and routine one?
Heroine's decision to take some time apart from each other gave Hero a lot of time to think.
But, when he saw the photos taken of her recently at her vacation spot with a provocative note attached to them by the photographer,
it was now time for him to act. Seeing her with another man brought a deluge of emotions
that he hadn't felt since their early years of marriage, bringing home how much his indiscretions could really cost him. Was it too late?
What will it take to make her forgive him? What can he do to make her trust him again?
This romance novel is more about marital infidelity than a groveling book. The physical cheating seemed minimal: one kiss that lasted mere seconds before Hero pulled away from the other woman (OW) and realized that heroine had witnessed the kiss. It was a quick kiss but it was still cheating because of Hero's intent. Looking at it in its entirety, it was more than just a quick kiss. It was not an accidental kiss, where they accidentally bumped each other & fell on each other's lips. It was not a one-sided kiss because he admitted to kissing her back in this confession to his friends:
“She kissed me and I kissed her back, for a few seconds when it hit me
what a shitty husband I was and I pulled away.” (p. 109)
It was not an unwanted kiss, because Hero would've acted with repulsion or, at least, rejection when OW planted a kiss on him. But he neither turned his face or any other part of his body away from her. Instead, he put his hands around her waist and allowed her to place her hands on his neck for more intimacy in those few seconds of kissing. Looking like the mutually-shared embrace that heroine witnessed.
It's the emotional aspects of the kiss that undoubtedly puts it under the category of cheating. And what made it so devastating to heroine.
---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------
The moments after Hero pulled back from kissing OW and contemplated things for a few seconds before they were interrupted was what devastated heroine all the more. She viewed the post-kiss contemplation (with Hero STILL holding OW's waist) as his indecision about whether to continue his intimacy with OW. She knew his expressions well enough to see that he was unsure. He was not definite in his rejection of OW and that's what hurt her the most. It gave the kiss she just witnessed the meaning she was afraid of. During the kiss, heroine was still giving Hero the benefit of the doubt. She gave him a chance to let the OW down in whatever manner, hoping that it was just the OW participating in that kiss. Or that it would somehow be explained away by something other than a mutual sexual intimacy. But his facial and bodily expressions and lack of immediate verbal or bodily rejection showed her that he, not only reciprocated the kiss, but was maybe open to more of it. Hero's defense about those post-kiss moments (ie, considering how to let OW down gently without ruining their professional relationship) was too weak to appease the great hurt heroine was feeling. It couldn't explain away why:
a.) it took him so long to stop the kiss
b.) he didn't make it immediately clear (verbally and non-verbally) that OW's kiss was unwelcomed or inappropriate.
b.) he was still holding OW's waist & she, his neck after the kiss.
c.) he kissed OW back.
What was clear to her was that Hero was open to getting his romantic and sexual needs met elsewhere.
Hero admitted to kissing OW back because she gazed at him with the same adoration and sensual warmth heroine used to look at him with in their early years together. So, he cheated because he was missing the worshipful attention heroine used to give him. It showed how self-absorbed & self-centered he'd become with heroine because:
- he ignored heroine's multiple initiations of sexy intimacy and sensual affection many years into their marriage, especially after they had kids.
- he didn't bother to tell heroine directly what he wanted or needed from her now (i.e, to be adored, to feel wanted as a man, to feel sexy)
- he instead took the easy way out by savoring another woman's attentions and affection for a few seconds.
- he didn't bother to consider heroine's own needs and wants.
- he neglected to see what heroine was doing/sacrificing to make life easier for him and to support him in his career.
- he was using OW as a tool to fulfill his needs and wants without seeing her as a person.
And it highlighted the problems in their marriage:
- Hero had become increasingly focused on building his career at the university.
- he took heroine for granted by seeing her more as a steady & undemanding support and the primary parent of their kids.
- their romantic life became scheduled around his time and needs.
- heroine had become a doormat, allowing Hero to set the tone and timing of their romance and choosing to surrender her needs and wants aside to make his primary.
- heroine re-defined her identity to be a passive homemaker and parent who catered around the needs of her husband and children, pushing aside her natural sexiness, assertiveness, frankness, and desires.
- their lack of openness and honesty with each other, suppressing their innermost desires and needs from one another and hiding their true feelings and thoughts about each other. For years.
- their lack of true intimacy, settling for routine sex and a comfortable but lackluster marriage.
It was an emotional betrayal, first and foremost. The reciprocation of the kiss and Hero's post-kiss reaction was its expression. The OW didn't play any other part in the book apart from that kiss. But it's what she symbolized to Hero (ie, youth and excitement, sensual adventure, sexual attention) and, thus, heroine & Hero's marriage that made her a continuing sore point in their relationship. Heroine no longer wanted to be a part of their distant marriage. It had fallen apart and she wasn't sure if she was willing to fix it or call it quits.
What I liked best about the book was how they dealt with the cheating, especially heroine. I wouldn't consider this a good-groveling book. Hero did so some groveling (i.e, gave heroine the space & time she needed without protest, sincerely apologized, promised to do all he can to get her back & show that she was the only one for him). But what offset his groveling for me is that it took him awhile (2 months & 3 weeks, to be exact) to finally fight for heroine & their marriage. He acted helpless & dejected and moped around for weeks, wondering about the demise of his marriage and feeling part-mad & part-condemned when heroine would call or text without conversing much with him. It took the strong urgings of several family members & his close friends at varying times during that 2.75-month period to FINALLY get him to pursue heroine & fight for her. So, Hero was basically passive about his marriage falling apart until 75% of the book. That was a disappointment. I like Heroes who fight for the heroine they wronged as soon as they realize they're fault. I like Heroes who have the gumption to do what they can to get heroine back, no matter if they embarrass/hurt/impoverish/inconvenience themselves. This Hero didn't really do that. By the time 75% of the book came & he finally did some groveling, heroine had already evaluated things by herself and had already gone through some major healing process by herself. She just happened to be strong enough and ready enough when Hero finally went after her. Essentially, Hero's grovel was preempted by heroine's own process of healing and self-restoration. What Hero's grovel did was to add some vital pieces to her healing and her decision to reunite with him.
Heroine's character development was what made this a good read for me. She may have regressed in their marriage by becoming a doormat and losing her identity to Hero and their kids but she regained her own identity back within 3 months time. Like Hero, she did mope around and was passive and dejected but only for a few days,. Thanks to her willful sister. Once she realized some things about herself, she did the hard work of doing what it took to be the person she wanted to be. She wanted to be the confident, assertive, independent, sexy, and open person she used to be. What made it a quick recovery for her was that these parts of her were buried but not dead. She just had to revive them by doing things that expressed these characteristics (i.e., change of fashion, zip-lining, hanging out at the beach/pool, punching the guy who was assaulting her sister) and she became a new person. A stronger, more mature, more focused, and sexier version of her pre-motherhood self. She admitted her deficiencies in their marriage but without minimizing the wrong of Hero's cheating. She loved Hero and knew what she wanted (to keep her family together) but she wasn't going to sacrifice her identity any longer and go back to the kind of marriage she and Hero had. She had remembered her worth as a woman and she wasn't about to forget it again. And I liked that she made clear that Hero wouldn't either.
Her character development was what convinced me of their HEA(happy ever after) and that Hero wouldn't likely stray again. Her not weakening her resolve during their time apart made Hero realize what he was missing and was going to miss forever if he didn't do right by her. Seeing heroine again and experiencing her distance from him and mistrust of him confirmed what he needed to do to make her stay with him and improve their marriage. They both made an effort to rekindle their romance and to discuss things openly this time. Heroine had to work on forgiving Hero and he had to work on convincing her that she was loved and treasured by him as a woman, wife, and mother to their children. I liked that we were shown Hero becoming obsessed and possessive over heroine again. It paralleled how he felt about her when they first got together. It certainly made a strong case of his love and devotion to her. I just wished we got a better account of how their romance changed during the course of their marriage. It would've added more poignancy and emotional pull to their overall story. To really seeing where things went wrong and how it impacted both of them at that time. The back and forth accounts of their beginning romance and the present time showed Hero and heroine with very similar characters. We're only told that heroine's character regressed & their marriage declined in brief statements.