by Jasmine Haynes, contemporary (2007)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21604-0
Why didn't anyone tell me that an erotic romance can hit as hard at the heart as it does on the reader's more carnal inclinations? The fact that Jasmine Haynes' Somebody's Lover is actually a collection of three short stories makes the fact that I enjoy this book for the way the romantic bits resonate with me as much as I enjoy the love scenes even more amazing, don't you think?
The three stories in this collection revolves around three brothers in the Jackson clan whose lives are changed dramatically after an accident claimed the life of their brother Lou. The fallout of the tragedy leads each brother to heal and find love - or in the case of the third story, rekindle love - in their respective stories.
The first story, also called Somebody's Lover, is the main reason why I love this collection to pieces. Lou's widow Taylor has been busy being a single mother to her two kids in the last three years or so since Lou's passing but she's also a lonely woman. When she decides to let down her hair and hit the local pick-up joint, she just happens to come across Jace, her brother-in-law. Jace, the youngest of the Jackson men at 30, isn't sure what to make of his brother's widow trying to do the same thing he's come to the joint for, but the encounter forces him to acknowledge the attraction he has felt for his brother's wife for so long. With Lou gone, there is nothing to stop him from going after Taylor, right?
This story sounds like a set-up for some dysfunctional family drama, I know, but it's actually so much better than that. While the sex scenes are hot, I like even better how Ms Haynes focuses as much on the characters' feelings as she does on their love scenes. Taylor is a realistic heroine whose conflicted feelings ring true. She is very human here, from her reasons to hit the pick-up joint due to her feeling starved for affection and sex to her conflicted emotions about hurting Lou's family by carrying on with their youngest son. Jace, on the other hand, is a very attractive hero who easily shoulders the responsibility of being the father figure to Lou's kids even before he is forced to admit that his infatuation of Taylor is still strong. He's a happy-go-lucky easy-going fellow who gets unexpectedly serious and determined about being the right man for Taylor.
Despite the length of the story, I find the relationship between Jace and Taylor unexpectedly sweet and even heartbreaking at times. The characters feel like real people - I don't come across this kind of well-developed characters often in short stories. I've read much longer stories that don't hit me hard like this one. This story gets nearly everything right as far as I'm concerned so this one is something rare and good as far as I'm concerned.
David, the oldest brother, has his story in Somebody's Ex. He isn't too pleased with his little brother hooking up with Lou's widow and when this story begins, he feels that maybe he needs to take a short break from his family to find himself again. They have all harbored guilt about Lou's death, and Taylor and Jace shacking up reopened some of David's old wounds, so to speak. However, taking a break from the family construction/tree mill business only leads to an unusual meeting with Randi Andersen, the daughter of the owner of the local Danish gourmet store. Randi returns to Willoughby to lick her wounds after a bad divorce and David is more than happy to be her rebound boyfriend.
Randi has self-esteem issues thanks to the double-clobbering she has received all her life from her father and her now ex-husband. I cringe when she decides that she wants more from David than a rebound but she's willing to settle for such an affair because she is willing to settle for anything from him. It's just like how she "settled" for what little she had from her father and her ex-husband. It's sad. But by the end of this story, she has come to herself to demand that her father treat her with some respect. Therefore, it's worth enduring some of her more self-degrading antics in this story to see her getting to a pretty good place in her life by the end of the story. David has a less complicated story here in that by falling in love he gets to get over his blues, but like Jace, he's a very attractive hero because he is so adorably determined to get things right with Randi. Therefore, while Somebody's Ex is not emotionally charged as the previous story, it is a sexy love story with plenty of credible character development. I have plenty of fun with this one.
Somebody's Wife is the shortest story and it is also the weakest, in my opinion. Mitch, the middle Jackson brother, has become very paranoid since Lou's death about dying and leaving his wife and kids in a financially unstable situation. Money is definitely tight and he's scrambling to balance the account books, so you can imagine what happens when Connie, his wife, starts insisting that it is time they have another baby. These two love each other, but their differences over the matter may tear them apart if they aren't careful.
This story is the weakest because the conflict is pretty straightforward and the resolution is clear: Connie is batcrap crazy and should be put down. Okay, Mitch is clearly more understanding than me, so the crazy woman doesn't get put down like she deserves to be by the end of the story. I am not one of those women who believe that being a housewife is the most noble profession a woman can attain and I certainly don't believe that it is wrong in any way for the wife to work if the family need the money, so I am not the most understanding person where the problems of this family are concerned. Mitch doesn't want Connie to work even if the kids are old enough to be sent off to some daycare center while Connie insists that they must have a baby now that the other tykes are grown, even if their financial situation is not really stable at that moment. As far as I'm concerned, they're both crazy, with Connie being more crazy than Mitch.
Fortunately, the author has Connie realizing and admitting to herself that she is being unreasonably selfish by making the problems of her family into being all about her and the story therefore comes to a most reasonable understanding and a re-established sense of love between those two. But because I cannot relate to the problems faced by these two characters, I don't feel the emotional resonance that I did with the previous two stories. However, I like how the author is attuned to the strengths and flaws of her characters in this story.
All things considered, Somebody's Lover aims and hits hard at my heart as well as it delivers the sizzling love scenes that it promises. This is one of those hard-to-find erotic stories that succeed both as a memorable romance and a sensual read. The fact that the stories are short makes Ms Haynes' triumph even more sublime, doesn't it?
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