Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-329-7
Contemporary Romance, 2002
Just for You, Doreen Rainey’s follow-up to her debut effort Foundation for Love, hits all the right notes with me. The roles of the hero and the heroine are completely reversed in this story: the heroine is the rich workaholic one with commitment issues while the hero is the one looking for love. This gender stereotype role reversal hooks me in from the first chapter, and it is a pleasant delight that this story doesn’t make the heroine apologize for her career, give it up for hearth and babies, or settle for less. Of course, the Bad Momma and the Bad Ex are here, but they don’t overpower the story or drive the main characters into doing stupid things.
Alexis Shaw hasn’t just been around the block, she probably owns some choice apartments in the block. Her relationships with men rarely last longer than a few months at most because as she puts it, there are very few brothers out there who can accept a woman being more successful than they are. She also believes that marriages are a sham. She is always a bridesmaid and she has a collection of worn-once-only outfits to show for it, but out of the six marriages where she played bridesmaid, only one marriage lasted till today. So why bother?
This philosophy seems to serve her well, as she is going to be the Businesswoman of the Year according to the premier AA business journal Image. (Why is a business magazine called Image?) While out celebrating with a girlfriend, they get hit on by a persistent idiot who cannot believe that women may find him repulsive. His friend, Malcolm Singleton, also gets a taste of Alexis’s verbal finger. He thinks she is hot though.
Next thing they know, he’s the interviewer assigned to do a piece on the new Businesswoman of the Year. They get off on a really wrong start, but their attraction to each other gets a little too strong to be ignored. She proposes a fling and he agrees, he hoping that he would be able to bridge the chasm she builds between them. In the meantime, Alexis’s very different sister come to town to avoid her man who turns out to be a Momma’s boy – worse, her Momma’s boy in the sense that the boy was set up by her Momma. Both sisters realize that they aren’t that different after all as they bond over their Momma’s incessant interference in their lives. The sister Melanie learns to get her own backbone and she may be getting her own story next.
Alexis is the dominant character in the relationship between her and Malcolm. It’s quite amusing but Malcolm, to the author’s credit, doesn’t come off like a pussywhipped loser. In fact, his devotion is rather sweet. Alexis is aggressive in every sense of the word – she can fend off horny toads, she will not take crap from anybody, and when Malcolm’s ex appears to briefly bug her, she tells that woman to get lost in no subtle terms. Her business is successful without having to rely on a man to help her do her account books. Her flaw stems from the insecurity that she may not be good enough for her own standards (note: not Mom’s, not Dad’s, but her own standards). All her life, her mother has been bribing or asskissing the relevant people to make sure her daughters become successful children to bolster her own image among her circles. In this case, Alexis is always wondering whether her latest success is due to her own hard work or because her mother has paid off the people involved with her favorite “public donation” tactics. In fact, since she can’t stand her mother, she moved out the moment she had the chance. Ain’t no codependent whining in Alexis’s house.
But in the end, she learns that it is okay to weaken a little and let a man into her life. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s, in fact, quite fun to have a guy around. I also like that her relationship with mother isn’t a codependent “I must win Momma’s love or cry forever!” sobfest. There is genuine anger between those two women, but at the same time, there is a possibility of them both healing the rift between them. I also like how Alexis and Melanie can bond and be the best of friends as well as sisters without any of them compromising their beliefs or values in the process, and how Melanie come to her own to make her own decisions in life. As for Malcolm, he’s a nice guy who doesn’t behave like an alpha male for conflict’s sake. He’s the kind of guy who has ambitions and drive but will take care of the kids and cook if Mommy has to work overtime tonight. I like him.
Not that this book is perfect. The dramatic culmination towards the end doesn’t gel with the rest of the story, for example. I don’t know what Malcolm’s ex is doing in this story, although thankfully she gets the boot soon after.
Still, I really enjoyed reading this one. The female-centric dilemmas and issues that drive this story is something I don’t find everyday, and of course, the heroine’s role as the “rich businessman hero with issues”. But the best thing is the nicely done romance between those two people that ring real despite some plot contrivances. Some readers may not like this kind of aggressive heroines, but I find Alexis a refreshing change from the queue of pauperized doormat virgin mothers lining up to be the latest charity cases for heroes in too many romance novels out there. Well-done characters with realistic and unforced issues in a sweet romantic relationship – it’s just what I want to read in my books.