His Wife for One Night by Molly O'Keefe. This type of book doesn't come along all that often for me, but when it does? Sheer bliss. What type is it? The type of book that you read the first page, the first chapter and you just know. You know you're going to love the book. You know you're going to fall in love with these characters. You just....know.
Jack McKibbon grew up on a cattle ranch north of Los Angeles and has only one fond memory of his childhood - Mia Alatore. His mother was pure evil, his father a coward who hid behind a whiskey bottle, but Mia? Mia was his best friend. The housekeeper's daughter. She idolized Jack. She allowed him dream. And he dreamed big. All the way to becoming a well-respected scientist whose life work it is to bring water to a thirsty world. So when Mia needs help, help that can be solved by marrying her, he steps up to the plate. She's working his family ranch, taking care of his sick father, and he's off saving the world. It's a marriage of convenience until a night in Santa Barbara makes things terribly inconvenient. Then tragedy strikes, and Jack finds himself coming home to the Rocky M ranch to lick his wounds, only to be confronted by a wife who wants a divorce.
Mia has loved Jack her entire life. Desperately, passionately, loved him. But Jack's too big, larger than life; Jack belongs to the whole world. Now, after years of him coming, going, calling her to attend some fundraiser as his date, her putting her heart on her sleeve, she's done. She can't do it anymore. She can't keep putting her heart out there only to have Jack leave again. She hasn't stopped loving him, but she can't keep on torturing herself this way. She has a small measure of pride left. Now, just as she's had the guts to tell him she wants out? He's back, and suggesting that maybe they could really try this time.
This is an emotionally complicated and messy love story. Jack, bless his heart, is totally self-absorbed and clueless. He's not malicious about it, he's just....a scientist. He's very logical and analytical, putting the various aspects of his life into neat, tidy compartments. Work is in one. Mia is in another. And his past? Another compartment, shoved into a dark, dusty back corner where he never goes. When Santa Barbara happens, the lids to his compartments open up, the contents begin spilling out, and things get messy. Jack doesn't do messy.
You bleed for a heroine like Mia. She's not afraid of hard work. She's a strong woman. But she's desperately in love with a man who just doesn't "get it." Certainly she's prickly, and she doesn't necessarily throw herself at him, but Jack is so wrapped up in his own head that he doesn't see what's obviously standing right in front of him. It all adds up to hurt feelings, painful declarations, and emotionally charged scenes between the two. But now that Jack seems to have caught a clue, is it too late? Because Mia just can't take it anymore. She's hit her breaking point. She's just not that much of a masochist to keep having her heart trampled all over. Jack seems sincere, but can her heart afford to take the risk?
I don't like romance novels to be too easy - because honestly? Who the hell ever said love was easy? It's not. It takes work, and with work comes pain, heartache, hurt feelings, anger, all the stuff we don't want to deal with. But when we do deal with it? It's heaven, and that's why they call it love. O'Keefe weaves a painful back story, drops in two damaged people, and makes them bleed for their happily-ever-after. It's magic. Magic from the very first chapter.
Final Grade = A