Lynne Connolly, who reviews Presents and Mills & Boon Modern titles over at The Good, The Bad and the Unread. Lynne has said that Presents appeal to her because they have a fairy tale quality to them, and she's a fan of Sarah Morgan's work. That was enough for me, so I settled in to read my very first Sarah Morgan title, A Night Of No Return.
Yes, I totally get it now. And God help us all, I'm hooked.
Lucas Jackson is a big-time architect who is suffering through the anniversary of a personal tragedy. All he wants is to be left alone so he can drink himself stupid. So off he goes to his country estate in the middle of a snowstorm that is rapidly growing epic by the minute. He settles in by the fire with a suitable amount of alcohol and is all set to kill the necessary brain cells when in barges a very intriguing distraction.
Emma Gray is Lucas' personal assistant and the only reason she is driving to his country home in the middle of a blizzard is because he left some very important papers on his desk. He has to have these papers and they're vital enough that she's loathe to trust the task to a faceless courier. When she arrives on the scene she discovers her boss three-sheets to the wind and he's in a total state. She's never seen him like this before. Her put-together, single-minded, workaholic, driven boss is a complete mess. She cannot leave him like this, and even if she wanted to? Yeah, she's pretty well snowed in now.
I'll be honest, Morgan isn't telling a new story here. We've all read variations of this before. What she does do is take these well-worn tropes, spin them around, creates characters that are her own, and delivers a story that is fresh and lively, with the right amount of angsty-goodness to keep me glued to the pages.
Lucas is your classic Presents hero - Alpha, driven, yet with a mysterious wounded past. He's forceful enough to showcase his Alpha-goodness, but not so forceful that he slips past the Asshole Point Of No Return. Is he a jerk at times? Yes. Was I willing to forgive him? Yes. And that's because even when he's clueless about his feelings with Emma, he's still, underneath it all, a decent guy.
Emma is your classic Martyr Heroine. The heroine who has made sacrifices in her life (hell, she doesn't really have much of a life, does she?) because of various obligations. She doesn't see these sacrifices as "obligations" though. Yes, it's not how she wanted things to turn out, but it was the only decision she felt she could make. Lucas doesn't know any of this. As a boss he's all work, no personal stuff. Besides, Emma is not the type of girl with desires to date anybody she meets at work. And with the long hours she keeps? Meeting someone she doesn't work with is an impossibility. Lucas is handsome, smart, driven, and extremely attractive. But she's not a girl who is stupidly going to fall in love with her boss. No way, no how. She's not the type of girl who would foolishly fall in love with a man who is so closed off emotionally that she doesn't have a prayer. Except....yeah, that's exactly what she does. Hey, the heart wants what it wants.
What elevated this book for me is Emma. I flat-out liked her. Also I loved that she wasn't this shrinking violet who cowers in the corner when Lucas says something insensitive or tries to scare her off. She stands toe-to-toe with him. Heck, there is even a very funny moment when she tries to manipulate him to get out of a work-related obligation. He doesn't fall for it, of course, but it adds to her charm and as a reader I liked that she wasn't afraid. Ever. She also doesn't shy away from making tough decisions. In short, Emma is an Every Woman. An Every Woman cast in the role of Cinderella to Lucas' wounded (and emotionally clueless) Beast.
It's really a lovely read, and one that I practically inhaled. I had hit a rough patch with my category reading of late, and reading A Night Of No Return was liking opening up a window on the first beautiful spring day after a dismal winter. It was exactly what I needed and now I want more.
Final Grade = B+