His Best Friend's Baby by Molly O'Keefe
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin SuperRomance #1385, 2006, Out of print, Available digitally, Connected to O'Keefe's first Super, Family at Stake
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: After discovering the awesomeness that is O'Keefe's Supers, I went back and glommed all her older categories that I didn't already have buried in the TBR. This was one of them. Plus, I read Family at Stake during the 2012 TBR Challenge, liked it, and wanted to see what became of the heroine's brother.
The Review: Julia Adams is 24, has a 2-year-old son, Ben, and is now a widow. Mitch was like a tornado, blowing into her life, sweeping her off her feet, but ultimately it was not the greatest of marriages. Mitch was a complicated man, who just about everyone believed was a golden boy. Not Julia though. Julia knows the truth about her husband, and with no other place to go, decides to head to California and Mitch's parents. An Army brat, Julia is desperate to set down roots, to have a "normal" life. Mitch's parents seem about as normal as they come, and frankly, her husband died without leaving her with a whole lot of options.
Jesse Filmore was Mitch's BFF. They got into a lot of trouble as kids, with the prevailing theory being Jesse was "no good" and corrupting golden boy Mitch. They joined the Army together, were in the same unit together, and ultimately a mission went wrong killing Mitch and two other men. Jesse, who was seriously wounded, blames himself for their deaths. Now he finds out that his dead mother left him the family home, a home that holds nothing but bitter memories. Jesse's father was an abusive drunk and the only person he could rely on, his sister, got the hell out of Dodge the moment she graduated high school, not bothering to even look back. Jesse is now back in his hometown, but only long enough to sell the albatross. He has plans to start over in San Diego. What he's less than thrilled about is finding Julia Adams in town with her son - living with Mitch's parents, who naturally despise him. Jesse knows the truth about Mitch - that he didn't deserve Julia, not by a long shot. Also every time he sees her, Jesse cannot hide from the cold, hard truth that he's desperately in love with her. His dream girl was married to his best friend. His best friend who is dead because of him.
This story is crammed full of so much heartbreak and angst that I practically inhaled it in one sitting. Julia is at loose ends, not sure what to do or who to turn to. She also has feelings for Jesse. He's the perfect guy, the guy she thought her husband was until he showed his true colors. Jesse is everything Mitch wasn't. He's also the only other person out there who knows the truth about Mitch, and now that she's back in her husband's hometown - where everyone thinks he's a saint? Jesse is a life raft.
There's a lot of angst going on this book, and O'Keefe has a wide array of secondary characters. Mitch's parents, plus Rachel, Mac and Amanda (see the first book, Family at Stake) all play healthy roles. Because of this, there isn't a lot of page time devoted to just Jesse and Julia. In fact, they spend very little time on page, together, until the second half of the story. Because of this, I felt like the conflict, the angst, overshadowed the romance. The romance got a little lost at times. Certainly it helped that Jesse and Julia shared a past, but it was a brief one, and mostly their attraction smacked a little of "love at first sight." Well, that, and Jesse knew what a rat bastard Mitch was, and here's this pretty young wife the guy doesn't remotely deserve. Jesse was, to a certain extent, jealous. Also, a bit angry at Mitch - who seemed to get away with everything while Jesse was left holding the proverbial bag. I got that Jesse and Julia cared about each other, but I never quite figured out how/why they fell in love - other than the fact that they both got screwed by Mitch, just in different ways.
Normally when I feel like the romance isn't quite there, I would slap the story with my patented "average" grade - but O'Keefe does angst so very well. Even with my quibbles, this story is better than a C. It just is. It really ripped my heart out in places, and all the secondary characters added such a nice dimension, really rounding out the story to make it feel bigger than it's 290+ pages. O'Keefe has written better books (says me), but I would hardly classify this one as a dud.
Final Grade = B-