The Last Woman He'd Ever Date by Liz Fielding
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4324, 2012, Out of Print, Available Digitally
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I tend to impulse buy Liz Fielding books when I run up against them. I find her writing style charming and her books tend to have that meet-cute rom/com vibe. Basically? She's kind of a comfort read. When I want light and breezy, I can usually find that with a Fielding book.
The Review: This is going to be a dreaded review to write, mostly because I don't have a lot to say about this book. It delivered exactly what I was looking for, and despite some minor quibbles, it kept me entertained throughout it's 200-some pages. So that's good - I didn't hate it! But it also didn't rock my world. Which means in about a week I'm going to probably lack recall on what this story was about. Hey, thank heavens for blogging, right?
Hal North is a bastard - both literally and figuratively. His mother, a cook/housekeeper sort, had an affair with her employer, the owner of stately Cranbrook Park. She passed Hal off as his drunken stepfather's child, but the players involved in the drama knew the truth. When Hal, a rebellious teenager, rides his motorbike into the great hall, Sir Robert has his estate manager throw the boy out on his ear - banishing him from the property. Since Hal is a romance hero, this has translated into him making something of himself and now he's a millionaire businessman. Meanwhile, Sir Robert, in failing health, owes most of his internal organs and a fair amount of his hide to the tax man. Before you can say, revenge plot, Hal is buying Cranbrook Park.
Claire Thackeray's father was the estate manager who did Sir Robert's dirty work all those years ago - which means, you guessed it, our hero has revenge plans for her since her Daddy is now conveniently dead. Claire is now living on the estate, in Hal's childhood home of all places, works for the local newspaper, and is a single mother to 8-year-old Alice. Claire's mother had big plans for her daughter. She was going to get out of Cranbrook and make something of herself. Naturally when that did not happen (and Claire wound up pregnant to boot) their relationship suffered. But Claire is a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons sort, and likes her life. Although she's naturally worried about her living situation now that Cranbrook has been sold to a mysterious buyer. Imagine her shock when she finds out it's the prodigal bad boy returned.
Per Fielding's modus operandi, there's a meet-cute at the beginning of the book involving Claire, her bicycle, a runaway donkey (seriously) and a fishing pole. There's lots of banter and embarrassment, and eventual sizzle when Claire rediscovers the fact that she has hormones. Once the word gets out that Hal owns Cranbrook, he and Claire continue to be thrown together because 1) she lives on the property and 2) she's a reporter. What exactly are his plans for the crumbling estate, the only claim to fame in their tiny English village?
Quite a few readers find revenge plots distasteful, but this one doesn't have the bite of say, a Harlequin Presents. Certainly, Hal has plans - but those plans begin to lose their shine once Claire is back in his orbit. They take jabs at each other, but I never felt like Hal was outright cruel to her. Mostly the revenge idea is used towards the end of the story to spur our couple to their happy ending.
This was a nice pleasant read, but not without some quibbles. Both Hal and Claire have a decent amount of parental baggage. Claire's upwardly-mobile mother who has her dreams dashed when Claire gets knocked up. Hal being the bastard son of a man who won't acknowledge him. And yet? Outside of Sir Robert being involved in the first couple of pages of Chapter 1, none of the parents play any sort of healthy role in this story. They're off-page, as it were. And given the baggage we can tie to them? This seemed like an oversight to me. I also felt, at times, that the pacing was a bit off. That meet-cute in the beginning goes on for several chapters (four to be exact), which seemed a bit like overkill. I also wanted a lot more "house stuff." Claire starts poking around towards the end, going through Daddy's old journals, uncovering a secret in the stables etc. and I would have killed for more of that throughout the story. But that's probably my love of "house books" showing through.
What we have here is going to seem very damning with faint praise, but what can I say? I liked it. It kept me entertained. I didn't hate it, but I do think it could have been better. So chalk this one up to a perfectly pleasant "comfort read" that entertained for the few hours I spent flipping through my print copy. Charming, light, fluffy fun.
Final Grade = B-