Swept Away by the Tycoon by Barbara Wallace
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4426, 2014, Out of Print, Available Digitally, Book #2 in Best Friends trilogy
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: True story: I take just about any category romance that isn't tied down and offered to me at conferences - and this was one I picked up at RWA either 2014 or 2015. The longer answer is that Wallace is pretty much an auto-buy these days - having liked more of her books than disliked. I loved the first book in this series and enjoyed the third book. Which means in true Wendy fashion...I'm finally getting around to reading the second book. So typical.
The Review: It's hard to explain if you just don't "get" the format - but category romance is my equivalent to literary comfort food. Not to say it can't be emotional and challenging and all the things that detractors like to claim it isn't - but, for me, when an author hits all the right emotional beats in a category it's basically macaroni and cheese. I love it beyond all reason and immediately suspect anybody who tries to tell me it's not good for me. Dude. Macaroni and cheese is just flat-out good for the soul.
Chloe Abrams has terrible taste in men - look no further than the barista at her favorite coffee shop. Certainly they have been casually dating, but flirting with a customer and handing her his phone number while Chloe is standing right there? Oh hells no. To make matters more humiliating the scruffy customer who she has taken to mentally calling "The Slacker" is providing a running commentary during the whole episode. Really, she has no choice. She pours her freshly made peppermint latte over the now-ex's head and struts out of the coffee shop like a Queen.
"The Slacker" is Ian Black, a now disgraced tycoon - ousted from his own company and working his way through Step 8. Yep, Ian is in recovery for his alcohol addiction and is working to make amends with all the people he's done wrong...and it's a long list. He spends the majority of his day sitting in the coffee shop, which he happens to conveniently own, writing letters of apology. Chloe, with her high heeled boots (and she's a former college basketball star - so the girl ain't short to begin with), curly hair and take no prisoners attitude pushes all of Ian's buttons right from the start. But he's a mess and has bigger fish to fry. Namely reconnecting with his now college-age son.
What I so enjoyed about this story was the slow build and the light touch to the conflict. Wallace kept it all humming along without drowning the reader in a sea of angst. The relationship between Chloe and Ian gets started through a series of conversations. He owns the coffee shop and she loves coffee. It's a relationship that starts out of habit and daily routine and kicks into gear through banter and mild flirtation. Chloe is stung by a series of poor relationship decisions and an absent father. Ian is working on his recovery with the same single-minded focus that led him to "show up" his own father by joining the military then building his own company from the ground up. These are two driven people haunted by their pasts and various regrets.
The focus and theme of this romance is entirely wrapped up in forgiveness and Wallace tackles the topic in a way I'm not sure I've seen before in a romance. Namely forgiveness only works when the person you want to forgive you agrees. Forgiveness is going to happen on the wronged parties' timeline. Period. This is the stumbling block for Ian - and the lesson he ultimately has to learn over the course of this story. He's driven, focused, and thinks he can tackle his 12 steps in the same way he built his company - and hello? He can't. Because sometimes we don't always get what we want - no matter our drive or ambition or how badly WE want it. Chloe has to learn that pushing people away before they can push you away isn't a healthy way to deal with rejection.
The romance moves along on a short timeline (seriously, like a week) but these are characters that talk to each other and find themselves thrown together by circumstance (thank you terrible weather!). The I-love-yous do seem quick, but Wallace avoids a marriage proposal or pregnancy in the final chapter, so that makes things a bit more palatable. I could have done without Ian's nickname for Chloe (Curlilocks) but then I'm the sort that loathes nicknames in romances, being the cranky fusspot that I am. This one didn't surpass the other two books in the trilogy on my rating scale but it was still a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon and Wallace tugged my heart-strings at all the right moments. And given my cranky fusspot nature? That's a win.
Final Grade = B