The Courage To Say Yes by Barbara Wallace
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4390, 2013, Available Digitally
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Wallace is basically an autobuy in the Romance line. But an added mystery with this book - I had both a print copy and a digital copy in my TBR. Because apparently one copy wasn't enough? My guess is I snagged the print at a conference without realizing I already owned it in e.
The Review: This is an interesting book and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around how "successful" I think it is. But I enjoyed this, and I thought the author does a wonderful job of juxtaposing the emotional baggage between the romantic couple, so I'm counting this one largely as a win.
Hunter Smith is a photographer who travels the globe documenting political hot spots. He's home in New York City, in between assignments, eating breakfast at the same greasy spoon diner every day and should be working to hire a new assistant. Instead, this man who spends his entire life not inserting himself into "the story," who instead chooses to stand outside to document "the story," finds himself playing white knight to a damsel in distress.
Abby Gray left her abusive POS boyfriend 6 months ago. She's living in a women's shelter and is working the only job she could find - as a waitress in a crappy diner. And she's not a very good waitress. She thought Warren was gone for good, but instead he turns up at the diner, grabs her wrist hard enough to leave bruises, and before she can diffuse the situation, her hunky regular customer intervenes. Much to her horror. Abby doesn't need or want pity. She got herself into her current mess, she's going to figure out a way to get out of it.
The trajectory that follows is pretty straight-forward. Hunter can't leave well enough alone, feels guilty when Abby's asshole boss fires her, and offers her the vacant position of being his assistant. His last assistant basically said that what Hunter really wanted was a housekeeper, and Abby, with no marketable skills (she hitched her wagon to the abusive ex at a young age) can't say no. She needs the job - and cleaning house for Hunter, helping him organize his life, is something she is qualified to do.
The abusive ex angle is the conflict in the story that I'm not entirely sure the author pulls off to satisfaction, and a lot of this has to do with timing. Gun violence and the domestic violence history of men who perpetuate gun violence are in the news a lot right now - it's hard to set that aside, especially since Warren is portrayed as "a bully." Once Abby stands up to him, he basically slinks off into the sunset once he realizes she cannot be pushed around anymore. This is a nice idea, but one that rarely plays out in real life. I don't want to say Wallace writes this as "easy" - but the reality is that women escaping these types of situations aren't always so lucky. I don't think the author minimizes the conflict, but I also think it's a conflict that's hard to do justice in the category format.
Now, that being said, where this book really shines is in the character growth and development. You have a hero who has spent his life always on the outside, putting a barrier between himself and anything resembling feelings. The camera serves as a wall between him and the outside world. Getting close is not an option. Then you have a heroine escaping an abusive relationship, who has been beat down and belittled her entire life - first by a stepfather, then by a boyfriend. She, too, is closed off emotionally in many ways, distant and scared - and really? Who could blame her? But that's not even the best part - this isn't a traditional Rescue Fantasy. Not really. The heroine realizes fairly quickly she's "safe" with Hunter - so there's this great push-pull dynamic to their interactions, right from the get-go.
It's how these two characters bounce off each other that makes for interesting reading. They're not really that different, have more in common than they first realize, and help each other grow over the course of the story. Even better? Wallace doesn't try to do too much with the ending. It's a bit more than "happy for now" - but it's also not a "let's get married and start working on getting you pregnant with triplets" ending either. Thank the sweet baby Jeebus.
I've read a number of books by Wallace and while this isn't a favorite, it's still pretty darn good. There's some interesting things on the page here and it was time well spent on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Final Grade = B