‘When We Met’
Susan Mallery’s latest trip to Fool’s Gold is a good escape.
When We Met is the first of this year’s romantic trilogy. The stories — Before We Kiss and Until We Touch round out the offering — focus on the owners of Score, a PR and marketing firm. Taryn Crawford and “the boys” are relatively new to Fool’s Gold. There’s quite a bit of back story in this installment, but it never bogs down the story.
The relationships come across as authentic, particularly Taryn’s complicated friendship with her partners. The dialogue, a hallmark of Mallery’s writing, is amusing and fast-paced.
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Longtime Mallery fans may be familiar with Angel Whittaker. He debuted in 2005, in the Silhouette Suspense Living on the Edge.
Angel’s and Taryn’s story is a bit edgier than Mallery’s usual romantic fare. Both are older than the typical heroine — usually in her 20s — and 30-something hero. Taryn is 34, while Angel clocks in at 41. Mallery describes Angel as “a little scary.”
“Of all the heroes I’ve written, Angel is the one who would give me pause,” she said.
Angel and Taryn have lived long enough to accumulate significant scar tissue — physical and emotional. When We Met is a story of redemption and healing, as they move beyond their respective pasts.
Taryn’s self-awareness — she knows her ghosts intimately and doesn’t deny their hold over her — makes her story all the more poignant.
Mallery does a good job of presenting Angel’s story without making the often-used plotline seem trite: He blames himself because he was away working when his wife and son were killed after she lost control of the car while driving in a storm.
The story is engaging. Mallery deftly moves the reader through Fool’s Gold, introducing and re-introducing characters. The secondary characters include a troop of little girls, the town’s feisty mayor and, of course, Taryn’s business partners — Jack McGarry, Sam Ridge and Kenny Scott, all of whom are also due for a little romance.
‘Before We Kiss’
Before We Kiss is the story of Sam Ridge and Dellina Hopkins, but in many ways it’s Sam’s story.
A retired NFL kicker, Sam is a mess. Mallery describes him as “intensely private.”
Sam needs Dellina to plan a client weekend for the PR agency he runs with Taryn Crawford, Jack McGarry and Kenny Scott. The only problem is she picked him up in a bar on Valentine’s Day and, after a mind-blowing tryst, he entered a room in her house that sent him screaming into the night.
Of course, things weren’t as they seemed. Two questions could have cleared it up, but Sam has had such an awful history with women, he wasn’t sticking around to ask questions.
He’s never had a normal relationship with a woman — not even his mother, Lark Heuston. A sex therapist, she has no filters and no sense of boundaries. She talks about sex and sexuality the way most people talk about the weather. Their encounters are hilarious.
Sam does manage to get Dellina to stage the client weekend, and along the way they fall back into bed. Their chemistry is off the charts, but Sam is still in denial about his feelings for Dellina.
‘Until We Touch’
This Jack McGarry and Larissa Owens story is as complex as it is sweet. For me, it was the best of the trio.
For reasons that are revealed in the story, Jack shut down on life years ago. He rarely connects with people, at least not on an emotional level. He’s let a few people slip in over the years — that would be his ex-wife and two former teammates who are partners with him at Score.
Larissa is Jack’s personal assistant. She handles his charity work and often gets him to assist in her rescue projects, animal and otherwise.
He never objects.
Jack is “living” through Larissa’s exploits because he can help without entanglements. As far as Larissa is concerned, Jack provides an open checkbook that allows her to take care of the world.
But they must examine their relationship when Larissa’s mother goes to Jack and insists he fire her. According to her mother, Larissa is in love with Jack and she won’t be able to find a suitable husband as long as she’s working for him and they are using each other.
Of course, this is news only to Jack and Larissa. After several rescue escapades, including taking in a homeless teen, Jack and Larissa decide to try a relationship. They are sweet and funny together, but Jack’s past keeps him from committing.
The relationship implodes as Jack’s world collapses in on him. The scenes where Jack spirals out of control are riveting, as are the ones where he claws his way back to reality.
(Note: If you’re counting, you’ll realize that Kenny Scott’s story remains untold. There’s a novella planned for Christmas that pairs him with Bailey Voss, a military widow with a young daughter.)
SUSAN’S MALLERY’S FOOL’S GOLD TRILOGY
WHEN WE MET
Harlequin HQ, $8.99
* * * * Published April 29
BEFORE WE KISS
Harlequin HQ, $8.99
* * * * Coming May 27
UNTIL WE TOUCH
Harlequin HQ, $8.99
* * * * * Coming June 24