Desert Isle Keeper
Because my love affair with contemporary romance started with About Last Night, a novel linked to this one, I had a special place in my heart for Madly even before I started reading it. While it features my favorite romantic trope – opposites falling in love – it’s also a story of redemption and self-discovery. Thoughtful, moving, charming and delightful, you’ll swoon over this wonderful love story. Madly is the second book in the New York series, and features characters from two previous books by Ms. Knox: About Last Night (him), and Truly (her). I recommend reading them both for context, but you can still enjoy Madly as a standalone.
Allie Fredericks is convinced her mother is having an affair. For as long as she can remember, her mom has disappeared from the family home for days at a time only to reappear acting as if she’d never left. The family never discusses where her mom goes or who she’s with, but Allie is convinced she’s meeting a man. Fed up with the mystery and with her mother missing again, she hacks into her mom’s credit card account and uses it to track her down to New York City.
As the story opens, Allie is hidden in a dark corner of a bar, watching her mother flirt with a man Allie doesn’t know. She’s worrying about how to convince her mom to leave when she spots a well-dressed, handsome stranger enter the bar. In the midst of ogling him, she belatedly notices her mom turning her way. Allie asks the handsome stranger to hide her from view, but when her mom walks in their direction, she impulsively asks him to kiss her instead. Much to her surprise, the handsome stranger doesn’t miss a beat and with an amused expression, he leans in for a kiss.
Winston Chamberlain was trying to get out of the rain when he ducked into a bar and found himself kissing a complete stranger. He doesn’t regret it, but he’s curious about his attractive new friend. After fetching them both drinks, he listens as Allie tells him a bit about herself, admitting she’s spying on the woman at the bar. Allie’s vague about why she’s spying, so Winston keeps a secret of his own. He knows the man at the bar with her mom. He’s the artist, Justice, famed for both his massive, surprise art installations and his anonymity; Winston is his financial manager.
Though Winston is attracted to his much younger new friend, he’s suspicious (maybe she’s trying to corner Justice?), so he offers to help her with the intention of doing some spying of his own. One drink leads to another, and the two find themselves getting to know and like one another. When Allie’s mom and her date leave, neither Winston or Allie notices right away. Plans in tatters, alone in Manhattan without a place to stay, Allie’s ready to call it a night and find a hotel. But Winston isn’t as ready to say goodbye, and invites her to stay in the empty furnished flat he rents for his daughter. She agrees and Winston escorts her up.
I expected a big kissing/sex scene to follow once they were alone in the apartment, but Ms. Knox surprised me. Instead of acting on the attraction they clearly feel, Allie and Winston keep talking and revealing their innermost secrets. After Allie confesses why she was really spying on her mom, Winston volunteers his own sad history. Discovering they’ve both been less than honest in their past failed relationships (and having no one to blame but themselves) and vowing to be different, they end up writing a top ten list of things to try – things they’ve never admitted they wanted or needed, before Allie returns home to Wisconsin. Ms. Knox only shares snapshots of the list, but the back-and-forth and their internal PoVs as they add items is delightfully awkward and fascinating. Every item has special meaning and I loved listening to Allie and Winston rationalize how and why she/he included it. The list isn’t quite what I expected, but it’s sexy in its own way. Allie and Winston are intimate (sort of!) before parting ways, but a word of warning – it’s a torturous wait for them to finally consummate their ‘fling’ (they have lots of other things to try first!).
Allie is a bit of a surprise as the story progresses. In Truly, we knew her as the impulsive sister who jilted a fiancé at the altar, and that definitely colored my perception of her when Madly began. In truth, she’s an enormously intelligent and driven woman who’s been underestimated and misunderstood most of her life. I liked her – and the way in which Ms. Knox continues to reveal layers and interesting bits and pieces about her as the story progresses – very much. I also loved Winston. British, significantly older, but not necessarily wiser, Winston blames himself for the failure of his first marriage, his inability to form new relationships or undertake new adventures, and he worries about whether he’s a good father to his college-age daughter. His vulnerability is refreshing, as is his gentle, tender and patient regard for Allie (except when he’s lusting after her). These two are opposites in so many ways – she’s loud, he’s quiet; she dresses in daring outfits, he favors conservative suits; she’s emotional, he’s reserved… but they fit just right together. They also have tremendous chemistry. I loved Winston’s PoV best, though my favorite line comes from Allie’s:
…and there was Winston – she zoomed her eyes over him, but not fast enough to keep from noticing that his socks were some kind of thin purple silk trouser sock situation, because he was the sexiest man in the universe.
The top ten list and Allie’s temporary residency in Winston’s extra apartment provide the excuse for them to continue to spend time together. Despite knowing Allie plans to return to Wisconsin and that she views their affair as a fling, Winston falls hard. Allie does too – though she fights it (for reasons you’ll have to discover on your own). The affair is physically and emotionally fulfilling, and contrary to their original intent, it moves way beyond a fling for both of them not long after they write their lists.
Though the evolution of Allie and Winton’s relationship is the main focus of Madly, there are a lot of other intriguing plot lines. Secondary characters – Winston’s daughter and estranged brother, Allie’s sister and her husband, also play significant roles in the story (I have my own guess about who might be featured in book three). Still, though the other characters and storylines are compelling, my favorite parts are when Allie and Winston were together. His calm persona and dry sense of humor are a nice counterpoint to Allie’s youthful exuberance.
The premise of Madly – two complete strangers meeting and falling for each other while spying on another couple at a bar, and then devising a top ten romantic/sexual ‘to do’ list that keeps them in each other’s orbit – seems ridiculous. It is. But Ms. Knox makes it work. The chemistry between Allie and Winston is delicious, there’s enough steam for dirty minds like mine, and the opposites attract trope is put to great and good use. Add in some terrific secondary characters, a bit of a mystery (where’s Allie’s mom?), and you get a book I’m madly in love with and highly recommend.