A Touch Away
A Touch Away is about taking risks, letting go of the past, and overcoming past hurts and disappointments to love again. It’s a good story, but a writing quirk and the occasional inconsistency and immaturity of its characters knocks it down into “C” territory.
When Sonji Stevens discovers her lover of two years has a wife, she is outraged. Rather than waste energy crying and pleading, she tosses him, along with all of his junk, out of her life. At 33 Sonji is strong, confident, and has a perfectly comfortable job, but after this latest romantic disaster she desperately needs a change and decides to enroll in a local college.
During registration Sonji meets a new friend who warns her about the English professor Grayson Gilmore. Since he’s reputed to be a cold-hearted bastard, Sonji is unprepared for the immediate jolt of sexual attraction she feels when she sets eyes upon the sexy Professor Gilmore. Hoping the rumors are an exaggeration, she quickly discovers they’re anything but when he chastises her in front of the class for her tardiness. Sonji’s sexual thoughts are temporarily cast aside, and a new resolve to remain in the class and earn an “A” from this ogre of a man is born.
Grayson Gilmore is a haunted man. His way of dealing with past tragedies is to put them out of his mind and think of them as little as possible. If he comes across as distant, withdrawn, and unlikable because of it, well, it’s a small price to pay in order to make it through the day. When Sonji walks into his classroom, he secretly admires her looks, but the swift wave of guilt he feels slams all of his guards into place. But when they meet at a literacy program through which both volunteer, he is unable to resist the temptation she offers and asks her out on a date.
Meanwhile, Sonji has allowed a new friend to talk her into signing up for an Internet-based dating service called Blackluv.net in order to get free email and, with any luck, find a soulmate. Almost immediately a charmingly cryptic man intrigued by her profile begins sending her emails. The mail “Osiris” sends brightens Sonji’s days consideraby and she begins to feel that he just may be her soulmate after all. Despite a twinge of guilt over two-timing Osiris, she accepts the date with Grayson.
The whole Osiris angle is a subplot that I could easily have done without. I won’t tell you who Osiris is (though I figured it out when he sent his first email and I’ll bet you’ve already guessed yourself) but this setup leads to a scene that casts both of these seemingly intelligent characters in an almost moronic light. Thankfully it is quickly resolved, but the buildup to the scene and the ensuing argument grates enough to merit mentioning. The other inconsistency in character occurs a little later in the story when Sonji uses a miscommunication as an excuse to refuse to listen to reason and to behave very badly. This strong, bright woman suddenly turns all irrational and childish and keeps it up for several weeks. There are better ways to prolong a conflict than temporarily turning a character into a sullen brat.
Another small but terribly distracting hurdle is the author’s tendency to beat the reader over the head with the names of her characters. In nearly every paragraph, sometimes several times in the same paragraph, she’ll mention their names time and again. This quirk distanced me from the characters and made me feel as if I was being told a story instead of experiencing the lives of the characters in my head. My memory may be fading fast but I haven’t quite reached the point where I need to be reminded that the heroine’s name is Sonji three times in one short paragraph.
Despite those complaints, there is much here to enjoy. Woven into the story are issues of race and a compassionate glimpse into the painful world of mental illness. There are also a few interesting secondary characters; the standout being Sonji’s new friend, the free spirited, matchmaking Andromeda. There is strong sense of community, family, and tradition, and the meals described sound to die for. And watching Grayson open up and become the warm, sexy man that he’s kept well buried is worth the price of admission. He’s a decent man living with almost unbearable guilt and hellish memories that he can’t escape. When he reached his happily-ever-after ending I was relieved, moved and deeply satisfied. If you’re into tortured heroes who have a darn good reason for it, and aren’t seriously bothered by the above nitpicks, you many want to check out A Touch Away for yourself.