After All is the story of a widowed father finding a second chance at love. It takes on multiple plot elements – which I enjoy – but being spoiled for choice, fails to execute any of those plots successfully.
Nora Hayes has been working as Carter Shaw’s executive assistant for years, and never once has she looked at him romantically. Even in the five years since his wife passed, she’s never felt attracted to him, until one fight at work flips that switch for both of them. Like little cartoon lightbulbs going off, Carter and Nora are suddenly attuned to each other romantically. Instant lust.
Four months after that night, neither one has openly admitted to their feelings. Finally Carter gets up the nerve to ask Nora out on a “practice date”, since she’s not picking up on his subtle cues, like buying her coffee and walking her to her car. The date ends in a predictably awkward fashion, as Carter immediately forgot he uttered the word “practice” and assumed it was a real date, while all Nora could focus on was that she was a trial run for someone else. After Carter clears up the mistake and gets approval from his twelve-year-old daughter Gabby, he and Nora begin to date for real. And it’s almost too easy – he and Nora already fit into each other’s lives perfectly.
Then chaos erupts, in the form of Gabby suddenly turning into a… well, a monster. Whereas she and Nora were BFFs in the beginning (as Carter’s assistant, Nora has spent lots of time taking care of Gabby over the years), Gabby suddenly hates the idea of Nora being near her father and starts lashing out. Eventually, Nora and Carter realize Gabby has secretly started an Instagram account and is chatting with older men. Shocked and appalled, they confiscate her phone, report the men to the police, and ground her.
Then, as the dust is settling from Gabby’s issues, Nora and Carter get caught up in a Big Misunderstanding. He insults her, she runs, and a brief encounter with their villainous HR representative has Nora quitting her job. But the day is saved when Carter fires the HR woman and proposes to Nora (complete with a letter from Gabby saying she’d like to call Nora “Mom”). And they all lived happily ever after.
Hopefully you can see what I meant by the author being spoiled for choice as regards plot elements. Personally, I love books about single parents. I love books about second-chance romances. I love books where long-term friends become lovers. I also enjoy stories with children, and I think internet safety is a topic well worth exploring. I can even appreciate stories centered around Big Misunderstandings, with the right set up.
But to have all of these plot devices in the same book? In trying to pursue everything, both the story and the characters suffer. Nora and Carter have decent chemistry, but they jump into a relationship so quickly that I never had time to enjoy it. There were a couple of chapters of doubts and longing, and then suddenly they’re together and as comfortable as a long married couple, which, while understandable based on their working relationship, is not a satisfying romance for the reader.
Gabby, the poor thing, see-saws between angel and demon-child throughout the book. She was apparently ‘troubled’ in one of the earlier books in the series, but as this is a standalone those issues are only lightly referenced. For most of this book she is a loving daughter excited about Nora’s presence – she even suggests Carter and Nora date at the beginning. But her bad behavior appears out of nowhere, and like a flash in the pan, is resolved just as quickly. There is too little development to give this character, or her issues, justice.
Finally, the one thing I felt the story had too much of, was corporate HR issues. In the beginning, Nora calls out Mary the evil HR Rep for objectifying Carter and the other partners (heroes from past books). This establishes Mary as an enemy, and keeps Nora looking over her shoulder throughout her relationship with Carter. She’s right to be concerned – not only does their relationship violate the firm’s no-fraternization policy, but as her direct superior, there’s a power imbalance between Nora and Carter. They gloss over it with Nora spending a week working for a different partner before Carter demands her return, but I was increasingly annoyed by this couple’s reactions to their HR problem. When Carter abruptly fires Mary at the end because she’s a “troublemaker” getting in the way of his office romance, it was the last straw for me. No normal office would operate that way, and working power dynamics are not something to be casually ignored in a relationship like this one.
I wish I could say my favorite plot elements came together in a beautiful way here. Unfortunately, I think the author took on more than the book could handle, and bungled the HR issues in the story. If you’re looking for something to ready by Kristen Proby, I would check out her backlist first.