Any Man of Mine
Any Man of Mine is Rachel Gibson’s sixth book featuring a sexy Chinooks ice hockey player, and it’s a great one. That’s the good news. The possible bad news is it’s so similar in plot to the first book in the series, Simply Irresistible, I felt swamped by déjà vu as I raced through the pages.
Ms. Gibson writes well about love that makes you laugh and love that makes you cry. Both books have moving storylines and characters easy to care for. It’s just a bit of a bummer that the stories are so akin to one another. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Great artists like Monet and Van Gough painted different versions of the same things over and over again and we consider each painting a masterpiece despite the sameness of subject. Perhaps we should just be pleased that Ms. Gibson has brought her formidable writing skills back to the story of two people who share a child but not, initially, a life.
In Any Man of Mine, the parents are Autumn Haven and Chinook defensive player Sam LeClaire. Autumn and Sam first met in Vegas five years ago. As Sam recalls it, “he’d met a redheaded girl in a bar and married her a few days later, and the next morning he’d left her behind at Caesars like a used bath towel.” Autumn remembers it a bit differently: “She’d married Sam after knowing him a total of five days because she’d fallen madly, desperately, in love with him.” They marry, full of booze and crazy feelings, and, on their wedding night, make love without a condom. When Autumn wakes the next morning, Sam is gone. One week later, she receives a letter from his lawyer demanding a divorce. Autumn, broken hearted and alone, realizes she’s pregnant by a guy who doesn’t give a damn about her. She has the baby on her own but once their son Conner is born, she contacts Sam and tells him he’s a dad. Sam, from the first moment he holds Conner, loves his son and accepts full financial responsibility for him. But that’s about it.
Sam’s a shallow guy and that’s how he likes it. He enjoys his life and has attained every goal he’s set for himself. He’s got a great apartment, a string of gorgeous women in his bed, tons of money, and a high-paying job he loves. Sam’s aware he’s not much of a dad, but he’s never thought it mattered much. The way he sees it, he ponies up money to Autumn, she raises his kid, and Sam gets to live the easy life. Autumn puts up with Sam’s happy-go-lucky behavior because she believes “Conner needed a father, no matter how crappy.”
I loved the story of Sam, Autumn, and Conner. Sam is a jerk in the beginning of the book, albeit a jerk with more charm than any man should ever have. There’s a great scene in the second chapter when Autumn and Sam are in the same place for the first time in almost two years. (The last time they were in the same room they fought so bitterly they decided to avoid any contact. Conner’s been passed back and forth between them by a series of babysitters.) Autumn is an event planner and she’s worked hard to make her business succeed. She’s running the wedding of Faith Duffy and Ty Savage (the lovers from True Love and Other Disasters) and Sam is one of the guests. As Sam is trying to have a civil conversation with Autumn, her phone rings and her brother, who is watching Conner, tells her he’s been called into work. Autumn begins to run through all the options she has for childcare for Conner and not once does she think of Sam. It’s one of many scenes where Ms. Gibson shows the reader how characters feel. Sam, because it’s no trouble for him, offers to have his assistant pick up Conner and take him back to Sam’s place where he — Conner — has a bedroom. Autumn reluctantly says yes because Sam is the only choice she has.
The next day, when Sam brings Conner home — he isn’t even sure exactly where Conner and Autumn live — he’s an hour and a half later than he told Autumn he would be and she blows up at him. Ms. Gibson’s prose makes Sam and Autumn vibrantly real:
”You’re immature and irresponsible.” “Well, sweetheart, I never said I wasn’t irresponsible. But you’re too controlling.” “He’s my son.” “He’s my son too.” “He’s your son when it’s convenient for you.” “Well, it was convenient today. Get over it.” “Get over it? Get OVER it?”
Autumn tells Sam that Conner “doesn’t know you’re just a selfish prick unworthy of him, but he’ll figure it out someday.” Sam realizes that she’s right and that while “He wasn’t as bad as dad as Autumn portrayed him, he wasn’t as good as he needed to be either. All that had to change. He had to do the right thing.”
Watching Sam learn to do the right thing is wonderful. It doesn’t happen quickly and Autumn doesn’t make it easy but Sam keeps at it and slowly he and Autumn redefine their relationship. As Sam spends time with Conner, Sam and Autumn, for the first time in five years, spend time with each other and are forced to change how they see each other and themselves. In fits and starts, they transform from being at odds and sharing a child to parents who wonder if they could be a family. Ms. Gibson weaves pieces about their past in beautifully and, late in the book, when Sam muses “maybe his heart had really shitty timing,” the reader knows it to be true.
I really like this novel. Ms. Gibson writes well about men — Sam and his buddies, many of whom are featured in other Chinook books, are authentic guys rather than just cardboard hotties. Autumn is a believable woman as well. She’s a working mom with a great sense of humor and Ms. Gibson makes Autumn’s love for the men in her life poignantly palpable. Ms. Gibson writes deftly about her characters and all the ways they interact. The love scenes are sexy and moving and, best of all, true to wherever Sam and Autumn are in their relationship. As they change, the love they make changes and it’s dazzling to see. With the exception of a few overly sappy speeches at the end, I didn’t have a quibble with a word in this book. (Although I didn’t like the fact that Ms. Gibson creates a mystery surrounding Autumn’s brother that she doesn’t in any way resolve. I can only assume that plot line will be revealed in another book.)
To me, ultimately, it doesn’t matter there are so many parallels to Ms. Gibson’s earlier novel. (And there are so many, big and small.) Autumn, Sam, and Conner (just like John, Georgeanne, and Lexie from Simply Irresistible) are appealing and their tale is winningly told. Any Man of Mind tells a stellar story and, when I finished it, I went to my bookshelves, pulled out Simply Irresistible and began to read it again…for the fourth time.