Desert Isle Keeper
Her Favorite Rival
What could be better than an Australian coworkers-to-lovers romance with a promotion rivalry, and family disappointed that their kid didn’t grow up to be a doctor? No, I’m not talking about The Hating Game – which I loved. Sarah Mayberry did a similar story three years earlier, and Her Favorite Rival is an absolute delight.
Audrey Mathews and Zach Black both work for a hardware company facing restructuring. Now is emphatically not the time to jeopardize their reputations by having an affair with a co-worker – especially not the person who is their top competition! Each has worked very hard to get where they are. Zach has overcome an impoverished childhood and an adulthood supporting his heroin-addict mother (a character who is depicted with sad, empathetic realism) while Audrey, the daughter of doctors, was the black sheep who ran away as a teen and worked her way up from the packaging department while earning her high school equivalency.
Something that strikes you from the very beginning is how compatible these characters are. We first meet Audrey and Zach when they bump it each other in the company lobby, because each has done the research to learn that the new hatchet man shows up first thing and they want to impress. They both hate but suffer through corporate golf outings. They have both built emotional walls as a result of bad childhood experiences. They both TALK ABOUT PROBLEMS LIKE ADULTS.
The author does a great job giving these characters real-life, hard conflict, both at work and in life. For instance, Zach and Audrey work together on a research project about competitors, and then Zach is cornered into giving the report to the boss – meaning Audrey has no chance to attach her face and labor to the project. Both characters are right: Zach, that he couldn’t turn down a direct request for the report, and Audrey, that she will be robbed of credit. Both Zach and Audrey have toxic family relationships. And I don’t want to be spoilery, but Audrey’s reaction to learning about Zach’s mom is absolutely wonderful – flawed at first, but then thoughtful and nuanced.
Oh, and let’s not overlook the fantastic sexual chemistry and tension these two have – so good that they struggle to keep a lid on themselves at the office.
I have one criticism of this book, and that’s that it is, as of November 2019, out of print. (It’s available only in used paperback or audio formats.) But if you can find a way around this difficulty, you will have one amazing read.