His For the Taking
I ordered His for the Taking by Julie Cohen because after reading somewhere online that the original British title was Driving Him Crazy, I wanted to read the book that is supposed to fit both titles. To my surprise, it does. There are three chapters of “his for the taking” (in which the hero is too tired to even perceive the heroine as a woman) and then twelve chapters of “driving him crazy.” Fortunately I couldn’t read the blurb on the back, ordering the book online, as it contained the phrase “His mistress – for one night?” which would have turned me off instantly. I don’t find planned one-night-stands particularly attractive – they smack either of cowardice or of callousness – and the word “mistress”, used in a 21st century context, raises my hackles. For your information, the book is not about an adulterous affair, nor are any money or other valuables exchanged for the sex. I wish Harlequin would stop speaking about “mistresses” when they mean “lovers.”
The book itself, which for above-said reasons I almost didn’t read, is delightful. Nick Giroux’s father left the family 16 years earlier, and out of the blue Nick receives a short letter from him in an envelope with an New York address. Nick, who is a ranger in a Maine national park, jumps into his truck and drives down to New York, intending to camp outside the flat if necessary. He is lucky: After only a few hours’ wait, a woman wearing frumpy black clothes arrives and actually agrees to let him search the flat for traces of his father. She is Zoe Drake, and she has come to her great-aunt Xenia’s flat because the old lady died suddenly and Zoe is to find clothes for the funeral.
Nick and Zoe’s interaction is great from the start. I wondered how Julie Cohen would carry it off – how can she make her heroine agree to let an unknown man stay with her at her aunt’s flat to await his father? – but it works. Nick is obviously desperate to meet his father, but at the same tame he reacts with great consideration to Zoe’s pain at her great-aunt’s death. It doesn’t harm that Nick is drop-dead gorgeous and Zoe falls in lust at first sight. That evening, half-drunk with red wine, she makes a tentative pass at him, which he is completely oblivious of, being dead on his feet with fatigue. So Zoe is highly skeptical when he begins to flirt with her the next day.
Both Nick and Zoe are damaged souls. Nick’s father left his family in dire financial straits and hardly ever sent any money. So Nick has grown up super-considerate and protective: He’s a wildlife ranger who rescues stray pigeons, he is extremely sensitive to female moods, and instantly jumps to protect the weak. Zoe finds his over-protectiveness rather annoying at times and fears she is just one of his projects. And in contrast to many other romances, I bought her fears.
Zoe is the misfit in her family. A taxi driver and part-time fitness instructor, she feels like a changeling among her family of petite, socially and financially successful women. As a result, she left home as soon as possible and suspects hidden attacks in about anything her family says or does. Her self-confidence as a woman is extremely low. We also see her through Nick’s eyes, though, and Julie Cohen does a wonderful job in showing how he first considers her – objectively – as a fairly attractive woman and how she becomes utterly beautiful for him in short time. Zoe has built huge defenses around her, and Nick has his work cut out for him to gain her trust.
There are several surprises in the book that have to do with Aunt Xenia’s legacy, and Zoe and Nick continue to search for clues as to where his father may be and what his connection to Xenia was. Zoe’s family and Nick’s sister are introduced for short scenes, but they remain very shadowy. In fact, given the shortness of his encounters with the Drakes, I didn’t quite buy that Nick deduces within seconds what’s wrong in Zoe’s relationship with them. I found both Nick’s top-model looks and the size of Xenia’s legacy exaggerated and thus distracting – but possibly a couple of millions is required at Harlequin Presents.
The true strength of this novel lies in Nick and Zoe’s relationship. Both can be stubborn as hell, but neither is too stupid for second thoughts or too proud to react to them. So even though the relationship is not without its stumbling blocks, they feel real, and Nick and Zoe do whatever is in their characters to overcome them. The sex scenes are both hot and very tender.
I strongly recommend His for the Taking. I’d like to read more by author Cohen, but next up, I think, will be one of her chick lit novels published by Little Black Dress.