Desert Isle Keeper
If I Never Met You
Part women’s fiction and part romance If I Never Met You is wholly delightful. A novel about second – and third – chances and falling in love with whom you least expect it, this gem of a book is funny, sweet and charming.
Barrister Laurie and her significant other Dan have been together since they were eighteen. Given that they’re now thirty-six, their relationship has become a thing of legend among their friends and coworkers. Working together and living together, jointly owning a home, a car and the typical burden of debt, they’ve never felt the need for marriage since they are united by so many other tangibles. Things have been a bit strained the last few months since Laurie is planning to go off the pill so they can try for a baby, but she in no way expects what happens when she comes home from a night out with friends. Dan blindsides her with a breakup. Assuring her there is no one else and that he simply needs to find himself, Dan asks she not tell the folks at work. Laurie is a favorite at the law firm, a hard worker as well as brilliant, and folks often joke she’s the company’s golden girl. Dan has benefited from Laurie’s reputation and he wants time to solidify his own position before the news breaks that he broke her heart. She agrees since she doesn’t want to feed the office gossip mill and desperately needs time to pull herself together. Life doesn’t give her that chance. It turns out Dan was cheating, and the other woman is now pregnant. The whole issue becomes a one-week gossip fest at her firm. Between people feeling completely free to hit on her in the weirdest way possible and dealing with serious heartbreak, Laurie longs for a quiet weekend. She plans her Friday evening exit from the office with military precision, navigating it so she doesn’t run into anyone on the way out the door. Then Jamie Carter, the office playboy and hottest man in the city, jumps into the elevator with her. They studiously ignore each other until the lift breaks down.
After bonding while they wait for maintenance to fix the problem, then bonding some more over drinks at a nearby bar, Jamie hatches a devilishly clever plan. At least it seems that way to their inebriated selves. They’ll have a faux-romance, playing it out on social media with loved-up pictures, an affair which will end just after the company Christmas party. They will, of course, have a civil breakup, promising to always care for each other, and the fact that their work relationship remains friendly will be proof of that. Jamie will (hopefully) so impress the firm with his brilliance and maturity in falling for Laurie (and by no longer playing Jack-the-Lad) that they’ll give him the promotion he’s angling for. Dan will be mad with jealousy. Their fake liaison will be a serious win-win for both of them. Unless, of course, it turns real.
This is a romance novel so of course it turns real. And in this case, real doesn’t just mean the author makes them fall in love. It means she has them develop a genuine relationship. Jamie and Laurie are initially simply co-conspirators; they had known each other only very superficially before the incident with the elevator, and their fake relationship gives them the chance to become friends. The Instagram and Facebook photos they use to build evidence of their love story capture genuinely enjoyed moments in time, and they find themselves sharing things with each other, confiding in each other and enjoying each other’s company. There is attraction there – both of them are beautiful people – but they put that attraction on the backburner because neither of them wants to jeopardize what they have.
I think perhaps one of the things I loved most about the story is one that was completely unexpected. The first thirty percent of the book is taken up with Laurie’s mourning Dan. The author does this brilliantly, capturing all the heartache and anger and processing that would go into mourning a relationship you’ve had for half your life. Laurie is overcome with self-doubt, questioning her appearance, her own character and trying to figure out what it was about herself that made Dan leave, spending hours trying to analyze where everything went wrong. Watching her go through that process didn’t simply make the breakup feel more real but it helps the reader understand why Laurie, an intelligent, sensible, responsible woman, latches on to the rather ridiculous plan Jamie comes up with. It also gives us the opportunity to thoroughly understand our heroine, to see her heart and believe she deserves the very best she can get.
Jamie initially comes across as a bit of a player. He’s a great lawyer but he’s also a risk taker and the kind of guy willing to step on a few fingers as he climbs over people on the ladder to success. Slowly, we learn the deep seated reasons why he can be this way and see the amazing person he is beneath his gorgeous surface. I loved how he was a genuine support to Laurie as she navigated her path back to wholeness and how he was a more authentic and sincere partner for her than Dan ever was. I adored who Laurie and Jamie were together. They have such a solid, sincere love between them that it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with them.
I also loved Laurie’s relationship with her friends and the way Jamie helps her negotiate her relationship with her family. His friends and family are wonderful, too. These are two people who know how to build connections and whose bond with each other helps them to strengthen and enrich the bonds they have with those around them.
Most of the time I spent reading the story, I alternated between amazement and delight; amazed at the craftsmanship the author displayed and delighted by the story she was telling. The only quibbles I had involved the level of trauma our characters connected over. Sexual assault, cheating boyfriends, lying exes, conniving coworkers, bad parents, familial deaths – they all played a part at some point. This meant that the final trouble at the end of the novel, where Ms. McFarlane throws in a couple of unnecessary and unbelievable twists to create an unneeded final conflict, felt over the top. Obviously, since it was at the very end of the tale I can’t talk about it much but I will say it depended upon Jamie’s acting contrary to what we know of his character on a couple of different occasions. The issue with the phone was one that neither he nor Laurie would have made – they spent a good deal of time defending criminals and understood the importance of protecting secrets.
That tiny complaint aside, If I Never Met You is a truly terrific romance with a lot of depth and heart. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a well crafted love story.
Buy it at: Amazon or shop at your local independent bookstore
Visit our Amazon Storefront