Just Once tells the tale of Jemma O’Hurley, who switches identities on a rainy New Orleans night rather than enter into an arranged marriage with a man she’s never met. Wanting desperately to experience something of life, she begins her adventure by running down outdoorsman Hunter Boone, and convinces him to take her up river, ostensibly to join her family in Canada.
Against his loner judgment, he can’t resist her innocent beauty and agrees to be her guide. He doesn’t believe her story of escaping white slavers in Algiers, but is aroused by her excitement and sense of adventure, which nearly rivals his own.
Their journey is thrilling, including dangerous river crossings, Indian kidnapping, and most harrowing of all, their attraction to each other. Once Jemma gifts Hunter with her virginity, they’re both agoner.
Just Once is the sequel to the Day Dreamer, which I granted DIK status, and while certainly an exciting road romance, this book became extremely frustrating for this reviewer in its last half. Frustrating because it showed too many seams. It read as though the author wrote by rote, following an outline. While many authors use outlines, a reader should not be able to see section headings and sub-headings. Well, I saw ’em.
Mid-way through the book, after Hunter and Jemma have reached his Kentucky homestead, the reality of what they have come to mean to each other sinks in. This is when the outline began to show.
I. The Homecoming or Hunter Takes Jemma Home
A. Jemma meets Hunter’s family
B. Hunter’s family realizes what Jemma means to Hunter
C. Jemma and Hunter’s family fall in love as well
II. The Haunting Past or Hunter’s Past Catches Up with Him
A. He decides he must leave all he loves to experience true freedom
B. Jemma’s heart breaks
C. Jemma leaves
III. The Epiphany or Hunter Realizes the Truth
IV. The Obstacle Course or Hunter as Job
V. The Near Miss or Hunter as Job Continues
Well, you get the point.
Outline or not, the author’s skill was such that I needed to keep reading, never daunted by each incident that slowed Hunter down in his quest to return to Jemma. And, as a testament to her creativity, the epiphany she wrote for Hunter was wonderfully written. But, because of that outline, I experienced a great deal of frustration, knowing that there would be another “and then” and then another “and then” before Hunter and Jemma were reunited. And, being a reader who tends to dislike romances where the hero and heroine are separated for lengthy periods of time, this was just another frustration.
I don’t mean to belittle the author because I greatly respect the talent of Jill Marie Landis. After crying so hard during Day Dreamer that my husband ran running into our room sure I’d found our baby dead, I was expecting this book to be equally powerful. Perhaps my expectations were too high and the author could never reach them, but I don’t think so.
I think she can do better. I know she can. I hope she does so the next time around.