The first book I’ve read by Jill Shalvis, Luke is fourth in the American Heroes continuity series subtitled “Men who risk their lives – and their hearts.” The cover copy made me chuckle because while Dr. Luke Walker is certainly a hero (an ER physician with smarts, ethics, and who genuinely cares for his patients), he doesn’t risk his life during the course of this book. He does, however, risk his position as the head of the ER at South Village Medical Center in a suburb of Los Angeles by speaking disparagingly of the Healing Waters Clinic, an alternative treatment center funded by his medical center. His punishment from the hospital board is to serve a stint as a physician healer at the clinic, the premise of what amounts to an enjoyable, if unsubstantial, read.
Dr. Luke, whom the heroine refers to as Dr. Universe – with varying degrees of affection as the story progresses – is an arrogant, but basically decent man who has lost a bit of his own humanity while serving everyone else. He’s opinionated and aloof (he doesn’t know the names of the nurses he works with) to everyone but his patients, his brother Matt, and his house cleaner, Carmen. The latter is an irritatingly “cute” surrogate mother figure who wants Luke to eat, have sex, and get married. The very idea of serving time at Healing Waters fills him with annoyance and cynicism since he’s convinced the place is a con that will take him away from the patients who really need him. He’s due for a comeuppance.
Enter Faith McDowell, the clinic’s director and, for the duration of his “sentence,” Luke’s boss. A dedicated healer who began her career as a nurse practitioner, she’s moved on to practice more nontraditional methods of healing. Faith is a match for Luke in her single-minded approach to her clinic and her lack of a social life outside of it. Her closest friends are her employees, she lives in an apartment above the clinic, and she spends her evenings doing paperwork and trying to figure out which of the clinic bills she can pay from its meager earnings.
Faith is angry at Luke before she meets him because his off-the-cuff, ignorant comments to the press about the clinic have cost her business and credibility in the neighborhood. She needs him to repair the damage by lending his good name by working at the clinic on the weekends as ordered – no matter how churlish he’s going to be about it.
Sparks fly between these two from the first moment when Faith goes to Luke’s house to roust him out of bed and get him to the clinic where he’s supposed to be. Neither trusts or wants to like the other, but Faith needs Luke to cooperate, and he wants to keep his position as ER head, so they negotiate what amounts to a truce as they begin to work together. In the midst of that, their powerful and unwanted sexual chemistry catches both off guard. It’s fun to watch the development of the relationship between the two as they each realize how much there is to admire/respect about the other, and grow to care for each other in more than a lustful way.
The book’s premise is intriguing given the ongoing debate about the role/utility of both conventional and so-called “alternative” medicine, practiced around the globe for thousands of years. The main characters’ conflict and how they come to appreciate what the other has to offer works, particularly as Luke and Faith are actually quite similar. Watching them find common ground in their desire to heal, despite their different philosophies and approaches to accomplishing the same goal, is rewarding for the reader.
Series romances require the suspension of disbelief, in part because of their compressed timelines. Shalvis’ latest is no different; it’s unlikely that a hardened know-it-all like Luke would adjust his thinking as quickly as he did. The author’s writing style, while breezy and chatty, is also sometimes erratic. But once I understood the rhythm, I was able to read through the occasionally jarring “chatty” interjections the characters thought to themselves.
A bigger problem was Faith. She’s admirable, likable, and well-drawn in many ways, and how she handles a major plot development revolving around her rang true because I have known medical professionals in similar situations who reacted in the same fashion. But she’s inconsistent in what she wants from Luke and her relationship with him. Her waffling – complete with repeated instances of her physically turning her back during an encounter with him – grew increasingly annoying. Her change of moods were difficult to follow or understand in that regard; make a decision and move on!
Despite Faith’s dithering, she and Luke make a good match. Certainly their love scenes are hot and flavored with emotion instead of mere lust, which helps me believe that their love could last longer than the development of the relationship in the book did. Luke is a pleasant enough way to while away a few hours, and you might even learn something about alternative medicine. But as it isn’t likely to stick with you for any length of time, my prescription would be to have another, more substantial book handy for immediate consumption.