I’ve started an oddly weird tradition of gorging on a Mia Sheridan book for Mother’s Day. Back in 2014, it was her Archer’s Voice that had me ignoring my family in order to flip pages. This year, it was her 2017 title Most of All You: A Love Story (picked up via AAR’s Steals and Deals!) that captured my attention. What are the odds?
Eloise ‘Crystal’ Cates has had a rough life. At the age of seven, her dying mother dumped her on the doorstep of her biological father, a man who wanted nothing to do with the child he’d believed to have been properly aborted years ago. Growing up unwanted, unloved, abused and beaten down in every way possible, it’s no wonder she’s made a career for herself twirling naked around a stripper’s pole. She believes that all men only want one thing, that she’s only good for that one thing, and that the mistreatment she constantly gets is par for the course. Until she meets Gabriel Dalton.
Gabriel has also had it rough, although he managed to come out the other side of absolute horror with his soul intact. When he was nine years old, Gabe was abducted by a paedophile and held prisoner in a dank basement for six long years. He escaped only to learn that his parents had perished in a car accident, and the trauma has left him unable to endure any kind of physical closeness with anyone.
As a form of self-help, Gabe wanders down to the Platinum Pearl to seek out the kind of woman who would probably be willing to accept cash to help him overcome his aversion to touch. Crystal immediately captures his attention, and, at first, she agrees to help Gabe with his ‘therapy’. However, when it becomes clear that Gabriel is not like the other men she’s known and that he has the ability to crack through the miles-thick wall she’s built around herself, Crystal turns him away in a cruel, hurtful act.
Feeling guilty but glad to be rid of someone who makes her actually feel things, Crystal becomes the victim of a brutal attack that leaves her virtually helpless. With absolutely no-one to help and no way of taking care of herself, she must take Gabe up on his generous offer to live in his home so that he can care for her while she recovers. As the two spend time together, Crystal’s tough exterior begins to weaken, and she finds that she’s letting Gabe in a little bit at a time. Gabe discovers that being needed is just the thing necessary to get him over that last hurdle for complete healing, and that his initial belief that Crystal is something special was not wrong.
This book was great, and only a couple of things kept it from being a DIK for me. Ellie (‘Crystal’ becomes Ellie once she tells Gabe her real name) and Gabe are truly damaged characters with seriously traumatic backstories to explain their current states. It’s easy to believe that Gabe would hate physical touch and that Ellie would have deep trust issues given what they endured as children.
While it is heavily implied that Gabe suffered sexual abuse while he was a captive, Sheridan avoids all descriptions of that, and we have to assume that he received therapy to help him work through the trauma. Because he’s still unable to handle any physical contact, he’s a virginal hero, however his sexual awakening is never a focus beyond the fact that Ellie gives him his first kiss. Honestly, other than the motive for him to seek out Ellie, his aversion to touch doesn’t pose too much of an obstacle between them. Indeed, Gabe is a remarkably well-adjusted man given what he went through. I found that the way that he coped during his captivity, the way that he maintained his sanity during what amounted to six years of complete isolation, to be very creative and touching.
I appreciated that Sheridan avoids a few Big Misunderstandings between Ellie and Gabe by having them actually talk about things and letting the other explain situations that might look bad. That said, I did become frustrated by Ellie’s inability to accept that Gabe truly had feelings for her, despite that fact that he confesses it openly and often once they reached that point in their relationship. One of my biggest pet-peeves is the character who believes – despite hundreds of reassurances – that he or she is no good for their love interest and that, in order to ‘save’ the one they love from making a tragic mistake, they must make the ultimate sacrifice and walk away. Ellie falls into this trap, and I kind of wanted to shake her. This couple had enough emotional baggage without her adding a Martyr Complex to the mix. Sheridan skirts very close to this sad cliché, just managing to save the situation when Ellie has the epiphany that Gabe can’t truly save her, but she must save herself.
Unfortunately, this led to my sense of déjà vu towards the last quarter of the book, when Ellie and Gabe’s trajectory begins to read a lot like Archer and Bree’s story from Archer’s Voice. Ellie realizes that Gabe’s love can only heal her so far and that she must find her own strength, the same way that Archer came to see that he couldn’t rely on Bree to save him. I never worried, however, that Gabe and Ellie wouldn’t find their way back to each other, so the whole exercise felt somewhat perfunctory. Too, a lot of things fall magically into place and Ellie’s self-discovery without the aid of professional help comes off as a bit too fairy-tale.
My other issue is so nit-picky I hesitate to bring it up. Ellie’s real name – Eloise – was a hard one for me to wrap my brain around. It’s not only old-fashioned but far from sexy, so every time Gabe called her ‘Eloise’, I winced. Sticking with just ‘Ellie’ would have been fine, but he doesn’t. And there is a far-fetched coincidence with Ellie’s name that I won’t spoil that did cause me a bit of eye-rolling. Still, this name hang-up is probably just me, so no harm, no foul.
In the end, I can highly recommend Most of All You to anyone looking for a love-heals-all story with two genuinely damaged leads. It is well written with engaging characters, and Mia Sheridan is quickly becoming one of my auto-buy authors. Even better than breakfast in bed, she’s now my Mother’s Day treat!
Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Kobo