Susan Andersen has proven to be quite a consistent author for me. To varying degrees, I’ve enjoyed four of her previous novels. This is one of my favorites, originally published before she changed publishing houses, from Zebra to Avon. There’s a lot of sexual tension and a nice feeling of family among the characters.
Aunie Franklin has moved to Seattle to start her life over. She’s escaping an abusive ex-husband who can’t seem to understand the “ex” part of his status. For most of her life, Aunie was treated as a worthwhile person only because she was unbelievably beautiful. She finds an apartment in a building owned by famous cartoonist James Ryder. James has a habit of getting drawn into other people’s problems, namely his brothers’, and when he sees Aunie’s battered face he vows to stay far away from her. Despite his best efforts, however, he does become drawn into her problems while being drawn to her as well. Unfortunately, Aunie’s ex, Wesley Cunningham, is determined not to let her get away.
Aunie may be one of my favorite heroines of the year (I kept having this urge to call her Annie, though). Despite being a perfectly beautiful and perfectly nice Southern belle, she also has a backbone and is desperate to learn new things. While excelling at college, she also delights in learning to sand and paint walls. When James insults her, she gives back as good as she gets. And when it comes to Wesley, she doesn’t take stupid chances to defend herself.
James is a cool customer. He grew up in the Terrace, a place where “bad neighborhood” doesn’t even begin to describe it. He rose above his upbringing to become successful, but he’s retained the edge that kept him alive while growing up. Handsome, talented and dangerous, he’s a great hero, even though he’s a little thickheaded about things. James stays away from commitment, but he finds Aunie undeniably attractive, even though he thinks she’s above his reach.
James and Aunie have great chemistry together. They don’t admit it to themselves right away, but they give off sparks when they’re around each other. When they finally give in – whew! I needed a cold cloth.
There’s just so much to like here. In addition to James and Aunie, Otis and Lola, his best friends and the apartment managers, are great secondary characters. Otis is big and scary-looking, but he’s really just a teddy bear. Their feelings about starting a family are realistic and touching. James’s brothers are a motley crew, but even they begin to develop into better people by the end of the story. There’s a great feeling of family among all these characters.
The worst thing about this story is the villain: Wesley. He’s determined to find Aunie and pay her back because she left him, didn’t act the perfect wife, yada, yada, yada. We have seen this guy before, and the only impression he leaves is that the story would have gone on fine without him. I guess he was needed to supply the suspense, though. At least his appearances are brief.
I think this may be one of my favorite Andersen novels yet. I hope Zebra will reissue her other novels if they are as good as this one and Exposure. I also hope this publisher realizes what a talent got away from it.