Summer Abrams guides people on wilderness trips, roving the United States to countries afar as she scales mountains, traverses canyons, and kayaks down rapids. She likes the brevity of it all – she is not into commitment or staying long in one place. Since her father died in a fire twelve years ago, she has wandered the globe, unable to stand still. She believes that life is short, so grab it by the balls and run. But her philosophy on life is wearing thin and she begins to yearn for her roots. Summer now wonders if she lost out by walking away from everyone who cared about her years ago. Running away never lessened the guilt she felt over her father’s death and now she is having panic attacks. Is her carefree life only a facade – especially to herself?
Joe Walker is a man with a tragic childhood who overcame the stranglehold that such a dreadful upbringing can have on your life. He grew beyond the insecurities and lack of acceptance he experienced early on and is now immersed in a successful career as a fire marshal. Joe is one sexy guy although he doesn’t seem to realize it – or care. He’s pretty much a loner and has been most of his life with one exception. Summer Abrams had been his best friend during adolescence. But as an adult he doubts the relationship. After all, what kind of friend leaves town without saying goodbye or, at the very least, staying in touch? Joe hasn’t heard from Summer or seen her since she left Ocean Beach twelve years ago after her father’s tragic death. But he certainly hasn’t forgotten her.
Now that I have painted such an attractive portrait of this hero (and I certainly did find him appealing eventually), let me tell you about Joe as described on pages one and two. Our hero, as a teenager, is overweight, out of shape, and unpopular. Jocks make fun of him and call him “Fat Boy”. As Joe and Summer jog together he must strain to keep up with her and he huffs and puffs with a red face and sweat dripping into his eyes, and with a camera around his neck he seems especially vulnerable. Talk about heartbreaking! Okay – that picture is a little difficult to accept for a hero but I told myself to just let it go. And I did, for a while, until I was reminded of it again and yet again throughout the book. It somehow made me uneasy and elicited a full range of emotions from empathy to protectiveness to distaste over the demeaning use of the word “fat”. I realize this is a scenario seldom written for a hero and to many readers it may be refreshing. However, these circumstances caused me to feel very protective of Joe. Although he is the protector in this story, there were times I felt I needed to save him from emotional harm. I wanted to guard him from people like – well, Summer.
When Summer finally returns to Ocean Beach, she establishes a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with Joe – comfortable for Summer and uncomfortable for Joe. You see, Joe felt more than just friendship for Summer all those years ago. Now he doesn’t want to risk closeness; he understands she will leave again, without a thought for him. Moreover, Joe is not looking for a significant relationship and realizes he could never have just a superficial relationship with Summer. He will not set himself up for that type of hurt again. Actually, Joe’s attitude and actions towards Summer were quite mature.
Summer was pleasantly surprised to find that Joe is now a sexy hunk. She views sex as a great way to relieve stress and thinks Joe’s the man for the job. Joe perceives her level of interest and refuses to scratch her itch. Again and again, he kindly, pleadingly, and then abruptly informs Summer that he cannot become physically involved with her. But Summer chooses to ignore Joe’s pleas and continues to push. She wants a sexual relationship now – not later. Sometimes she wins this battle and there are number of hot sensual scenes. Yeah, Joe may protest but in the end he always has a really good time – until the regrets begin.
Summer comes across as shallow and self-centered. She exhibits little respect for Joe – supposedly the closest friend in her life. Her refusal to acknowledge and regard Joe’s continued entreaties is supposed to be acceptable because she is unable to recognize the hurt she inflicts. I only saw this as further proof of her insensitive nature. She avoids close relationships and emotional responsibility of any sort (including family). Yes, reasons are given throughout the book for her dysfunctional behavior but they don’t add up. Although Summer did grow throughout the book, it wasn’t enough to believe she had matured sufficiently.
I recognize that at the heart of Seeing Red is some sort of role reversal wherein it is the heroine who doesn’t believe in love and only wants the physical relationship. But role reversal aside, there was little to respect about Summer other than her physical fitness. Her slipshod approach to life was uninspiring.
As I alluded to earlier, I found myself wanting to protect Joe although he didn’t need it. He knew how to stand up for himself. Still, I didn’t want Summer to have such a prize as Joe. I only wanted their HEA ending because Joe wanted Summer. And it was my fondness for Joe’s character that kept this review from falling below the C range.
Despite the role reversal, Seeing Red lacks imagination. The plot lines are typical and the suspense scenario contributed little to the larger story. While there were many pages of decent repartee between the leads, the overall atmosphere of the book was rather empty. But most significantly, I want an HEA ending because I have grown to care about both characters by the end of a book. Caring about one doesn’t cut it.