The Best Friend Bargain
The Best Friend Bargain is the third story in Robin Bielman’s Kisses in the Sand series. I read and enjoyed the first two books, in which Danny and Olivia (Liv) were introduced as secondary characters and best friends. While still published by Entangled Publishing, the series has gone through an imprint switch, and is now part of their current Lovestruck line, defined on their website as “flirty contemporary category romance about finding love in the modern world”. I’ve read several of the Lovestruck titles. Some have been great, others not so hot. I put this one squarely in the middle.
Danny and Liv have been friends since they were teenagers growing up in the small beach community of White Strands. While Danny was previously a sports agent, he’s decided to follow his crafty calling and is making a name for himself designing and constructing wooden furniture. Liv was previously fired from a corporate job (through no fault of her own) and ended up spending eight months in Europe licking her wounds and having a heated affair. When she ended up pregnant, the father disavowed responsibility and Liv has come home to have her baby – and she has a plan. As Danny has an inherited genetic disease that will result in his eventually going blind, he’s long since decided to limit the chance of passing on the disease by never having children. But Liv thinks she can persuade him to marry her and help her raise her child. They’ve cared about each other for years and knowing about his condition, Liv is prepared to be there for Danny for the long term. Surprisingly, they’ve never carried a torch for each other and were firmly stuck in the friend category – until now. Liv’s pregnancy hormones are in full gear and Danny is looking mighty attractive. And the feeling is mutual. But will becoming lovers ruin their longtime friendship or put them on the path to a happy ever after?
This story has all the hallmarks of a stereotypical small town romance. There are the local best friends who are there to prod the couple towards each other. There are the gossipy older ladies, one in particular (Danny’s landlady) who takes it into her head to get the wedding planned, leaving Danny and Liv to go along with the flow. There’s the town festival, in this case a Halloween carnival, with cute costumes and contests. In short, it’s fun but doesn’t really have anything to make it stand out from the other small town romances out there. It’s on the safe and predictable side as far as story settings go.
Obviously Danny is pretty clear hero material. Stepping up for his pregnant best friend, willing to marry her and raise her child and do anything to help her out – well, that’s very sweet and generous (and his two best friends, Zane and Bryce aren’t above calling him out on it and pointing out the fact that he could support Liv without marrying her). In truth Danny suddenly isn’t so keen on Liv being married to anyone else which is a surprising revelation, since it had never bothered him before. The idea of the father of the child suddenly showing up to claim his fatherly rights twists him up inside, and before you know it, he’s making it clear that he’s going to be a father to this child no matter what happens in his and Liv’s future. Danny’s genetic condition, choroideremia, is already starting to affect his peripheral vision and he sometimes practices moving around his home with his eyes shut, getting ready for the inevitable blindness. These scenes are poignant and make it clear that Danny is determined not to be a helpless burden in the future.
Liv is a sweet and generous woman. She’s best friend material, whether for men or women and she and Danny have always had each other’s backs, hence her faith that he’d help her out in this situation. While her pregnancy was unplanned, she is excited and understandably nervous about raising a child, but fully prepared to do her best. Her own relationship with her mother is tenuous at best and she wants to do better than that with her own child. She has some conflicted feelings where the baby’s father is concerned. At first she’s still carrying a torch for him but the more time she spends with Danny, the less she thinks of the other guy. Of course, as expected, the baby’s father isn’t quite out of the picture and part of the conflict throughout the story is waiting to see what impact he’ll have on Danny and Liv’s relationship.
The change from friends to lovers doesn’t take place over night. While most modern romances these days seem to include social media and texting scenes as part of making the romance authentic, they don’t work particularly well here. They are a bit bland, and the attempt at sexting seems to come very quickly and out of the blue in the middle of an innocuous conversation. Their conversations in person are a lot more believable. Their physical attraction goes with the territory of being two attractive people spending more time together and envisioning a shared future. Their love scenes are again, a little on the predictable side, but enjoyable and well written.
If you’re a fan of the Kisses in the Sand series and you’ve been waiting for Danny and Olivia to get their happy ending, then you’ll be pleased with how things work out for them. If you like small town romances and their general predictability, you’ll enjoy this, too. With friends to lovers and marriage of convenience tropes, The Best Friend Bargain delivers a solid, easy read.