Tawna Fenske’s The Last opens with a great scene. Sarah Keating is celebrating her thirtieth birthday at home with a few of her closest friends, all of them in comfy pajamas. It’s the kind of party I could imagine clearly and wouldn’t have minded stepping into at all.
Sarah is single while her two closest friends are in committed relationships and planning marriage, but she’s quite happy with her life and her job, where she helps adults who have Down syndrome. So as she and her friends sip champagne, she’s relaxed enough to mention that she once made a pact with Ian Nolan, her university roommate, whose birthday is two days before hers. If they weren’t with anyone else by the time they hit thirty, they’d get married. Her friends take a look at his Facebook pictures, approve, and tell her to text him.
Sarah has always felt at ease with Ian, and since he lives on the other side of the country, it’s quite safe to flirt. So she wishes him happy birthday, and discovers he’s still single. Oh, hey, he says, remember that pact? Amused, she says yes, so let’s go for it. Heck, why not skip the wedding and move straight to the honeymoon? Obviously playing along with the fun, Ian says he’ll be there in ten minutes.
And then he knocks at her door.
It turns out he’s actually in town on business but didn’t mention it earlier. Her friends tactfully make an exit so these two can catch up, and, still turned on by the earlier flirting, Sarah kisses him. They end up having sex, and it’s great for them both, but afterwards, Ian tells her he was serious about getting married.
For one thing, he likes her, he gets along well with her, he’s really turned on by her, and there’s nothing wrong with having a relationship based on that. For another, he’s hoping that the business opportunity he’s in town to pursue will develop further, but the people he’s working with would prefer a married man. Sensible, pragmatic reasons all. Sarah finally agrees because she likes Ian, she’s not getting any younger and she wants to have kids some day. They come up with some interesting words they for their arrangement – fratrimony, smartnership and barriage (business marriage).
The problem is that Sarah realizes she’s falling in love with Ian, but he doesn’t do love. You see, his father cheated on his mother, which not only hurt her, it deeply affected Ian’s younger brother who had Down syndrome. So when their parents split up, the brother died of a broken heart, and therefore, Ian will never fall in love.
There are no words to express how tired I am of this. Why do so many romance heroes think, ‘If you love someone who drinks excessively or cheats on you, it hurts. Therefore, avoid love’? Why don’t they simply avoid the specific behavior which damaged the relationship? But that would be too rational and the book would be even shorter, with nothing to cause the obligatory breakup towards the end.
The Last is a brisk read, which was for the best, because other than Ian’s stereotypical reaction, there was nothing to keep him and Sarah apart. They were two nice people who got along fine and had plenty of sex in various locations. I didn’t find these scenes emotionally absorbing because of the complete lack of tension, but all the sex was safe and consensual. As for the writing, it was smooth, though the blurb promising hilarity set the bar a little high. The story was occasionally amusing, not laugh-out-loud funny. Still, humor is subjective. And readers who liked the rest of the series and want to catch up with the characters might well enjoy this more than I did.