Hands down, The Real Deal is my favorite book for 2004; it features so many of my favorite themes that I not only re-read the book immediately (and more than once), I also immediately wrote up an At the Back Fence column all about it. And did I mention the hero is scrumptious? Yum.
If you’re not a big Chick Lit reader, don’t let the cover turn you off; this is no Chick Lit novel, nor is it a hybrid. No…it’s strictly romance, between two lead characters who finally, with each other, find a place where they “fit.” It’s a book about a faux ugly duckling and an enigmatic, gorgeous but geeky loner who find acceptance in themselves and love with one another.
Aside from her friend Jillian, Amanda Zachary has nobody in her life who loves her. After a disastrous marriage to a man who made her feel totally inadequate as a woman – and whose three-way with both a woman and a man finally precipitated her divorce – Amanda is totally focused on her career. She’s a junior executive who’s managed to convince the head of a competitor’s computer firm to merge with her own company. She goes to Washington state from her home in southern California to close the deal, but there’s a crimp in her plans. Even though Brant Computer’s president, Eric Brant, is all for the merger, his cousin, who runs the development end of the company, doesn’t want to sell his family’s legacy.
Simon Brant is devastatingly handsome – very tall, extremely strong and well built, with expressive gray eyes and long dark hair. He’s also very much the loner geek (he earned his PhD by age nineteen) who lives almost entirely in his head. He immediately notices Amanda as a woman. He also notices that he makes her nervous, which tells him she notices him as well, even though it seems she’s hiding her femininity for some reason. Simon lives on an estate on a remote island in Puget Sound with his majordomo, Jacob, a crusty retired Secret Service agent who is also Simon’s most trusted confidante (other than Eric).
Because of Simon’s working habits, the only way Amanda can get time to convince him that the deal would be good for both firms is to pitch him at his island home. Simon works for hours on end in his lab, appears and disappears at inopportune moments, and hasn’t a clue how to really connect with most people, which is why his former girlfriend is now happily married to Eric. Amanda still can’t get enough time alone with Simon to present her case, and eventually it’s decided that for her to do her job she must move into his home and pitch him during those odd hours when he’s not otherwise occupied. And it’s then that the fun really begins.
If this set-up seems far-fetched, I make no apologies for buying into it. It may be that the storyline plays into all my personal fantasies, but…excuse me…what’s not to love about a hero who desires a heroine so much that she inspires in him protective feelings and the unusual need to understand her and to help her see herself as he sees her, as a totally desirable woman? Given Amanda’s previous lack of sexual feelings, insecurity about herself as a woman (with good reason, given her backstory), and Simon’s loner tendencies, the combination of the job she has to do and their growing feelings for one another lead to some critical misunderstandings, mixed messages, and problems where trust is concerned.
Readers looking for hot love scenes that actually propel the storyline and help develop the lead characters – look no further. The first kiss and love scene doesn’t actually occur until half-way through the book, but it’s a marvelous scene, as are most of the love scenes to follow. One love scene in a bathtub, though, didn’t really work for me; in my mind they needed a shower after their bath together. The author explores Amanda’s insecurities through these love scenes, and though Simon’s got no insecurities about himself as a man, he does have an unusual problem that I’ve never seen presented before in anything but a cursory or jokey way. The author takes something we’ve all read in other romances but turns it on its head, so to speak.
While the love scenes are plentiful, erotic, and fun, the book is not merely love scenes strung together by a miniscule plot. As mentioned earlier, the first kiss doesn’t even occur until the book is half finished. And it comes after an incredibly touching set of scenes through which Simon learns he isn’t ruled solely by his intellect and begins to truly understand Amanda. Though it is Simon who lives in a world of his own construct, Amanda actually has farther to go in the story. Eventually both must put their faith and trust in the other to fully accept themselves. They are helped along the way at critical junctures by Jacob, Eric, and Jillian.
The author’s prose is rather unique; some may find her word choices odd, but for me they were fun (“His mouth quirked.” “The snick of unlocking doors sounded…”). That’s not to say The Real Deal doesn’t suffer a clunky moment or two, and some might find Simon and Amanda cavalier about the consequences resulting from certain behavior, but for me these were mere niggles that paled in comparison to all the great moments. I’m so pleased to have read such a surprisingly sweet and touching love story between two good people who waited long enough for someone to understand them and to accept the love they have to give.
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