The Standby Guy
A perfectly decent story about perfectly decent folks falling in love, The Standby Guy is a sweet romance with a fun, spicy kick, set among ordinary people who try to figure out who they are as they struggle against the rumor mill and their own misgivings.
Photographer Katie Dixon and lawyer Carter Colburn have been close friends forever. Carter helped Katie out with the raising of her young son after her husband – his best friend Tim – passed away, and when Sean leaves for college, she has a big hole in her schedule. She’s always promised herself she’d do all of the things on her ‘me time’ list, but has a hard time figuring out where to start.
Carter, meanwhile, has job problems. He’s got a rich new billionaire client on the hook, but after the client’s last lawyer was embroiled in scandal he’s looking for a new one with a spotless reputation. So if Carter seems to be married or involved, it’ll be a help in landing him. When Carter can’t get a date, Katie informs him that he has a reputation as a ‘rebound guy’; because he’s never settled down or looked for a long-term relationship, women don’t look for either from him. Katie, meanwhile, hasn’t had time for a guy in years – and to Carter she’s always been off limits. So they make a deal. Katie will be his plus-one for a fancy dinner with the new client and his wife, and Carter will help Katie check items off of her bucket list.
When Carter sees Katie in a sexy new black dress he’s beyond gobsmacked. and when it turns out that one of the things on her list is to get back her mojo by having a fun fling, he’s stunned. Katie won’t give her heart, but she’d love the fun, wild, sexy part of her personality back; she asks Carter to help her, and though he’s reluctant they seal it with a kiss that leaves them thinking about one another for days. But then fate intervenes – Gloria Burns, the town’s grand dame, has presumed that they’re together thanks to the dinner they shared together, and now expects Katie and Carter to attend her birthday party as a couple. Gossip moves quickly enough that soon Carter’s parents know, as do their friends and Katie’s folks. Katie and Carter are willing to go along with the charade, but Carter can’t stand to see Katie with other guys, and everyone else seems to see chemistry they never suspected existed. Might they be falling in love for real?
The Standby Guy is a pleasant story about two old friends – and two mature characters – who try to rediscover themselves and get their lives together before it’s too late. I’m a sucker for a good friends-to-lovers story, and the novel does a good job with that.
Katie is a relatable woman – someone who self-sacrificed for her son and put her life on hold for years, only to struggle with guilt and self-affirmation as she finally tries to embrace herself as a fully-formed human and sensual being. That means eating dessert first, getting a tattoo and wearing a little black dress. It also means confronting her mom about their awkward relationship. Katie was my favorite part of the book.
Carter was less charming. While I liked his relationship with his parents and his co-workers, he had a possessive streak when it came to Katie that was annoying. They were only friends with benefits when he was getting jealous and demanding she drink less and not go home with other men. Well, if you don’t want her to do that, call it a relationship Carter! But he doesn’t, for most of the novel.
There are a couple of clever twists on various classic tropes (Carter, for instance, gets caught with an old flame in a this-isn’t-what-it-looks-like moment – but the person who catches him isn’t Katie). I love that the main conflict between the two of them ultimately formed around whether or not having kids in their forties was a thing either of them wanted – but authors, can we please stop having characters change their minds about having kids in babies-ever-after epilogues, especially after – as is the case here – they’ve come to a realization that they already have enough.
That epilogue – plus Carter’s less-than-charming possessiveness, ultimately knocks The Standby Guy down a few pegs. It’s a fine weekend read – the kind of book you leave on stand-by.
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