Desert Isle Keeper
While We Were Dating
While We Were Dating tells the love story of a Hollywood actress who only dates actors because they are “all as self-involved and devoid of real human emotion” as she is, and a playboy with deep commitment issues who finally meets the woman of his dreams only to discover she has the same problem.
Ben Stephens is only slightly late getting to work. But it’s a big deal because it’s a really big day. This afternoon his ad agency is doing a pitch for a tech giant, a campaign he has labored hard on, and he has no desire to be thrown off the team for missing the start time. The opposite happens. It turns out the senior executives, who had been out of town wooing another client while Ben stayed behind to do the actual work, are stuck at an airport. Ben and his assistant will have to fly solo on one of the most important presentations their company has ever done.
Anna Gardiner has just come off an incredibly difficult year, but as a Hollywood B-list actress hoping to make that near impossible transition to A-lister, she can’t take any more time to lick her wounds. While most performers do advertisements strictly for the paycheck, Anna has agreed to work on this particular product launch for the household recognition it will get her. She is deeply invested in having the promotions not just sell the device but also her talent, so she does something that rarely happens – Anna attends “pitch day”, where the lucky three firms who’ve made the final cut will offer their visions for how the merchandise should be branded to the public.
Ben impresses her from the start. He’s kind to his staff, conducts the meeting with respect towards both the product and the people selling it, and treats her like she has valuable insights to offer. He is also the only Black man any of the agencies have leading their presentations and Anna is delighted with the thought of working with another Person of Color. Anna lets the tech giant people know she wants Ben and his company and they in turn make it clear to Ben’s firm that they liked him and want him on the job.
Working with Ben is everything Anna hoped it would be. His set for the ads is both professional and comfortable, he understands how to light brown skin and frame Black bodies to get the best shots and ensures the advertisements sell Anna’s skills as an actress as much as they do the phone she’s holding. Everything is going perfectly until the call.
Anna’s dad had a heart attack a few years earlier, and she has been deeply worried about his health ever since. When her brother advises her that their father is back in the hospital, albeit only as a precaution, she drops everything to get to the airport. Ben is happy to offer her a ride there since her driver isn’t immediately available, but when the last flight is cancelled, Anna panicks. Thankfully, Ben is cool under pressure and offers to drive her to her destination since it is only six hours away. The road trip will take the light flirtation they’d been indulging in for the last several days to a whole new level.
Ben and Anna are deeply attracted to each other from the start, but I liked how the author doesn’t fall into an insta-lust equals insta-couple trap. The hours long car ride really lets them build a relationship based on confidences, sharing parts of their life history, and connecting over mutually loved foods and music. When they arrive at the hospital and find out Anna’s dad is fine, it seemed perfectly natural for them to allow their attraction and newly formed friendship to culminate in a night of passion.
Of course, they agree over breakfast that it can never happen again and of course, they find themselves repeating the event often. I’ve read all of Ms. Guillory’s books and I found this one to have the highest heat factor. Anna’s arduous year included an equally long period of abstinence and she is delighted to be enjoying this aspect of life again. Ben has never been emotionally involved with a woman he is having sex with before and is thrilled by this aspect of his affair with Anna. Both of them know they have something special going on and plan to enjoy it for as long as they can. When their work partnership comes to an end it’s with some sorrow that they plan to make their good-byes.
They wind up not doing so for complicated reasons involving Anna’s career. I liked that this situation involves a challenge for their liaison, and that the result of them working through that challenge is for them to grow closer. One of the best things about their romance is that because they both want it, they quickly learn the skills, such as communication, they need to keep it going.
For fans of Ms. Guillory, it will be no surprise to hear that Ben is the brother of Theo, the hero of The Wedding Party. Theo and Maddie make perfect guest appearances in this story, showing up just enough to remind us how close the brothers are and to give us a peek at Madidie and Theo’s continuing relationship, without in any way taking over the storyline. Nic, from The Proposal, also makes a quick cameo along with her hero Carlos.
Ben is fantastic – sweet, humorous, smart, caring – I absolutely loved him. A lot of times when I read a player/rake character, I wonder what, outside their stellar looks, a woman could possibly see in them because they tend to be such jerks. Not Ben. I could easily see why women would be lining up for a fling – he’s just so fun and hot and wonderful.
Anna isn’t quite so great. The author’s depiction of her career is fabulous; the details of what she actually does, whom she works with and all the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into the making of a celebrity is terrific. But how calculating Anna has to be to get where she wants to be and how willing she is to do that makes her slightly less appealing. Her fragility, on top of that, rather than making her seem more human made her seem more needy. As a result, Anna comes across as kind of high maintenance. I liked her but when the book was finished, I felt she still had some growing to do before she became a perfect partner for Ben.
That’s a quibble, though, in an otherwise excellent novel. I think fans of the author’s will absolutely love While We Were Dating. New-to-the-author readers who enjoy contemporary romance will also find it amazing, but they might want to start with The Wedding Party or maybe even the first book in this series, The Wedding Date. Those tales add some background story which isn’t necessary but is nice to have – and they’re awesome books!
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