This was not a fun book to read for me. Have you ever read “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult, which was later made into a movie starring Abigail Breslin and Cameron Diaz? It’s the one where Cameron Diaz has a daughter who is dying and needs new organs, but there isn’t a donor match, so the doctors suggest that Cameron Diaz has another child so they can harvest the organs they need from that child. Whoa, right? Yeah, it’s like “Sophie’s Choice” without the Nazis. How would you like that for a tagline? “It’s like ‘Sophie’s Choice’ without the Nazis!” And yet the story was oddly compelling—never mind the heroine who, at times, seemed to be stubborn for the purpose of being a deliberately obtuse pain in the ass— and I devoured it in one sitting. And the whole “He doesn’t love me” and “She doesn’t love me” shenanigans went on a little too long, but the hero is a nice guy (albeit boring) who isn’t an alpha asshole with a testosterone overload problem for once and I liked the soft, quiet moments between the two leads. It’s a Marriage of Convenience and Miracle Baby story in one!
The Plot as I Understood It:Five years ago, Lea Curran slept with a circuit rodeo rider who picked her up in a bar and snuck out of the motel room in the middle of the night, taking away beautiful memories of hot and heavy sexin’ with a gorgeous guy (on the cover he looks like Matt Bomer and yeah, I would have tapped that) and getting herself well and knocked up in the process. Lea isn’t the type to go bed-hopping, but she had just buried the father she had never forgiven for being a cheating bastard and found herself in a bar, hating herself and looking for a way to ease the pain. Reilly Martin grew up a poor, little rich boy whose famous country singer mother only had him to save a loveless marriage and was paraded around as a child like a chihuahua in a Prada pet carrier. These two happy people bump into each other in a bar, sense each other’s emo tendencies, and get up to some Australian naked happy fun times in a cheap motel. Fast-forward to the present and Lea is the mother of a sickly four-year-old child called Molly and there’s no other cure for Molly but stem cells from a sibling which, when injected into her, will help her body produce the blood she needs. Or something like that. It’s some kind of anemia that will kill her very soon. Mustering up some courage and swallowing her pride, Lea heads on over to the Martin ranch with her little daughter in tow and knocks on Reilly’s door. Reilly is shocked and pleased and angry and turned on and confused that the lady he’s been looking for for the past five years is suddenly at his doorstep, telling him he has a daughter and could-he-pretty-please-knock-her-up-again-so-the-baby-can-save-the-daughter-he-never-knew-he-had? Reilly’s all, “LOL WUT?! Get out. Are you smokin’ crack?” But then Reilly sees the cute little girl looking all sickly and pale and his daddy genes activate and he gets all, “ZOMG, I have a child!” But he tells Lea he can’t help her, so Lea packs up Molly in her truck and goes back to her own ranch, all the while preparing herself for Molly’s inevitable demise. Until… Reilly shows up at her door! Lea’s all, “What are you doing here? I thought you said you won’t help me.” And Reilly’s all, “I said I CAN’T. All those years of rodeo-ridin’ crushed my balls and my baby batter is no good anymore and I’m sterile.” And Lea’s all, “Noooo!!!” **sobsobsobwhyyyyy** Reilly can’t stand seeing her looking so forlorn and helpless and says, “But… butttttttt…” Lea looks up. “Yesssss…” Reilly pulls at his shirt collar, scuffs his boots against the ground, and clears his throat. “Uh… well, right before the doctors told me I can’t make babies no more… erm… I got some baby batter frozen somewhere. Uh, you can have it if you want.” And Lea’s all, “Really?!” And Reilly confirms yes, she can have it, but only if he gets to keep the baby afterward. Lea can have all the stem cells she wants, but Reilly gets the finished product in payment for his stud services. Lea balks at this. She can’t give up her own baby, no. She can’t. But if Reilly walks away forever, Molly will really, totally die. Forced to give up one child so she can save another, Lea relents. She gets pregnant and Reilly asks that she and Molly move in with him until the baby is born. Lea agrees. For the good of the babies. Did I mention that Reilly is super hot? And really kind of nice? Oh yeah, this is going to end well.
The Heroine:I’m a little confused about something. Lea says she was able to hide the fact that she has a bastard child even though they seem to live in a fairly small town (province?) because she is known as Leanne Curran “by reputation.” What does that mean? I think there might have been a previous book about her sister or something (Outback Baby Tales?) where Lea is first mentioned because I have no idea what this “reputation” is and it’s never talked about. I was hoping she’s known around town as the horse lady who goes out every once in a while, gets black-out drunk, and sleeps with random rodeo dudes, but it’s probably something boring like she’s a good businesswoman who knows a thing or two about horses. Anyway, when she was a young girl, she caught her father having sex with another woman while her mother, dying of cancer, is lying in bed in a room down the hall. Dying of cancer. Lea can’t understand why her father could betray her mother in such a way and becomes bitter and cynical about monogamous love and committed relationships. She has a hard time believing that Reilly could actually love her and turns away any attempts of Reilly to get to know and befriend her. Lea is in a very tough situation. Both of her sisters have their own families, her parents are dead, and all she really has in life is Molly. She doesn’t seem to have any friends—in fact, with the exception of some farm hands, household help, and some offhand mentions of Lea’s sisters asking how she’s doing, there aren’t a lot of people in this book. Lea is well and truly isolated. There’s a scene where Reilly asks Lea what she would do if Molly were to die and Lea kind of laughs bitterly and quips that she’s not going to walk out to the desert and keep walking till she dies, that she’ll survive and keep on keepin’ on. She can’t allow Reilly to get close because she has too much to protect: herself, Molly, and her unborn child. She’s prickly and defensive. She fantasizes of breaking the contract with Reilly—she signs away her parental rights in exchange for the stem cells—taking the children, and running away where he won’t be able to find them, yet at the same time, she steels herself against bonding with the baby because she wants to inure herself enough that she won’t break when she has to give him up. For Lea, there’s just way too much at risk for her to let Reilly in. She’s stubborn and hard to know, often fighting against her own instincts and desires in the name of self-preservation. I found it hard to sympathize with her at times because I just wanted her to open her eyes and see that Reilly is for real and wants to be there for her. At the same time, I understood that she only wants to protect her sick child and to be able to find a way to get on with her life in the event that the treatment fails and Reilly doesn’t stick around. Still, she’s frustratingly stubborn and made me roll my eyes so much I got dizzy. Buuuuut… she really has no reason to trust Reilly, does she?. She doesn’t know him. He was a one-night stand five years ago. Why would she have any reason to believe that he truly wants her and not just because she’s the mother of his two kids and the one and only chance he has to have a family?
The Hero:Reilly…is a nice guy. His parents were some country singing superstars in the 70s and his mother only had him because she believed her fans expected her to have a child. Reilly grew up in the care of nannies and was occasionally dragged around by his mother all over the country for photo ops. He becomes a rodeo superstar and does the romance hero thing of getting drunk in bars and sleeping with any woman who throws herself at him (why does the romance hero does this? Okay, fine, you’re virile…I believe you. Chicks find you desirable. Oooh, chlamydia is so sexy). He sleeps with Lea and it’s the best sex he’s ever had and it was so special and they talked all night in between the sessions of hot sexin’, then he wakes up and she’s gone. She’s gooooone. Five years later, Reilly has retreated to his ranch and is still involved with the rodeo, but not as the main attraction. He’s one of the guys who rides in and rescues the rider when he’s in trouble. Mostly, he just works at his ranch and plays with his horses. When Lea shows up at his doorstep, he pretends not to remember who she is even though deep inside, he’s thinking It’s her! It’s her! Look cool, Reilly. Stay calm. You’re the Fonz. You don’t even remem—but oh, it’s her! Reilly wants to have the family he never experienced as a child, but his “disability” has made that impossible. Imagine becoming resolved to being childless and lonely for the rest of your life only to find that you actually have a kid you didn’t know about. I found it interesting that Reilly never found a partner before Lea with whom he could have children, albeit via in vitro fertilization (which is how Lea gets pregnant, anyway). On one hand, Lea is desperate and will do anything in her power to make sure that the pregnancy is successful because it might save the child she already has. On the other hand, why would Reilly “waste” the admittedly small sample of sperm he has left on a woman he doesn’t know and may disappear with his last chance of having a child? Naturally this means that Reilly really just wants another way to bind Lea to him. It’s one thing if they had the one child (whose infancy Reilly never got to witness) together, but to have another child whose gestation Reilly gets to be around for? No matter what, that just ensures that Reilly will be in Lea’s life for the foreseeable future. Reilly is a good guy: he’s family-oriented, seems to actually want to sit and listen to Lea’s concerns, and he’s not Grabby McMolesterson who slavers over the heroine like some deranged wolf who prefers the meat of pregnant women or something. He manipulates Lea effectively into situations that benefit him the most by telling her that it’s all for Molly, knowing that Lea will do anything for Molly. Is it safe to say that Reilly takes advantage of Lea’s emotionally fragile state to get what he wants? Maybe, but Reilly just seems… so nice. And lonely. Oh hell, the poor guy just needs a hug.
Oh My Word: What I found refreshing about this book is that the hero doesn’t grab the heroine every five seconds and forcibly kisses her to “remind” her that she wants him as much as he wants her. While Reilly manipulates Lea into staying at his ranch with him, it’s not just because he wants easy access to her hot pocket. He really wants to get to know her, you guys. And that’s nice and all, but bleeeeurgh these two are about as sexy as julienned carrots in a ziplock bag sitting in the office fridge. I get it—it’s hard to get sexy out of “my child is going to die, so please impregnate me so I can use the baby’s blood to save my dying child” plus “oh no, I busted my testicles and can’t make baby batter no more, so I’m no longer a man,” but Reilly and Lea just seem so “meh” together. Sexy doesn’t have to mean they’re banging on every available surface every available minute–hell, Mulder and Scully could heat up a room with a brief eye contact–but these two just don’t seem to HAVE chemistry. The author tells me they’re attracted to each other and they have a lot in common—they both like horses—but I just don’t buy that it’s a grand romance. The scene I found especially telling was the one where Reilly proposes marriage to Lea on the basis that they like each other okay and they’ll have two kids together and Lea’s like, “What about love?” There’s no sizzle between Lea and Reilly, nothing to make you get all breathless and go, “Oh, these two crazy kids just need to get together already!” Like I said, maybe I just found it hard to cheer for these two because of the dying kid between them and OH MY GOD, wouldn’t you feel bad about drooling over your HOT GORGEOUS ONE NIGHT STAND from FIVE YEARS AGO when your kid is dying of some rare blood disease? Epic boner killer. Speaking of the dying kid, I did not shed a tear while reading this book at all. I’m a watering pot and I’ll cry over practically anything, especially over cute tiny kittens on Youtube who can’t get out of cups, but I couldn’t squeeze out any tears for this book. I mean, we’re talking about a kid dying and the only way to save her is for her mom to hunt down her old lover who never knew about the existence of the kid and have another kid with him, only to find out that he can’t have kids anymore because his reproductive organs don’t work? Holy crap, I was expecting major waterworks! In fact, I was reluctant to read this book because I was convinced I’d come across a scene where little Molly is lying in a hospital bed and she’s got all sorts of tubes coming out of her and she’s all frail and little and Lea is begging her, “Hold on, baby, hold on! Please, hold on for mommy!” and I would just die. I can’t ever take that shit. When you write a story like this, you gotta go for broke, man! I didn’t even hear the teeny-tiny violins that my brain usually plays whenever I read a sad scene. Trust me, I’m a big crybaby and I didn’t even get choked up this time. I want more cheese! More melodrama! Lea and Reilly needed to come together and hug and kiss to some big, grand soundtrack with a constantly surprising refrain. In the rain. And they need to be crying and laughing at the same time. Instead, we just get, “Oh yay, we both like horses and we have two kids together, so do you want to get married?” It was just… meh. I don’t know, maybe I should stop watching Mexican telenovelas. I really think it’s starting to mess with my perception.
The scene that did stick in my mind, though, was the crocodile scene. There they are—Reilly, Lea, and Molly—sunning themselves and having fun in a nearby watering hole when all of a sudden, there’s a frickin’ crocodile! So they grab their shit and run like hell to Reilly’s jeep. I gotta admit: that made me laugh out loud. A crocodile!
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