Up to the Challenge
Montlake / October 22, 2013 / $12.95 print, $9.99 digital
When the Dempsey patriarch suffers a heart attack, Lucas Dempsey steps up to keep the doors of the family restaurant open. The proverbial prodigal son returns home to Anchor Island—putting family first and his quest to make partner at his high-powered law firm on hold. Sporting a bruised ego after losing his fiancée to his older brother, Lucas would rather walk on glass than spend six weeks within spitting distance of the happy couple. But family duty calls. And that duty includes working side-by-side with a tantalizing spitfire intent on driving him mad.
Tough-as-nails boat mechanic Sid Navarro is happy to trade her tools for an apron to help the Dempseys in their time of need. That is, until she realizes she’ll be working alongside Lucas, the man she’s loved from afar since she first laid eyes on him in high school. Lucas could charm the paint off a schooner, but Sid knows she doesn’t fit his girl-next-door type. To show her true feelings would mean certain heartbreak, but the temptation of Lucas in her bed might be more than she can resist.
After a rocky start punctuated by verbal barbs and exasperating arguments, things heat up between them—big-time—but their steamy affair turns more than casual in a matter of weeks. Sid’s life has become the dream she’s always wanted, and Lucas has fallen hard for the last woman he ever expected to love.
But this affair has an end-date, as Lucas must return to his life and career in the big city, a place where Sid would never fit in. When the end comes earlier than expected, walking away turns out to be a challenge neither of them wants to win.
Terri Osburn's Up to the Challenge is a sexy, fast-paced, romantic story of family, island life, and finding love in unexpected places.
Some of my earliest favorite heroines were tomboys—Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women who is, as her sister Beth describes her, is “strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind;” Laura in Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, who has to be reminded to wear her sunbonnet, that marker of domesticity and femininity; and Caddie Woodlawn from Carol Ryrie Brink's novel of the same title whose father insists his wife "let Caddie run wild with the boys. Don't keep her in the house learning to be a lady.” But once I began reading romances from the adult section, tomboy heroines became much rarer. Nevertheless, I have retained a fondness for them over the years, and I saw the potential immediately when I encountered Sid Navarro, a secondary character in Terri Osburn’s debut novel Meant to Be. I even wrote Terri to express my hope that Sid would have her own story. Now she does. The aptly titled Up to the Challenge, Osburn’s second Anchor Island book, releases this month, and Sid is the perfect tomboy heroine.
Like many tomboys before her, the strongest influences in Sid’s life were masculine. When other little girls her age were playing with Barbies, Sid was learning to repair lawn mowers from her dad; when her contemporaries were screaming for the latest tween heartthrob, she was building a go-cart. It’s hardly surprising that as an adult, Sid “has a way with machines,” whether the machine in question is her friend Joe Dempsey’s boat, her vintage truck restored by her own hands, or the contrary vending machine at the hospital where the Dempsey patriarch is recovering from a heart attack.
Her clothing too marks Sid as a tomboy. Her customary attire consists of green, high-top sneakers, baggy knee-length shorts, and loose fitting tee shirts imprinted with such pronouncements as “Mechanics Do It with Lube.” And her vocabulary of colorful expletives is enough to causing a swoon in any mother with hopes of having brought up a decorous daughter. In short, there is nothing ladylike about Sidney Ann Navarro, as Lucas Dempsey realizes: “Every time he saw her, she was either snarling at someone, or covered in grease and cursing a blue streak. She had to be the least ladylike chick he’s ever met.”
Her rough exterior hides a vein of femininity that manifests itself in Sid’s chosen reading material (romance novels), her underwear (pink lace and bold colors), her loyalty to her girlfriends, and her fourteen-year crush on Lucas Dempsey. But a no point does Sid harbor a desire to become a girly girl. She is happy with her goal of owning a rundown building and turning it into a boat engine repair and restoration garage, and she is happy adding to her tee shirt collection.
The attraction of opposites is an established convention in romance fiction, but it is unusual in Up to the Challenge in two respects. First, there is an interesting gender reversal. Lucas sees Sid clearly as the antithesis of the conventionally feminine women he has dated in the past. His former fiancée and his brother Joe’s now-and-forever significant other, Beth, is an obvious example. Sid calls Lucas a metrosexual. He reminds her of her mother:
“Lucas was that brilliant, out-of-reach star she could admire from afar but never catch.
Sid’s mother had shared the same quality. Removed. Special. Untouchable.”
Second, once Sid and Lucas move past all the reasons they will not work as a couple, they accept each other as they are. Neither ever attempts to change the other, even as they acknowledge that their differences are so great that they make it impossible for either to be true to their own vision of self and survive in the other’s world.
When Sid discards her tee shirt and waits on tables at Dempsey’s Bar & Grill in her tank top, she reveals a “calendar girl” figure that sends Lucas’s awareness of her up several notches, but he was attracted to her before this incident, and the incident is not a prelude to some transformation of Sid. She remains the same foul-mouthed, outrageous-tee-shirt-wearing woman she was before. It is that woman who appeals to Lucas. He accepts who she is, and he respects her dream. He never wants Sid to become the fashionable, socially poised , politically aware woman who would be an appropriate wife for a young lawyer on the way to the top of his profession. At the end of the story, I cheered—not just for the HEA that often seemed in jeopardy but also that Sid remains the tomboy heroine to the very last word.
Learn more or order a copy of Up to the Challenge by Terri Osburn, available October 22, 2013:
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.