Once in a Lifetime
Grand Central / February 18, 2014 / $6.00 print, $5.99 digital
After a wrenching loss, Ben McDaniel tried to escape his grief by working in dangerous, war-torn places like Africa and the Middle East. Now he's back in his hometown and face-to-face with Aubrey Wellington, the hot-as-hell woman who is trouble with a capital T. Family and friends insist she's not the one to ease his pain, but Aubrey sparks an intense desire that gives Ben hope for the future.
Determined to right the wrongs of her past, Aubrey is working hard to make amends. But by far, the toughest challenge to her plan is sexy, brooding Ben - even though he has absolutely no idea what she's done . . .
Can this unlikely couple defy the odds and win over the little town of Lucky Harbor?
Many contemporary romances take place in small towns, and the success or failure of a series can often depend as much on the portrayal of the town as it does on the romance itself. In Once in a Lifetime, Jill Shalvis takes us back to Lucky Harbor, where she’s set eight previous books. As usual, the town’s residents get their time in the spotlight, but this time they are far less scene-stealing than they have been in previous books. (Though if you read Shalvis, you know you’re not getting away from Lucille entirely.…)
In Once in a Lifetime, we get more interiority, less interference from the surrounding characters. Part of this is because our hero, Ben, is more aware of himself emotionally than many heroes. Ben is finally coming out of his shell after his beloved wife’s death, and he’s up front about not being interested in trying for a second chance at love.
No one knew Ben better than Jack—no one alive, anyway. He knew what Ben had gone through after Hanna’s death.
He knew Ben had loved her. The real kind of love. The once-in-a-lifetime, forever kind. For a guy who’d been pretty much dumped by his own parents and dropped at his aunt Dee’s house at the age of twelve, it shouldn’t have been possible for him to feel it at all. But his aunt Dee had mothered him relentlessly. And Jack’s father—before his untimely, heroic death fighting a fire—had been a real dad to Ben. Jack had been a brother. Between the three of them, they’d taught Ben love.
And he’d had it with Hannah—a solid, soul-deep, comfortable love.
But it was long gone now, and while he missed it, he didn’t want to risk it again.
We see less of Aubrey’s internal life, but she’s also more up-front about herself than many a romance heroine. Partially, this is because she’s on a mission: she is trying to re-make herself and right the wrongs of her past. She’s working up to Ben, because he’s on her list in a big way, but in the meantime we get glimpses of what she was like when she was younger as she goes around making her apologies. Like when she meets up with former classmate Cathy.
Aubrey let out a breath. “I came here to see you.”
“Because I’ve never been able to forget how I teased you for being so skinny,” Aubrey said quietly. “It was rude, and so wrong.” It’d haunted her all these years.
“Well, I was skinny,” Cathy said, and adjusted Aubrey’s hair so it fell better over the scarf in the back. “And I’ve always thought you did it because you were jealous.”
“Definitely jealous," Aubrey said. “I had to run off my nightly junk food every single morning and I was still curvy. I was unbearably jealous of how you looked, but it’s no excuse.”
Cathy once again met her gaze in the mirror. “I was anorexic. Did you know that?”
“No.” God. Aubrey closed her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Cathy.”
“I was anorexic,” Cathy said again, “and no one noticed that I was starving myself. Except you.”
Aubrey opened her eyes and once again met Cathy’s.
“You got me to eat one of the cheeseburgers we made for cooking class—do you remember?” Cathy asked. “It was our midterm, and we were required to eat what we cooked. I tried to throw mine away, but you told on me and then I had to eat the burger in front of the whole class.”
Aubrey winced at the memory. “Yeah, I remember. I—”
“No, listen to me.” Cathy’s voice shook a little now. “I hadn’t eaten in a week, Aubrey. That burger was the best thing I’d ever tasted. It helped me to start eating again.”
If you’re looking for a romance that takes place in a small town but doesn’t have quite the claustrophobic, all-up-in-your-business feel of some stories, Once in a Lifetime might be just the thing for you.
Learn more or order a copy of Once in a Lifetime by Jill Shalvis, available February 18, 2014:
Laura K. Curtis has always done everything backwards. As a child, she was extremely serious, so now that she's chronologically an adult, she feels perfectly justified in acting the fool. She started teaching at age fifteen, then decided to go back to school herself at thirty. And she wrote her first book in first grade. It was released in (notebook) paperback to rave reviews and she's been trying to achieve the same level of acclaim ever since. She lives in Westchester County, NY, with her husband and a pack of wild Irish Terriers, which has taught her how easily love can coexist with the desire to kill.