I was born to have a boy.
When I was pregnant sixteen years ago I thought, “I hope I have a girl,” because I’d been a girl for 25 years. How did I know what to do with a boy? But when our son was born, I looked into his sweet little face and fell head-over-heels in love with him. And knew, with the clarity of a lightning bolt to the head, that I was born to have a boy. Over the years I’ve watched our friends with daughters and secretly sighed for the relatively drama-free, gonad-toting child of mine. Some might say it’s an abomination of my feminist outlook; I say it’s divine providence.
Perhaps that’s why I connect with romantic heroes a little easier than heroines on occasion. Take, for example, Gina Maxwell’s Fighting for Love series. It’s a rare series that is connected by the lives of the men AND the women, but here we’ve got two sets of siblings and three MMA fighters to keep it all in the family.
In the majority of romance, it’s the heroes who are flawed. I don’t know if it’s because romance is predominately written and read by women, or if men are inherently less complex in their emotions and more transparent to write, but the men are usually the half of the couple unwilling (or unable) to commit. But Maxwell has written a series that has, so far, managed to have remarkably flawed women. It’s a little hard to read, these whiny, guarded, high-maintenance, neurotic women. I like strong personalities—in men and women—that shoot from the hip, in life and in fiction, so I found myself siding with Maxwell’s guys. That’s the sign of a great writer, I think!
I read the first story in the series, Seducing Cinderella, last fall. But it wasn’t until I read all three back-to-back when I realized that Maxwell writes a fabulous alpha hero. These men are far from meat-headed fighting lugs; they are lush, layered, compelling, men brave enough to stick with women who attract them like fireflies to flame. Who knows if they’re just gluttons for punishment, or just remarkable enough to let the surface gruffness mellow over time; these men are worth your time. They love the women in their lives with abandon, and are happy to take the first step toward a happy future. Don’t you just love this genre?
We kick off the series with “bookish” Lucie Miller in Seducing Cinderella, who’s had a crush on a doctor she works with for years—a man who has no idea she even has breasts. That changes, however, when Reid Andrews walks into her office seeking her assistance with a new regimen of physical therapy.
Her delicate fingertips probed the muscles around his shoulder. He had no idea what she was looking for, but he hoped she searched for a while. Her touch felt so much better than how he was usually handled. Of course Scotty’s hands weren’t as soft, but it was more than that. It was the technique she used; like he wasn’t just a fighter made of hardened muscle that could handle rough, prodding fingers, but rather a man who’d asked for a gentle massage after a long day.
Serendipity strikes in strange times and places, and Reid walking back into Lucie’s life seems a bit predestined. He certainly thinks her healing touch and therapy is the key, and sets out to acquire himself a live-in, 24/7 therapist. With a full schedule of patients and her younger self’s romantic notions of Reid, she’s adamantly against it. Until he says:
“I’ll teach you how to get your doctor if you do this for me.”
“I’ll show you how to act, what to say … everything you need to know to make him notice you. If there’s one thing I know, its women and what they do that turns men on to the point of utter distraction.” Her head turned to the side. Not a big movement, but enough to let him know he had her attention. “You’ll have him eating out of the palm of your hand in no time. I guarantee it.”
Nailed it. Who could walk away from that? Certainly not Lucie … or Reid. This is by far my favorite of the first three books because Lucie and Reid are the most open to the possibilities of love.
I had a little trouble finding Vanessa “Nessie” McGregor an intriguing heroine when Rules of Entanglement started. It’s a good thing Jackson “Jax” Maris arrived, with his go-with-the-flow attitude. Jax is Reid’s best friend and Lucie’s older brother (from book 1), and as the Hawaiian resident and Best Man in his sister’s nuptials, he’s in charge of picking up Nessie at the airport. What should be a quick trip from the airport to the resort turns into a little white lie that morphs into a full rainbow of damn.
“You said you’d be here at eleven and it’s past noon. I tried calling but only got your voice mail.”
Jackson shrugged. “Yeah, my phone died. I don’t pay much attention, since I mostly use it to keep in touch with Lucie. I’m sort of a caveman in terms of technology.”
Vanessa didn’t point out that he’d told Lucie to have her call him on that phone when she landed. Which she had. Five times. “Huh. Must be nice to be that carefree.”
Rule #7: Never take your responsibilities lightly.
What happened to the responsible, shoulder-the-world man Lucie had always described?
“I wish I would’ve known it was going to be an issue for you to come and get me,” she said, trying hard to keep irritation out of her tone. And failing. “I could’ve just as easily taken a cab.”
He put his hands up, palms facing her in resignation. “You’re absolutely right. I was a thoughtless jerk.”
“I didn’t say—”
“And I totally deserve a thorough tongue-lashing,” he said with another smile, “but let’s do it on the way to my Jeep because I’m double-parked and I’d rather be lectured by an angry woman over a burger and a beer. I’m starving.”
They have a whole tussle over carrying her bags, and then lunch, and her taking a cab versus riding with Jax. Nessie is quick to react, quick to judge, quick to finalize her first impressions. It’s no wonder her life has such a rigid course, and it’s no wonder she pursued life as a prosecuting attorney in the DA’s office. A childhood of crazy led her to develop seven rules for life as an adult that help her stay the course. They span the gamut from “Never take your responsibilities lightly” to “Never indulge in the poison of lies,” to “Never date a man who chooses fists over words,” and “Never fall in love.” Jax is the walking embodiment of her “Never” list. But instead of the setup leading them on a merry chase, Nessie’s constant insistence on following her list to a T— without the real world necessity of compromise—always leads her to disappointment. And Jax, who has his own childhood issues to deal with, isn’t as much of a loser as she first assumes. Here’s the lie that set them on a path for disaster:
“The celebrity wedding planner Reid hired insists that for any destination wedding, the couple needs to be on location a week beforehand to meet with him and go over all the arrangements.”
“I know that. Why do you think I came down this early? I know Lucie’s tastes well enough to do this with my eyes closed.”
He didn’t even acknowledge her statement. “And due to the celebrity clientele at the Mau Loa, absolutely no one other than the guests registered to the room may claim the reservation.”
She cocked a hip out to the side and crossed her arms over her chest. “Then why am I down here if I can’t check in?”
“You can’t check in,” he said, “but Lucie can.”
Oh, boy. There might be no coming back from that one.
By the time we get to Fighting for Irish, Jax and Nessie have worked out their kinks and we move on to Nessie’s estranged sister, Kat. Kat experienced the same awful childhood as Nessie, only to the 47th power. When Nessie left home for college, Kat was left behind to fend for herself and faced a devastating period of sexual abuse. She has a reason to be so protective of herself.
One of her tickets out of her violent past was with a deadbeat boyfriend, who was dumb enough to borrow money from a gangster. And guess who has to pay—either in cash or with her life? Yep, that would be Kat. She and Nessie talk by mobile phone a couple times a year, and while Nessie is in Hawaii for Lucie’s wedding (book 2) Kat mentions that her boyfriend needs money. But by the time Nessie gets it together, Kat is on the run. In Fighting for Irish, Jax calls in a favor with his old friend, Aiden “Irish” O’Brien. When Irish heads south in search of Kat, he finds more than a sister on the run.
The first time he’d run interference for Kat with a less-than-polite customer, she’d stared at him incredulously. He’d only managed to stare back, unable to find his words with those light blue eyes turned on him, before she spun on her heel and stormed off. That happened a few more times: him stepping in, an awkward staring contest, and a silent retreat.
Then, one night after he’d “escorted” a guy out in a chokehold for grabbing her ass, she stalked up to him outside with narrowed eyes and fists planted on slender hips. “I can take care of myself.”
“As long as I’m around, no one touches you without an invitation.” Unable to help himself, he lowered his head and whispered in her ear. “No one.”
Kat was prickly on the surface and tentative in her initial dealings with Irish, but in the end she fought for love—she fought her fears, her past, and her knee-jerk reactions to withdraw into herself. Irish was likeable from the beginning, and though he was intent on having Kat, he was remarkably gallant and patient with her. How can you not love a big heart like that? Plus, it’s pretty obvious that Irish’s profession and younger outlook on life was to fight for a living, but until Kat, nobody had fought for him...for Irish. Sigh.
Kat wanted to weep for the man she loved. A man so tough he brought men to heel with only a few words and others to their knees when words weren’t enough.
And yet for all his toughness, the one thing completely soft on him was his heart. She’d seen him treat women, coworkers, and even kittens with kindness and tenderness prone to the gentlest of souls. It was that part of him she fell in love with. The part that saw a scarred woman afraid of a man’s touch and patiently retrained her body and mind to not just accept his touch, but to crave it. For that alone she could have loved him. Lucky for her, there were dozens of other reasons as well.
“You didn’t give up on me, and now I’m not giving up on you.”
I hope my son grows up with an open approach to life, and that he views the potential of love as an exciting pursuit rather than as Nessie does with Rule #1: Never fall in love.
I also hope you’ll consider checking out Gina Maxwell’s Fighting for Love series; read it for the romance, but keep it for the sexy heroes.
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and this year her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.