Happily Ever After
Touchstone / March 18, 2014 / $15.00 print, $10.93 digital
In this sexy contemporary romance, an erotic novelist meets the fictional hero of her most recent book in real life, and must decide whether she wants to get him back between the pages—or between her sheets.
At forty-six, Sadie Fuller's life isn't exactly the stuff of romantic fiction. A divorced, overweight, somewhat sexually frustrated mother of an eleven-year-old, she lives in the suburbs, shops the big box stores, makes small talk with her small-minded neighbors, and generally leads a quiet life. But while her daughter is at school, or when Sadie is up late at night, she writes erotic fiction under the name KT Briggs.
Then, during a routine shopping trip, Sadie runs into someone familiar...too familiar, in fact. She encounters an incredibly handsome man exactly like the one in her imagination—and her latest novel. Is Aidan Hathaway really one of her characters? And if so, what is he doing in Target? As Sadie tries to negotiate this strange new world, her eyes begin to open to romantic possibilities in places she never dreamed of looking...places where Happily Ever After might not be so far-fetched after all.
If you’re a writer, it’s hard to resist a writer as a protagonist, let alone a romance novelist. But you don’t need to have experience staring down a blank page or following strangers for fictional fodder to appreciate the wacky charm of Elizabeth Maxwell’s debut novel Happily Ever After, about 46-year-old divorced single mom Sadie Fuller, writer of romances and far racier erotic romances (as K.T. Briggs), whose hot, rich alpha male hero comes to life before her very eyes. Oh, and there’s the little matter of the scene from her work in progress that manages to write itself overnight, without any help from her (if only we could all wake up to such wonders!).
The story takes them from the ultra suburban aisles of Target, where Sadie happens upon a bewildered man who looks like he’s been in a fight and has no idea where he is. She does her best to rescue him and bring back where he belongs—wherever that is. The delicious dialogue before she figures it out is amusing.
“Are we going to your bedroom?” Harry asks as we head down the hall.
“No!” I bark. “I said office.”
I stop short.
“Look,” I say. “You and I, we’re not going to have sex. Not now. Not later.” You belong in the realm of fantasies. Reality would just ruin it.
“Really?” he asks.
“No one has ever said that to me before.” He’s utterly perplexed.
“The only thing I want,” I say, “is to figure out who you are and deliver you back to your people.”
The plot only gets more twisted, as other characters, some from Sadie’s unpublished novels, some from her latest manuscript, come to life, cast spells, and try to derail her life—compounded by the fact that Sadie herself set the seeds for the events that unfold. “Harry” turns out to be her hero Aidan, who’s involved in his own problematic love triangle. It’s an outlandish story that starts off with the mundane double life of a lonely woman with a regular Friday morning sex date, and takes off into a paranormal chase in which Sadie has to reconceptualize everything she thinks she knows about her characters, and herself.
Maxwell’s observations about her author narrator are a fascinating meta peek into the hoops writers have to jump through to please readers (Sadie deals with some very persnickety feedback when she fails at this). The exploration of how Sadie came up with her characters, whether based on people she knows or those she happens upon, and how they take on a life of their own, is entertaining and woven smoothly into the sometimes madcap plot. When Sadie has to listen to them flesh out the backstories she’s given them, embellishing them in ways their creator never could have cooked up, it’s a delight to go along with her puzzling out just who these people are now that they are living, breathing beings.
One can get so caught up on the drama surrounding her characters you almost forget about Sadie’s own romantic travails. When her Friday hookup, Jason, decides he wants something more, he steps up and proves himself far more worthy than he’d previously seemed:
“I really like you, Sadie. Actually, it’s more than really liking you. I think about you all the time. I imagine you with me. I see things and wonder what you’d say about them. I hear you laughing. I miss you six days out of seven. I know our arrangement is about sex, but I’m sorry. I can’t help the way I feel. And more importantly, I don’t want to. I don’t even want to try.”
I blush. A rosy, warm glow fills me in a way at once unfamiliar and comforting. I have been here before, haven’t I? or am I just remembering scenes jotted down on scraps of paper? I put down my wineglass and take Jason’s hands in mine. They’re soft and able and weathered. They are not unlike mine. I put one to my cheek and hold it there, aware he’s waiting for a response.
Before I answer, I want to take a moment and bask in the feeling. I want to explore its soft edges, its whispers, its racing heart. I want to remember how it can change my face, brighten the darkness behind my eyes. I want to remember it because as soon as I open my mouth, I’m going to blow it all to hell.
The only false note comes in the form of Sadie’s gay ex-husband, whom I found a little too stereotypical. But Maxwell more than makes up for this with the way she weaves the fictional stories Sadie has crafted over the years into her real life. Do you have to suspend disbelief? Yes, but it’s the most wonderful form of it, as both fictions—Sadie’s books and Maxwell’s love story—weave their way toward a resolution. Sadie is a woman used to letting go only on the page, and here she has to pay attention to the plots she’s written but realize she cannot control every aspect of her life, or anyone else’s. She’s an entertaining, charming heroine, and Maxwell gives her far more than her own—and our—happily ever after; she offers a glimpse behind the curtain into the writing life and the ways fantasy can aid and abet reality.
Learn more or order a copy of Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Maxwell, available March 18, 2014:
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories; Only You: Erotic Romance for Women; Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and others. She tweets @raquelita and blogs at Lusty Lady.