Best of My Love (Fool’s Gold #20)
HQN Books / April 26, 2016 / $8.99 print, $6.99 digital
Can a man and a woman just be friends? And that doesn’t mean “friends with benefits.” Aiden and Shelby have every reason to get off the dating treadmill: Aiden because he’s been accurately labeled as the town hound dog, and more importantly, he’s learned that his carefree approach to dating transient tourists has caused pain to more than his reputation. An old flame returned to see him and Aiden couldn’t remember her name. As he tells Shelby,
“I didn’t like what I saw in her face. I’m sorry I hurt her. I’m sorry I’ve become that kind of guy. I want to do better. I have to change. I never meant to hurt anybody. That was the point. No one was supposed to get hurt.”
Shelby doesn’t trust men. She has horrific memories of her brutal father which have left her unable to lower her guard with men who might be romantic partners for her. Given that she wants to get married some day and have children, she has to conquer her fear of men before dating again.
Aiden and Shelby are two of the most organized protagonists ever. Aiden runs a year-round outdoor adventure program that caters to novices and outdoor experts alike. It may seem relaxed and spontaneous to participants, but Aiden is a careful, cautious, hands-on CEO. Likewise baker Shelby lives on a tight schedule, getting up early every day to produce delicious treats for her appreciative fans in town.
Half the fun is watching these two hammer out a friendship agreement that leaves little to chance. They’ll be just friends, “without the complication of the whole boy-girl thing.” The leopard inside Aiden isn’t changing his spots that automatically—“nothing else?”
“Nothing,” she said firmly. “We’ll do stuff and talk and you’ll see that women are more than a booty call and I won’t be scared anymore.”
It’s the “stuff” they do that’s really a hoot. Aiden gets taken to a baby shower. Does he think it’s weird? You bet. The theme is butterflies and from plates to balloons, to centerpieces to a cake in the shape of a butterfly, he’s ensconced in a sugar-filled, pink estrogen bubble. He returns the favor by taking her to his regular Texas Hold ‘Em game. Aiden tells Shelby to read up on the basics of the game.
“Yes, sir. I guess there’s not going to be any talking.”
“And nothing pink.”
“We’ll be playing at The Man Cave. There’s a bar. You can order a cosmo if you want.”
She laughed again. “I’ll be the only one drinking that.”
They continue to create patterns together that are new. Aiden falls for a Bichon Frise that’s the opposite of traditional (alpha) man’s best friend. Charlie is a dog that needs a sweater to venture outside. Shelby goes into the wilderness without a glamping, chichi manicured campsite to relax into at the end of the day. In scenes that bring Bull Durham to mind, they give each other regular pedicures!
It’s all very delightful, yet Mallery succeeds in underpinning their friendship with some serious issues. Aiden and Shelby are afraid of really letting someone get inside their heads (and hearts). Will they still be loved if their deepest secrets are revealed? As time passes and barriers fall, how could they not begin to fall for each other?
Wanting struck him like lightning, burning hot and bright. His breath caught in his throat as the need grew. She fit him perfectly . . . And then there was the kiss.
Her mouth was everything he’d hoped for. Hot and sweet and willing.
Aiden thinks how happy Shelby’s laugh makes him—she’s his friend. But just thinking that changes everything.
Friend. The word was like a bucket of ice water. He drew back slightly, breaking the kiss and resting his forehead on hers.
For friends to become lovers, both of them will have to take a leap of faith. Rarely does a romance explore the friendship part of the equation as thoroughly and enjoyably as does Best of My Love. It’s a worthy addition to the Fool’s Gold canon.
Learn more about or order a copy of Best of My Love by Susan Mallery, out now:
Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers—I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.