Mar 31 2012 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Julie James’s About That Night (April 3, 2012)

About That Night by Julie JamesJulie James
About That Night
Berkley / April 3, 2012 / $7.99 print & digital

Though Rylann Pierce tried to fight the sparks she felt for billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes the night they met, their sizzling chemistry was undeniable. But after being stood up on their first date, Rylann never expected to see him again. So when she finds herself face to face with Kyle in a courthouse nine years later, she’s stunned. More troubling to the beautiful Assistant U.S. Attorney is that she’s still wildly attracted to him.

Just released from prison, Kyle Rhodes isn’t thrilled to be the star witness in a high-profile criminal case — but when Rylann comes knocking at his door, he finds she may be the one lawyer he can’t say no to. Still as gorgeous and sharp-tongued as ever, she lays down the law: she doesn’t mix business with pleasure. But Kyle won’t give up on something he wants — and what he wants is the one woman he’s never forgotten.

At its best, romantic comedy is a genre in which the protagonists, realistically drawn adults who are equals in mind, body, and spirit (although not always in social status) meet, engage in quips and ripostes, encounter obstacles (often their own confusion), and ultimately understand that the other is the right person for him/her. Sexual tension may be prevalent, but the relationship is not about sex; it’s about resolving conflicts and moving to a happy union of the lovers. This is the pattern of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship in Shakespeare’s  Much Ado About Nothing. It is the pattern of classic romantic comedy films such as It Happened One Night. It’s also the pattern of About That Night, the third book in Julie James’s FBI/U. S. Attorney series.

Rylann Pierce and Kyle Rhodes are graduate students at the University of Illinois when they meet in a bar at the end of spring semester. Kyle is taken by Rylann’s smile and strikes up a conversation with her. He walks her home, they banter, he literally gives her the shirt off his back, and they share a memorable kiss and make a date for the following night. Kyle never shows up because his mother is fatally injured in an automobile accident that day.

Nine years pass before Rylann and Kyle meet again. She is the newest Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, and he is the Twitter Terrorist. They meet in a Chicago courtroom for a judge to rule on a motion filed by the U. S. attorney’s office to reduce Kyle’s eighteen-month sentence to time served. This is romance, and one expects the chemistry between them to be potent. It is. But unlike characters in a novel more fantastical than realistic, Rylann and Kyle have not spent their years apart pining for their One True Love. They are adults, and they behave as adults reasonably do. Well, there is the one big exception in Kyle’s case, but generally my claim holds true.

Rylann leaves San Francisco for Chicago after the breakup of a three-year relationship that she expected to end in marriage. Kyle’s relationships have been more superficial with model-of-the-month girlfriends until his involvement with the Victoria’s Secret model who dumped him in a particularly humiliating way on Twitter. That breakup led to his getting drunk, which led him to hack into Twitter and crash the site for two days. Admittedly, this may seem like an extreme and unlikely response to a breakup, but Kyle is a computer genius, a cyber security expert, and the billionaire son of a billionaire computer security guy. Plus, romantic comedies inevitably require some suspension of disbelief. The point is that Rylann and Kyle go on with their lives when they are separated by circumstances, and their lives include other love interests.

These characters also have jobs, jobs that they care about. Rylann, with her five-year plan and twelve-year plan, may be more structured, but her passion for putting the bad guys behind bars is matched by Kyle’s commitment first to Rhodes Corporation and later to his own fledgling business. Kyle breakup with the Twitter dumper happens as a result of his refusal to put off a staff meeting when she drops in for a surprise visit. Rylann’s concern about what her boss and colleagues think about her relationship to an ex-con and former witness in one of her cases is one of the greatest obstacles the two have to overcome. Rylann’s first conscious thought after her first night with Kyle is of how out of character her behavior is, given her dedication to her job.

Meth lab Rylann didn’t mix business with pleasure. She didn’t do office romances, didn’t sleep with ex-witnesses, and she sure as hell didn’t have sex with ex-cons.

Three times.”

Their jobs are not pieces of background info, but a means for James to reveal things of significance about who her characters are.

 Rylann and Kyle also have other ties. Kyle is close to his father and his twin sister. He’s not enthusiastic about the new man in his sister’s life, but he makes an effort to connect with the man who will soon be his brother-in-law (A Lot Like Love). His closest friend has been a friend since their college days. He has a favorite professor from grad school. Rylann’s parents are in Florida for the winter, but she talks to her mother regularly, and she gives some thought to what her parents will think about her choices. Her best friend Rae is her former law school roommate. She likes her new boss (Cameron Lynde, heroine of Something About You) and becomes Starbuck’s buddies with one colleague. Also significant are changes in their friendships. Kyle’s time in prison shows him that some people are not friends, just acquaintances who attend his parties. Rylann discovers that a side effect of her breakup is losing the “couple friends” she shared with her ex.

Finally, despite About That Night being James’s hottest book to date with several graphic love scenes, the book is not about sex. The first meeting may be a bar pickup, but it is a sweet meet with a kiss and a souvenir shirt that travels with Rylann over the years. Both characters think of their first sexual encounter as a no-strings affair, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that they want much more from each other than the best sex of their lives. Kyle’s grand, romantic gesture is more important to the story than the bedroom scenes. And for me, the most perfect moment occurs after a kiss in a limousine:

“After a long while, he pulled back and she opened her eyes. And the look they shared felt more intimate than any other moment in all the nights they’d spent together.”

This is not the end. Obstacles must still be overcome, but it is a time of assurance. And the resolution and happy ending for this romantic comedy are only a few heartbeats away.


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.

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