Sarah M. Anderson’s His Forever Family has a dramatic opening and an intriguing premise. Chicago billionaire hero, Marcus Warren, and his executive assistant, Liberty Reese, are jogging along Lake Michigan. They’re sharing a near-banterish conversation about Marcus’s attendance at his ex-fiancée’s wedding. Liberty is urging him to find a date, then intuiting that he really doesn’t want to attend. Marcus is insistent on attending (because his mommy wants him to) while resisting selecting a date from the list his uber-efficient assistant compiled. He hits on the idea of taking Liberty. The reader senses that Liberty is afraid of Marcus’s social world, but we’re not yet privy to the reasons. Anderson balances witty dialogue with character revelations. We learn that Marcus is nervous about being attacked, distant from his self-serving parents, and yearns for love and belonging. We learn that Liberty’s beginnings are as far removed from her role in Marcus’s world as Lake Michigan is from Alaska. Into this complex little scene, Anderson drops a – BABY! – an abandoned baby, a foundling. Nearing Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain, Marcus hears a mewling and notes some strange movement. He drops to his knees, thinking it might be an abandoned kitten. He is shocked to discover ” … an African-American newborn in a shoe box by the trash can.” Liberty to the rescue! She cradles and croons to the baby, cools him off with their water bottles, and evokes warm, fuzzy, protective, and desirable feelings in Marcus.
Anderson’s His Forever Family is a tiny story in a category universe whose raison d’être is short books. Marcus and Liberty’s romance doesn’t take long to get off the ground. Liberty is reluctant to go to the wedding with Marcus. She’s attracted to him and likes him. Their baby rescue and subsequent visits with the lovely foster lady who cares for the baby bring them close, close enough physically and far enough from their office setting to elicit new and strange feelings and desires. Nevertheless, Liberty harbors SECRETS, secrets rendering her and Marcus an impossibility. She doesn’t want to jeopardize the life she’s built, with some security and plenty of comfort. As she says often enough, she “rescued herself”. Ah, but what did she need rescuing from? Liberty is the product of a drug-addicted mother, unknown father, myriad foster homes, and a biracial heritage. None of which she shares with Marcus. She is determined to resist him. She is determined that ” … she would never be that lost little girl ever again”.
Miss Bates so wanted to love Anderson’s His Forever Family. She thought it tackled some interesting themes: identity, attachment, family, heritage, especially as they’re entangled with self-worth and belonging. Instead, Miss Bates grappled with two problematic protagonists. Miss Bates could not abide Liberty’s self-effacing ways and self-put-downs. Her doubts about her worth and value were problematic. What should’ve been a point of pride was one of shame: “And what would Marcus think if he knew the truth about addict moms and foster homes and being an unwanted, unloved little girl? Would he still want to take her to this stupid wedding – or would he look at her and see an imposter who was not to be trusted?” Every time Liberty compares herself to Marcus, she is found lacking: ” … he was looking at … a nobody who dared to act as if she were a somebody.” Liberty lists everything she overcame as reasons why she’s unworthy of Marcus, when those are the very reasons he’s unworthy of her: “But Liberty had gone too far. She’d fallen in love with a billionaire … She’d gotten too close to the sun.”
While Liberty is self-shaming, Marcus doesn’t fare any better under MissB’s gimlet eye. Marcus is kind of a cool dude, funny, charming, and caring. It’s wonderful how he throws himself into the baby’s care, how he responds to Liberty’s tears, even when he doesn’t understand them. However, for a thirty-year-old, he sure is hung up on his mommy and daddy. Marcus has suppressed all desire for freedom, for choices, to go along with what his parents want for him. While he does their bidding, he seethes against them. He craves his mommy’s love, warmth, and affection, and is deeply hurt when she behaves as indifferently as she has for the past 25 years. Marcus’s inability to assert himself should have had Liberty, especially in light of her horrific childhood, doing Cher in Moonstruck “Snap out of it!” In a nutshell, it was difficult to like a heroine who’s self-deprecating to the point of humiliation. And it’s equally difficult to enjoy a hero who behaves like he’s twelve.
Yet, Miss Bates could not help but like His Forever Family for reasons other than the hero and heroine’s characterization. Anderson is a fine writer, smooth and witty, able to straddle humour and pathos with convincing skill. She sure does write a mean love scene. If you read His Forever Family for one reason, it’s for Anderson’s love scenes. There aren’t many, but the first one especially, manages to be both sexy and funny. Anderson has that rare rom quality of conveying her characters’ emotional states in loves scenes. Miss Bates didn’t love His Forever Family as much as Falling For Her Fake Fiancé, but with Miss Austen, says it’s “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Sarah M. Anderson’s His Forever Family is published by Harlequin. It was released on February 9th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.