Miss Bates has been reading rom long enough, ten years to date, that it’s harder and harder to find a new-to-her category author (category being her primary romance consumption). BUT Amy Andrews is new to Miss Bates and she’s sorry she took as long as she did to read her. There was much to like about Andrews’s Swept Away By The Seductive Stranger and the title wasn’t it. The characters, their conflicts, inner and outer, the setting, and their surprisingly honest and realistic romance were.
Nurse Felicity Mitchell is fulfilling the dream of a life-time riding the Indian-Pacific rail to Adelaide when she meets and is attracted to Callum Hollingsworth. Though neither are one-night-stand aficionados, their overwhelming attraction, during dinner with the retirees they share the train with, it appears will lead them to share their deliciously cramped overnight berths. A medical emergency puts a stop to their soon-to-be-tryst and reveals their respective professions as nurse and doctor, respectively. Nevertheless, the post-adrenaline restlessness following the medical emergency’s resolution has them share a night of never-to-be-repeated passion between “strangers on a train”. With the inevitable hokey coincidence of the romance novel plot, it turns out the strangers on the train will soon be co-workers in the clinic, as Callum appears at Nurse Felicity’s Vickers Hill clinic to take over for two months while one of their doctors goes on maternity leave.
Though the mystique of rail-amore is well done and one-night-stand mystery most entertaining, Andrews’s romance’s strength lies in her depiction of the aftermath. Because her characters’ behaviour is out-of-character: they’re more vulnerable and compelling than their rendez-vous indicates. Callum is a doctor whose career has taken a bad turn: his sense of self as a hot, up-coming, prestigious surgeon plummetted and taking a position as a locum tenens is a step down. Felicity is in a better place: she’s happy in her job and connection to her patients, small-town life, friendships, and family. But her amour-propre suffered a blow when her years-long relationship dissolved. Having a one-night stand is out-of-character, but Miss Bates appreciated that Felicity didn’t beat herself up for it. She revelled in the experience, but knows herself sufficiently to realize it’s not something emotional satisfying: “She’d been okay with acting so wildly outside her usual character when it had been one-off. And she’d been fine to walk away from it and get back to the life she knew, loved, and understood.” She needs more than sex, but isn’t guilty over the glorious sex she had.
Andrews does two wonderful things in building Felicity and Callum’s relationship: firstly, she makes their attraction earthy and raw, but also subtly makes their physicality more than what Miss Bates calls sinews and globes. Andrews draws on laughter and smiles as the way these two connect physically and, when they do notice each other’s bodies, the laughter comes first and Felicity looks at Callum as much as Callum looks at Felicity. Here’s one example: ” … he laughed again, throwing his head back. It was full and hearty with enough rumble to fill a race track. It rained down in thick, warm droplets and Felicity wanted to take her clothes off and get soaking wet.” Isn’t that marvelous, prose-, character-, and narrative-wise?
The second, clever, interesting thing Andrews does is, and Miss Bates adored this aspect of the romance, is make Felicity and Callum’s medical philosophies polar opposites and the source of their conflict. Felicity, affectionately known as “Flick” by the community she serves, is an emotionally-attached nurse. She cares about her patients as people and doesn’t see them as “cases,” as Callum does. When Callum brings his big-city, big-important-doctor ‘tude to her elderly and vulnerable patients, it enrages Felicity and makes her beautifully snarky to Callum’s clueless emotional obliviousness. Here’s a snippet of what Miss Bates means:
“Looks like we’re going to both get an early mark,” he said, glancing at his watch, clearly pleased with himself. She didn’t want a damn early mark. She wanted her patients to feel like they were more than a body part or some medical problem to cure or treat.
Felicity lets her ire rip at Dr. Efficiency and it’s a blast. She also changes him … for the better, as Callum comes to see things medically her way. But first, Miss Bates loved how Callum is just, well, jealous of how patients respond to Felicity: ” … there was one thing he’d learned in his few short days at the practice – Felicity could do no wrong. Everyone loved Felicity … She was a freaking saint.” Felicity’s officious “handling” of Dr. Bottom-Line is a hoot: ” ‘These people know me. They trust me. They’re often wary of strangers and prefer talking to a nurse about their issues over a doctor. They might be suspicious of you. Just try to … ‘ Callum thought she was going to say ‘not screw it up’ but she continued, ‘Stay in the background, okay?’ ” In time, Callum’s pride gives way to what Felicity has to teach him and he learns to appreciate the human touch, eventually realizing this makes him a better doctor, a better person, or, as Felicity notes,”compassion was always going to trump competence and looking great in glasses.”
Felicity and Callum have to work out a professional relationship and, in the process, become good friends. But their attraction and genuine liking cannot hold out against their stronger feelings. Felicity, as she is about all things emotional, is the savvier and stronger of the two, as she admits: “She was an emotional person – she liked to be invested and committed to the men she dated.” But Callum is fixated on his need to return to Sydney and be the success he was. Can you see the betrayal in the romance distance, dear reader? And the heroine-vindication?
Andrews’s Swept Away has its flaws: frankly, the love scenes are a tad squeaky for Miss B. and the hero’s lightning-fast realization and insufficient grovel make for an abrupt ending. Nevertheless, the conflict and romance development up to that point are really marvelous. These two feel like adults and their ability to work out a relationship post-HEA is totally believable because of their commitment to each other and the community. With her reading companion, Miss Austen, Miss Bates deems Andrews’s Swept Away By the Seductive Stranger indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Amy Andrews’s Swept Away By the Seductive Stranger is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on October 2016 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, via Netgalley.