The_One_You-Can't_ForgetI enjoyed the first in Roni Loren’s series “The Ones Who Got Away”, centred on a group of school-shooting survivors as they heal from the past and find love, twelve years after the shooting. I thought the first was great and looked forward to the second, the here named The One You Can’t Forget. Though heroine Rebecca Lindt is the high school shooting survivor, the hero is a survivor of a sort too: from loss, financial ruin, divorce, and alcoholism. Between the two of them, you’d think Loren’s novel’d be a misery-fest. While it’s a serious novel about serious things, it’s also funny, hopeful, and sexy.

We met Rebecca Lindt in the series début, The Ones Who Got Away, as the stiff, cool prom queen to the heroine’s sexy wild child persona. But Rebecca was Liv Arias’s great love’s prom date: Finn may have put Rebecca on his arm, but he was kissing Liv in the supply closet … when tragedy struck. In the first book, Finn and Liv are reunited lovers and Rebecca is the rejected girl next door. Loren more than makes up for Rebecca’s losses by giving her Wes Garrett, tattooed chef extraordinaire. I thought, from Loren’s spectacular start, that I would love The One You Can’t Forget more than The Ones Who Got Away … but nope, the latter still edges out the former, but the former came very very close. Part of that was thanks to a spectacular “meet-cute”, which wasn’t so cute, but definitely memorable.

After a tough day at her law firm, Rebecca Lindt is wending her way home with a bag of chicken marsala (which I’m convinced is Loren’s nod to Crusie) and a bottle of wine when two teen muggers hold a gun to her head and take her purse. In flies the stray dog she moments ago shared garlic bread with, the soon-to-be-named Knight, to tackle the teens, but the gun goes off and Knight is injured. Knight II comes to the rescue: Mister Tall, Blonde, and Handsome, Wes Garrett. Cops are called, statements made, and, at Rebecca’s insistence, Dog-Knight goes to the vet, who happens to be Wes’s brother. Stranded without house or car keys, Wes drives Rebecca home and stays with her while the locksmith does his thing.

Post-mugging-vet-locksmith, Rebecca and Wes share a visceral physical attraction. I credit Loren for not making me think “insta-lust!” by writing great banter/convos and previous-to-this celibate lives for her protagonists. Rebecca’s whole focus has been her career and dedication to helping her dad’s law firm and political career. Wes has clawed his way back from a wild past: teen delinquency, divorce, alcoholism, the loss of what would’ve been a star restaurant, and financial ruin. Neither is looking for serious, both may be up for fun, friendship, and added benefits – until Wes realizes that Rebecca was the divorce lawyer who helped Wes’s ex ruin his life and Rebecca realizes Wes is the cheating negligent bad boy who glared at her across the divorce proceedings table.

Wes and Rebecca part not terribly amicable ways. Loren cleverly employs the tried, true, and beloved romance convention of “pride and prejudice” to bring these two back together. Before we know it, Wes and Rebecca are working together on a charity project. After his acrimonious divorce, Wes remade himself by becoming a cooking teacher at the Brant Street Youth Program, teaching at-risk teens to cook and possibly make a life for themselves with viable careers that require business acumen and kitchen mojo. Loren shows how Wes and Rebecca grow to like, respect, and understand each other so much better in wonderful exchanges comprised of delightful banter, hot kissing, and a mutual cause. When they finally burn up the sheets, it feels right and honest.

But Wes and Rebecca’s snarling wolves of the past come scratching at their door to disturb their no-strings peace. Loren’s character growth focusses particularly on Rebecca. The night of the Long Acre HS prom shooting haunts Rebecca and the mugging brings on what has been latent PTSD. But Rebecca’s trauma isn’t only made of bad memories, it’s made of terrible, crippling guilt. Wes, on the other hand, is a man whose reticent heart has been engaged by Rebecca’s openness to helping his teens, her commitment to doing the right thing, her humour, intelligence, and red-headed charm. Though he’d vowed to keep it sealed, his heart is full-throttle engaged. When he confesses as such, Rebecca runs because all that guilt and fear have come home to roost.

Loren does a great job of showing us how two vulnerable, likeable people cannot treat their friendship and affection as throwaways to sexual compatibility. I thought that Loren’s melodramatic reckoning for her likeable protagonists stretched my immersion and belief in her story. But I also realized, in thinking about how I was pulled out of the story when the sentimentality became too much, that romance often does that. It uses contrived circumstances to bring the hero’s and heroine’s unguarded emotional exposure in light of their love for each other and, in this case, of unresolved past trauma, to make their way to the HEA. We all too often condemn the genre for the convention without sufficiently crediting it for the resolution of psychic wounds, the healing of traumas, and the vision of commitment, love, and fidelity.

In the end, I thought that the reunited lovers of Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away were a modicum more successful than her no-way-friends-with-benefits in The One You Can’t Forget. Nevertheless, this is a wonderfully conceived and developped series and I’m already looking forward to number three, The One You Fight For. Suffice to say, for now, that Miss Austen and I would say that The One You Can’t Forget offers “real comfort,” Emma.

Roni Loren’s The One You Can’t Forget is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released on June 5th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.