I loved reading Thomas’s The Hollow Of Fear, but I was more-than-happy to sink into a thorough romance-romance, emotional, sexy, with a clear line to the HEA, littered with dark little moments. Though the day-job continues to be an albatross, I took a lot of time in my evenings to finish Kelly’s Just This Once, book three in The Wedding Date series. Like the others, Just This Once opens with the hero at the previous book’s hero and heroine’s wedding; it concludes with his own. A premise that’s a tad twee, but I forgive because the novels often win me over. In Just This Once, hotel-owning-rich-boy hero, Sean Wyse of the Chicago Hotel Wyse chain, is best-manning his guy best friend’s wedding, Max Brandt’s. His side-kick and ever wedding date is the friend of his heart and youth, Max’s younger sister, Molly. Sean and Molly’s friendship is immature, but kind of fun. He teases, she torments; they pretty much behave like two teens who secretly harbor crushes and take them out in silly pranks. Everyone in their friendship circle, the past and future heroes and heroines of Kelly’s series, look upon their shenanigans with affection and amusement. The silliness being given a critical nod, I liked how Kelly also built in true camaraderie, compatibility, and affection into the group’s relationships and a lovely tenderness between Sean and Molly, despite the occasional sophomoric behaviour.
While Max and Sarah marry, Sean has set in motion a protective action that he knows will have Molly going ballistic. He and Max have been on her case to kick out her freeloading roommate, which her softie heart resists. Sean has paid him off to leave and, with his hotel condo under renovation, has set himself up as Molly’s roommate, ensuring that the money she needs comes in the form of his rent money to her. Though Sean and Molly have always shared a physically affectionate relationship, the proximity of living together cracks the veneer of “just friends” to expose their friendship’s “in love” aspect that neither confronts. Once this sets in, Kelly’s novel moves from sophomoric to sexy gravitas, with vulnerabilities, fears, and needs on Molly and Sean’s parts that make for a much better second half to the novel.
Molly and Sean are likeable characters, especially when we get to know what motivates them to keep their friendship only a friendship, or when attraction and desire overtake them, friends with benefits. Benefits only doesn’t last long as neither is emotionally frivolous when it comes to the other. Sean is a man who has grown up in a cold, calculating family; his outlet for affection, family-feeling, and care has always been his friendship with Molly, Jase, Max, Brody, and now their wives. In particular, his friendship with Molly is his “I-can-be-me” safe space. He doesn’t want to jeopardize that. Molly, on the other hand, has kept her love for Sean and broken heart forEVAH. She wants him, but doesn’t want to lose his friendship. Moreover, the “class” particular to their lives plays a role in their now-more-complex relationship. Molly didn’t grow up destitute, but she definitely has to work hard to manage a viable living. Indeed, she works three jobs: creating websites, running her own cleaning company and doing a lot of the cleaning herself, and working nights at Brody’s bar. When she and Sean become lovers, her social and economic status insecurities see her keeping Sean at an emotional distance. It’s difficult to pull off a contemporary cross-class romance, but Kelly has done so. In an America where money is all, but class lines are still blurry “friendship-wise”, I believed Molly’s hesitations.
What begins as a fluffy rom-com turns into something a lot more interesting. The money issues between Molly and Sean aren’t dismissed. A hint of them lies in Sean’s cavalier assumption, to start, that he can take care of Molly’s money problems by bulldozing his way into her financial needs and fixing them. His original actions will come to haunt him, as their relationship transforms into something profound and necessary. While Sean looks like someone with some dick moves, Kelly manages to balance a great ratio of sexy alpha with emotional vulnerability in his characterization. Sean may be confident in the bed and boardroom, but his emotional vulnerability makes him all kinds of adorable. Molly, on the other hand, is emotionally-savvy, great at taking care of herself, and navigating Sean’s needs with her own sense of self and independence. She is helpless before her inferior social and economic status and Sean has to find a way to win her without sacrificing her dignity. It makes for a wonderful HEA. I loved the first in the series, May the Best Man Win, with its sparring protagonists; I wasn’t that crazy about the second, The Wedding Date Bargain, and adored Just This Once, the third. Am anticipating number four! With Miss Austen, we say that Just This Once is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Mira Lynn Kelly’s Just This Once is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released on October 2nd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley of Just This Once from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.