As I read Donna Alward’s Summer Escape With the Tycoon, I realized that I enjoy romance where the main characters are at a crossroads, out of their element/comfort zone, or about to embark on a fresh start. This context can make them more open to love, but also more vulnerable and uncertain. Alward is particularly adept at this theme. In Summer Escape, for example, heroine Molly Quinn has bid on and won her first alone-time vacation in years. At 29, she practises family law in her father’s law firm, thus far, her life dedicated to a career that pleases her parents. Eric Chambault, who carried the burden of his family’s welfare when their father abandoned them, has made financial good, so good his now ex-wife has taken 30 meagre millions in their divorce. He doesn’t care about the money, but the failure of his marriage and his ex-wife’s reasons for it (his absence and workaholism) have left him questioning his choices. Like Molly, he bid on the same silent auction holiday at the same charity event. Months later, when he mistakenly ends up in Molly’s hotel room and glimpses her in the tub, well, it’s a priceless meet-cute. The room issue is cleared up, but their vacation-journey through British Columbia’s natural beauty throws them together time and again, especially as they’re the only singles on the luxury trip.
Without her busy schedule and obligation to family, Molly questions her dedication to a dissatisfying career. Molly is a good “girl”: she fulfilled her parents’ wishes by doing well in school, joining the family firm, and working non-stop to make a success of herself and add to the firm’s already significant renown. Her BC-vacation sees her admit truths she hadn’t dared before: ” That was it, she realized. Following the rules, following the path that had been laid out before her, hadn’t made her a good person. The truth was, she didn’t really know who she was, other than a good lawyer.” What I loved about Molly is her desire to do good, not just to be good. Molly’s journey to find a new way to practise lawy, working for the vulnerable, underprivileged, and under-represented is one of the many pleasures of Alward’s lovely romance.
The other, of course, is the growing friendship, affection, and romance she shares with Eric. They bond over vacation activities (like the hair-raising, yet exhilerating zip-lining), the surrounding natural beauty, but especially their work: ” ‘We both deal with The End.’ She plucked another olive and chewed it thoughtfully. ‘You buy up businesses in trouble. I dissolve relationships in trouble.’ ” Eric, like Molly, is high-powered and successful, an expert at disbanding flagging businesses. Either way, Molly is right: their work, no matter how successful they are, is about failure. Molly’s thoughtfulness (I loved how she likened Eric to Pretty Woman‘s Edward Lewis) and reconsideration of her career, and the changes she makes, inspire some changes in Eric as well. But the novel mainly focusses on their budding closeness, the pleasures of relaxing in natural splendor, and using their bodies in outdoor activities rather than sitting in meetings and before screens. They share joy, beauty, adventure, delicious food, and intimate conversation. Eventually, they become lovers and begin to think about how much they mean to each other and whether their relationship can go beyond its “vacation fling” status.
Among the many things Eric and Molly talk about, the vulnerabilities they carry from their childhoods feature significantly. That they can share them points to their growing trust: “He nodded. ‘Yeah. Why is it stuff that happened when we were kids seems to leave such an indelible mark?’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe because when we’re kids, we don’t have the experience or maturity to deal with it, and we just carry it with us to deal with later.’ ‘Well, it sucks.’ ” Those very vulnerabilities bring about the romance’s dark moment. The betrayal is organic to what we know of the characters, but it is abrupt and rings harsh in such a gentle book. The reconciliation, on the other hand, is wunderbar! With Miss Austen, we find in Alward’s Summer Escape “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Donna Alward’s Summer Escape With the Tycoon is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on June 4th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.