Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

>> Friday, March 30, 2007

After the wonderful Match Me If You Can, I realized I should read Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books immediately. Plus, the beaver suit excerpt from Natural Born Charmer that was after MMIYC kept playing in my mind.

Chicago Stars quarterback Dean Robillard is the luckiest man in the world. But life in the glory lane has started to pale, and Dean has set off on a trip to figure out what's gone wrong. When he hits a lonely stretch of Colorado highway, he spies something that will shake up his gilded life in ways he can't imagine. A young woman . . . dressed in a beaver suit.

Blue Bailey is on a mission. As for the beaver suit she's wearing . . . Is it her fault that life keeps throwing her curve balls? Witness the expensive black sports car pulling up next to her on the highway and the Greek god stepping out of it.

They're soon heading for his summer home, where their already complicated lives and inconvenient attraction to each other will become entangled with a charismatic but aging rock star; a beautiful, fifty-two-year-old woman trying to make peace with her rock and roll past; an eleven-year-old who desperately needs a family; and a bitter old woman who hates them all.
Does this woman lace the pages of her books with crack? Again, I didn't want to close one of hers. As the pile of pages remaining got smaller and smaller, I kept wishing more would magically appear. An A-.

Dean Robillard first showed up in MMIYC, the hot new football player Heath wants to sign and who becomes friends with Annabelle. From the very beginning, I was completely charmed. My reaction to SEP's heroes are usually more in line with how I felt about Heath, in that book: I always want to kick their asses first, but as the book progresses, they win me over. With Dean, it was nothing like that. It was love at first sight, in spite of his being a God's-gift-to-women type.

As NBC starts, Dean is heading to the farm he's bought in East Tennessee. Life is great: he's at the top of his game, he's got money to burn and women want him. But this is not as exciting as it was at the beginning, and so he's bought himself a place to regroup and relax. The house is still under renovation, but since his housekeeper seems to have that under control, he still expects to be able to rest.

As Dean is driving across Colorado, he's astonished to see a young woman in a beaver suit walking along the road. By this point, Dean is a bit bored, so he gives her a ride and witnesses her confrontation with her ex. When he finds out the young woman, Blue Bailey, is completely broke, Dean accepts to give her a ride to a bigger town. After all, as I said, he's bored, and also Blue is very cute and sexy under her combatively non-cute, non-sexy clothes.

Blue ends up travelling with Dean all the way to the farm in Tennessee, and once he sees what's waiting for him there, he refuses to let Blue leave.

See, Dean has a secret. He's the son of a rock and roll legend and a groupie, and this has left him with some understandable abandonment issues. His father, "Mad Jack" Patriot, was never part of his life, other than paying child support. Dean didn't even find out who he was until he was in his teens, and even after that, they only met a couple of times. As for his mother, April was an addict and a groupie who spent her life following musicians and sleeping with them. Let's just say this didn't make Dean's childhood particularly stable or secure. Oh, financially, it was ok, but not emotionally. So when he grew up, Dean separated himself completely from his parents. He found success completely on his own and he likes it that way. Both parents have tried to bring about a rapprochement with him, but he wants nothing to do with them.

But when he arrives to his house, he receives a big surprise. The mysterious housekeeper who's managing his renovation for him, and with whom he's never managed to speak on the phone, turns out to be his own mother. April has been clean for years now. She's rebuilt her life and after a few abortive tries, she's finally resigned herself to the fact that she can't fix her relationship with her son. But before she gives up for good, she wants to do something for him... give him a gift, basically. Thus her hard work on his house.

Dean still wants nothing to do with her. His first impulse is to send her away, but it soon becomes clear that if she's not there, the renovation will go to hell, and so he allows her to stay. But he still doesn't want any contact with her, and for that, he needs a buffer. And since Blue is right there...

But then things get even more complicated. First Riley shows up. Riley's Dean's half-sister, Jack's daughter from his marriage to a country star. Her mom has just died, and Riley has been pretty much left alone among people who care nothing about her, so she runs away to meet the brother she's not supposed to know is her brother. And then Mad Jack comes after Riley, and the four of them end up spending time on the farm, and almost against their will, slowly repairing their damaged relationships.

And as this happens, Blue and Dean are building theirs. Blue understands Dean's issues perfectly, because her childhood was similar, in a way. Only Blue doesn't feel comfortable accepting she's angry about it, because her mom didn't abandon her for drugs or sex, but to save the world.

I guess you can tell from my (very long *sigh*) description that there's some heavy emotional stuff going on here. Mad Jack and April have hurt each other and their children, and Blue, Dean and Riley have been deeply hurt by their parents. The healing and reconciliation are heart-wrenching, as well as very, very satisfying.

The only reason this doesn't get too heavy is that SEP has written her story with her trademark humour. This is not the laugh-a-minute book the first scene with the beaver-suit might suggest, but there's still plenty of incredibly funny stuff to lighten up things when they threaten to drag the book down. And the peace circles thing was almost as good as the cereal killer crack!

Now, how about the romance? I loved Dean and Blue together. The grumpy Blue was the perfect match for golden-boy Dean, just the right person he needed besides him. They're sweet and sexy and fun together.

I wasn't completely sold on the secondary romance, though. I never completely warmed to Jack, and I thought April deserved better than him. I liked that they'd forgiven each other, but I would have preferred April to get her HEA with someone else.

Even so, I loved practically every minute of this. I want a new SEP now!


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