All of Me, by Patricia Ryan

17 Jul

All of Me, by Patricia Ryan

Before there were Blazes, there were Harlequin Temptations. Then someone had the brilliant idea of introducing “spicier” novels to the line and the Temptation Blazes were born (tag line: “BLAZE—Red-hot reads from Temptation!”)

All of Me, which I believe to be my first story by Ms Ryan, was one of the line’s launching titles, back in the dark ages of 2000. The novel follows the relationship of innocent and beautiful Nora and experienced and debonair David. Here is the back cover blurb:

He wanted a rose in his lapel…

David Waite knew exactly how to please a woman, but he’s had enough of social climbers and users. His solution? “Arm candy”—a beautiful woman to accompany him, no strings attached, either emotional or sexual. Then he saw Nora, and had a sudden, sharp craving for sweets…

She was it

Nora Armstrong was a wholesome, virginal beauty fresh from the Midwest. Her cousin asked a favor—go out with David Waite. She couldn’t say no, any more than she could say no when David asked for a second date, and another. According to “arm candy” rules, she should have been safe, except David wanted to break the rules. Then Nora realized it was a risky business, being flavor of the month… and falling in love.

As the novel starts, Nora has just arrived to New York, fresh from (as a secondary character puts it) Sunnybrook Farm. Her older cousin, Harlan, moved there years earlier and has generously offered her shelter while she gets her bearings. Having just graduated from Art school, she’s hoping to make her mark as a jewel designer and maker. Unfortunately for her, Harlan has gotten himself into a bit of a jam with a man he’s wooing as a client for his event planning business.

David Waite is the man to go to for fundraising—in just a few years he has proven that he can extract money for charity from the most hardened Scrooges of New York’s high society. One of his functions takes place that very evening but David finds himself without a date—until Harlan offers to find him some arm candy for the night.

As Harlan explains to Nora, “I have no idea why he canceled it (his date). It’s tacky to interrogate someone you’re toadying up to. All I know is, he asked me if I could find him someone presentable but uncomplicated—‘a model type’ is how he put it—and being the opportunistic pilot fish that I am, I told him no problemo.” As luck would have it, none of Harlan’s contacts pan out, which leaves him begging Nora to pretend, for this one night in her life, to make the most out of her natural assets *cough* and pretend to be nothing but an empty headed but pretty shell.

While not happy about it, Nora can’t bring herself to refuse Harlan; not only is he taking her in for the time being, but through the years he’s always supported her dreams (with the occasional cash gift too). Mind, she knows he is too nice to ever bring that up, but still. And really, what’s one night, right?

Of course, things do not go quite as planned. Between some reluctant mutual attraction—and not just physical—and a meddlesome if well meaning friend, David and Nora end up getting to know each other better and, quite naturally falling for each other.

Which would be rather bland if that was all there is to it.

First, David is dead set against any emotional entanglement—his luck with women has gone from bad to dismal, falling time and again for scheming cold-hearted bitches whose only reason to date him has been his access to the powerful and wealthy. As far as he is concerned, being alone is much better than being used.

For her part, Nora has made a conscious choice to remain celibate until she falls in love—and then, only if he loves her back. Mind, she’s not judgemental of other people’s choices—while a bit surprised to find out that Harlan is homosexual, she’s not truly shocked, and doesn’t bat an eyelash upon learning that he and his boyfriend are living together. Remaining celibate is simply her choice, just as Harlan’s is to live with Kevin.

As David gets to know Nora better, he realizes that he can’t be that man for her—but there is no denying the physical attraction between them…

I really liked this novel. There were a few aspects of the background that felt dated, but mostly it felt fresh (which is really cool for a category romance written a decade ago).

I liked both main characters, equally. Yes, Nora is a bit… well, unrealistic (in my eyes, your mileage may vary) with the whole, “I’ll wait until the man I’ll love forever” yet necking *coughheavypettingcough* with David. Man is not made of stone after all, no matter how decent he is. And yes, there is a bit of the “it’s all my fault” sacrificial lamb thing there by the end, but it fits the character—it’s neither exaggerated (no one slashes her wrists, thanks) nor out of the blue (Nora has worried about it throughout the story).

David is a really cool character, even with his insecurities—and yes, that’s pretty much what it amounts to. I like that he grovels at the end (not as much as I would have liked, but then the book would be longer 😀 ) More, he acknowledges to himself and to Nora that he blew the whole thing out of proportion—that the one with the problem was him. Go, David!

I really, really like that the sexual relationship between these two follows a slow progression during a period of weeks—anything shorter would have made a mockery of Nora’s choice to remain a virgin (which is an issue that I often have with virginal heroines—they’ve supposedly resisted all advances for years and years, yet the hero cocks an eyebrow and that’s that, up in flames they go. Huh? Color me skeptical.)

I found the secondary characters to be really well done without having them take over the story. Most of them only appear in a handful of scenes each, but that’s more than enough for Ms Ryan to give the reader a colorful, accurate and deep portrait of each of them. A particular favorite, second only to Harlan, is Tom, the romance-novel-reading doorman at David’s building. How can you not love him after he explains (to David, who has just mocked all romances as ‘fairy tales’), “I said they’d be fairy tales if the happy ending just, like, came outa nowheres. You know, if, like, a fairy godmother made it happen, some bogus crap like that. But it’s the guy and the girl. They make it happen. (…) Both of them.”

The affection between Harlan and Nora is realistically portrayed—for example, Nora telling Harlan that she is growing to hate him as she’s getting ready to go out with David that first night.

I can analyze several aspects of the story and the writing and date them and/or criticize them, but in the end, it comes down to this: Ms Ryan’s writing pulled me in and didn’t let me come up for air until the last sentence was read.

All of Me gets 9 out of 10—and now I’m on the hunt for Ms Ryan’s backlist.

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