Review. Alone With You, by Debbi Rawlins (Harlequin Blaze March 2014 Bundle)

Alone with You - Debbi Rawlins

I’m of two minds when it comes to road trip stories involving two characters who start off at odds with one another but by the end become best friends/fall in love. On the one hand, I can’t help but think that there’s some weird variation of Stockholm Syndrome happening, turning almost enemies into soulmates. On the other hand, it’s a strangely believable outcome: after all, several days of travel adds up to the equivalent of a handful of dates, which we normally accept as enough time to decide whether we want to spend more time with the person we’ve been seeing. So for now, I’ll forget about my usual “instalove” qualms, because Alone With You was a fairly enjoyable read, although it had a couple of plot issues that threw me off the story near the end.

What I liked most about this book was the great chemistry between Lexie and Tanner. They bicker, tease, and manipulate each other, and have some great dialogue and steamy scenes in the process. Both characters are estranged from their fathers, the black sheep of their families, and able to continually surprise one another by tearing down their assumptions about the other.

I have to admit that at first I didn’t like Lexie. I found her career ambitions, and the groveling she was willing to do, really annoying. And the opening scene, where she asks her father to bring her into the family business, made me feel as if I’d been dropped into an episode of Dallas or Dynasty: the highrise office building; the names (Marshall, Alexis, and Harrison Worthington!); the conniving family members; and, of course, lots and lots of money. Mostly, I couldn’t understand why she wanted so much to be part of her family’s company. Yes, I know that she had fallen on hard times, and that her last name apparently made her unemployable in whatever her field of work was (although I had a hard time believing this detail). But when you can’t work in one field, you cross over to another; many of us have done it when the opportunities in our original career dry up.

But Lexie did eventually grow on me. She comes from a wealthy family, but (as Tanner points out many times) she doesn’t mind roughing it. She’s been on both sides of the fence, and is honest enough to admit that she prefers having money to being poor; so there’s no romanticizing the simple life on her part.

For his part, Tanner is also refreshingly realistic. He knows that his career is not going to last much longer, and has a fairly responsible personality. Also, I really like heroes who are gentlemen while also being alpha. Tanner is not willing to be pushed around, but he’s unfailingly courteous: he’s willing to accompany Lexie to Houston, especially once he understands she’s being punished by her father, but he’ll have nothing to do with the calendar. I think the subplot with the auction and poker game were a bit jarring considering what we know about him, but I was willing to go along with it because he was just a great character to hang out with.

So where did the story go wrong for me? Once again, I’m not sure whether it’s due to the original writing or the final editing, but I felt that some parts of Lexie’s family story were confusing, especially near the end of the novel. There are hints throughout Alone With You suggesting what Marshall Worthington is up to in sending Lexie on what is essentially a fool’s errand. There’s also a mysterious woman named Karina, who may or may not be involved with Harrison, but has been part of the calendar project. All this is supposed to come together at the end, but somehow it never did for me. At the end of the last chapter, Lexie has a moment of clarity and half-confronts her father, but she never states what her revelation was, and I was left feeling really dumb for not being able to figure it out. What was Mr. Worthington’s nefarious plan? Was there ever one?

I’m also not sure whether Lexie ever came clean about Tanner’s contract with The Worthington Group. She spent much of the novel holding the threat of a lawsuit over his head, and beating herself up for not telling him the truth, but I don’t remember an actual confession scene.

Finally, there’s the same rush to the finish line that I’d noticed in the two previous titles from this bundle. The epilogue is the requisite Happily Ever After, but is set far enough into the future of the characters that I was wondering about Tanner and J.D., and about Lexie and Harrison. Also, I found the last few lines of the book to be positively cringe-inducing in how stilted they were; they didn’t seem to come from the same author who had given us so many pages of witty and fun dialogue.

These issues were problematic enough to jolt me out of the story several times, but in general I enjoyed Lexie and Tanner’s story and felt that they worked well as a romantic couple. I was even willing to overlook the implausibility of Tanner just deciding to take a complete stranger on a road trip, and enjoy their fun and sexy ride.

One more book to go in this bundle! Next up: Unexpected Temptation, by Samantha Hunter.