Survivor
by Mary Eason, contemporary (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-654-X


You may imagine that, with a title like Survivor, this one will certainly feature some kind of disease that will allow the heroine to shine triumphantly as a courageous and strong-willed person worthy of a TV movie as she valiantly deals with various painful treatments even as she weakly tries to fend off the devoted attention of a handsome, hard-bodied, and naturally wealthy beau because she doesn't want to be a burden to him. Well, you'd have guessed wrong because this is actually a rather conventional romance story despite its first person narration.

Grace Caldwell is a low-key temp worker in LoneStar Advertising, having worked there only for about six months and doing mostly grunt work that nobody else wants to do, when the company is taken over by the much bigger and more successful Severn Advertising. Normally this won't concern Grace much since she's not a full-time employee and she can always look for another job should she be dismissed, but the manager decides that Grace will the perfect executive assistant for Aaron Severn, the CEO and founder of Severn Advertising, when he comes down to oversee the "business transaction", let's just say. Susan, the manager, believes that Grace is perfect for the job since she is capable and also new enough to adapt to any changes that will be implemented once the buy-over is completed. Plus, Susan likes Grace and believes that such a position will allow Grace to stay in the company when other employees may get the walking papers once corporate restructuring inevitably takes place.

Grace isn't so sure whether she wants the job since she views her temp job as merely a way to pay the bills until a job in public relations comes along. She also doesn't like how the current management treats secretaries like her as nothing more than pretty furniture and she doubts that the new management will be any different. Ah, but Aaron Severn is hot, young (he's in his thirties), and wealthy as well as interested in Grace. If you ask me, that makes his flaws trivial, especially when a woman gets him to overlook a prenuptial agreement. Yes, yes, there are many other fish in the sea if this one turns out to be a stinker, but with that money, he's a big catch of a stinker and one can always go fishing later once the lawyers have done their job and taken the stinker to the cleaners. Not that Aaron is a stinker in any way, since he's the romance hero after all. He doesn't expect his personal assistant to make him coffee, much less do his personal errands or bend over the table for some office quickie.

Anyway, Aaron may be the more pleasant Armando Sáenz to her (not at all ugly) Beatriz Solano but Grace is not keen on emotional entanglements, given that her father walked out on her mother when the poor dear was dealing with breast cancer. As a result, hot office love may have to be put on hold, although not if Aaron has his way. Because Grace doesn't feel any great pressure about keeping her job, she can be pretty brassy in her attitude towards Aaron, often telling him off when she feels that he's being a mean and bad corporate wolf, but unfortunately for her, this only makes that man more attracted to her.

Grace can be on the naïve side at times, especially when it comes to running a business and having to perform necessary corporate downsizing, which makes her "Oh, you're so mean!" antics towards Aaron more annoying than admirable if you ask me. Indeed, throughout the story, Grace way too often comes off as unnecessarily abrasive. I know, she's trying to drive guys away so that she won't get emotionally attached to them, but I have no idea what Aaron sees in someone as prickly as Grace. Grace doesn't get any epiphany that I find satisfactory about her attitude in this story, so I really don't know what Aaron finds attractive about her. Because this is a story told entirely from Grace's point of view, poor Aaron doesn't get much of a personality as a result. He's just a very nice guy whose business decisions often push overemotional Grace's hot buttons. There's a most contrived argument between the two of them late in the story that doesn't help much when it comes to defining Aaron and Grace as characters.

But on the bright side, I have a wonderful time reading Survivor because of the author's often graceful prose. It's why I keep reading her books, actually, since the books I've read by her have prose that really appeals to me. For example, here are the first four paragraphs of the story:

For as long as I can remember, my Grandma Ruth always knew exactly when something big was about to happen in the lives of the people she loved. For better or worse - it didn't matter. Her insight came in the form of dreams. Vivid dreams, to which she was pretty much dead-on every single time.

I can count on one hand the number of the times one of her dreams haven't come true during her sixty-five years. Grandma Ruth's track record spoke for itself. She believed it was her special gift. The gift of dreams. Her calling in life.

So when she phoned me at exactly five minutes past three in the morning I knew better than to scoff. Grandma Ruth had just had a dream about me. My future could be in question.

"Grace, honey, I hope I didn't wake you, but I've just had the most amazing dream about you."

The author's writing style sometimes reminds me of Deborah Smith's elegant way with words, as both authors can easily sell me even the most fanciful or whimsical ideas when I'm really quite the cynic. Still, Survivor has a problematic heroine whose stand-offish attitude comes off as unnecessary too often here. If Ms Eason can come up with a more clearly defined heroine one of these days, it would be fantastic.

Rating: 78


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