by Francis Ray, contemporary (2009)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-312-94685-2
Five years ago, Cameron Dunlap (occupation: NASCAR driver) and Caitlin Lawrence (occupation: romance heroine) were supposed to walk down the aisle and find their happily ever after in each other's arms. Unfortunately, Caitlin got very cold feet after she witnessed a friend of Cameron died on the tracks, the man leaving his surviving wife and kid to grief like nobody's business. Caitlin decided that she couldn't marry a man with such a dangerous profession, so she left Cameron standing at the altar. Today, a chance meeting reunites these two, and Cameron learns that he is the baby daddy of Caitlin's kid Joshua. He decides to force Caitlin to give up their child to him forever as Caitlin spends the rest of the story weeping and worrying about what he thinks of her. I still have no idea how I managed to reach the last page without having my eyeballs permanently lodged up in their sockets.
This is an eye-rolling romance because it pairs two people who can't be more wrong for each other. Okay, so Caitlin is wrong in keeping his son from him all this while, but her reasons aren't completely unjustified - in this story alone, Cameron gets into two accidents on the track. And yet, he blithely shrugs aside her reasons for not wanting to marry him and spends the rest of the story bullying Caitlin into putting out to him and doing things his way. He actually uses Joshua as a pawn to manipulate Caitlin here, which is something I find really hard to overlook. Cameron comes off as an utterly selfish man who wants everything without compromising anything. Even more damning, twice in this story he walks away from Cameron and even his son because they are afraid of going to the race track and cheer him on. What kind of loving husband and father is this?
Caitlin is equally selfish in her own right - she is determined to play the martyr for love so much that she doesn't care whether her son will pay the price for her actions. It doesn't help one bit that she is a stereotype of the no-life heroine. She has no social life, no friends, nothing - she could very well have existed in limbo for the last five years, given that she does nothing but to think and angst about Cameron when she's not being taken for granted by him. Worse, after she's had the taste of the Cameron mojo, she turns into an inconsistent dingbat. When the plot demands it, she will insist that she cannot be with Cameron because she needs to protect Joshua from hurt, but in the next instance, she is dragging her terrified son to the race track because she insists that her son needs to be with his father.
The plot is one-dimensional, as our two dim-witted main characters keep repeating the same conflict over and over. I don't know how the happy ending comes about, as the curtains fall and everyone is happy after reuniting for who knows how many times (I've lost count of the times Caitlin and Cameron walk out on each other after exchanging words). It's as if the happy ending is plunked into the story because the word count has been met and the author has no reason to prolong everyone's agony anymore.
The tagline on the cover - "He'll risk everything to satisfy her desires" - must be a joke because Cameron doesn't risk anything here. In the end, he wins. The wife and the son are now his prized possessions, and he can now race to his heart's content. The wife and the son give up everything to make him happy. I can see it now - a few years down the road, Cameron will become so bored of his vapid, spineless, and teary-eyed wife that he'd end up getting one of his groupies pregnant, and Caitlin, too pathetic to leave him, will only endure in silence and play passive-aggressive games with Cameron. And since Joshua's parents have shown no qualms about using him as a pawn, he'd spend the most of his teen years wishing that he's never been born before moving out of the house and pretending that his parents never existed.
Nobody But You is truly a no to me.
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