Lauren Spencer has been in love with Dale Stoner since the day he moved in next-door five years ago. She's watched from afar as a string of women parade into and out of his home and his life. None of them ever stay for long, and Lauren knows that it's because Dale believes he's still in love with his ex. So, she simply observes while fantasizing about the one man she can't have. Then one night she goes to visit Dale, only to find him drunk. In his inebriated state, he turns his sexy seduction on Lauren, who finds it impossible to resist until the moment he says his ex's name in the heat of passion, breaking her heart. That's why, when she discovers that she's pregnant several weeks later, she can't bring herself to tell him that he's the father.
For Dale, Lauren has been his best friend, the strong rock who's always there for him, no matter what. He still pines for the ex who dumped him years ago, so when he hears the news that she's pregnant again, he gets black-out drunk. Upon waking up hours later, he has vague memories of making love to someone, but when he can find no evidence that a woman was actually there, he thinks it might just be his mind playing tricks on him. However, now he can't seem to stop thinking of Lauren in a new, sexy way. Then he discovers that she's pregnant, but she refuses to tell him who the father is. Feeling protective toward her, he offers to marry her, but first he must confront the demons of his past. Once he does, Dale realizes he's put his ex on a pedestal, while it's really Lauren who's perfect for him. But when he finds out the truth she's been keeping from him about the baby, will he be able to forgive her?
Her Best Friend's Lover was the now-rather-prolific Shiloh Walker's debut novel back in 2003. It's a pretty good friends-to-lovers story, as well as having a secret baby theme with a twist. Most secret baby stories have the hero and heroine having an affair and then breaking up, with the hero finding out years later that he fathered a child with the heroine. In this one, the hero makes love to the heroine in a drunken haze and gets her pregnant. However, they live next door to one another, and while the heroine does fess up about being pregnant, she leaves the hero with the impression that someone else is the father when he doesn't seem to remember the night in question. She has her reasons for this, most of which I didn't agree with and which frustrated me. I'll discuss those as well as a few other reasons why this story didn't quite make it over the hump to get four stars from me. But it does have an underlying sweetness that I did enjoy, making it a decent read.
A lot of erotic romances are rather short on plot and characterizations, and while this one was better than some I've read, it still had its deficiencies. Our heroine, Lauren has lived next-door to Dale for a few years, but she basically fell in love with him at first sight when he moved in. They became great friends, but that's all they are, even though she'd love for them to be more. Instead, she watches as a parade of women traipse in and out of his house, never staying with him for long. She knows it's because he's still hung up on an ex, and since he can't have her, any other woman will do as a temporary substitute. Then one night, Dale gets drunk after learning that his now-married ex is pregnant again, and when Lauren happens to stop by, he becomes sexy and seductive toward her. Since Lauren has fantasized for years about having Dale be more than a friend, she can't resist. It's little more than quick and dirty sex, but she enjoys it right up until he calls out the ex's name while making love to her. She's deeply hurt by that and when he doesn't seem to remember any of it the next day, she decides not to tell him about it, not even when she realizes she's pregnant.
Lauren was abandoned by her parents when she was ten and grew up in a succession of foster homes, some of which were abusive. Even though she's now a successful artist, she has hang-ups about not being good enough and fears that no one will ever be able to genuinely love her. She's a rare modern-day virgin, who hasn't ever found a guy she cared for enough to make love to him until Dale, but he doesn't seem to want her in that way. All of this combined was her primary reasoning for not telling him she's pregnant with his child. At first, it made some sense given Lauren's background and the fact that Dale still seemed to be in love with his ex. However, once he'd cleared the air with the ex, realized he was holding on to a fantasy while the future had been right in front of him this whole time, and declared his love for Lauren, she should have told him immediately. Instead, fearing she'll lose him, she makes excuse after excuse not to, and the longer she waits, the riskier it seems for her to tell him the truth. So she simply doesn't until he finally figures it out for himself a few months after the baby is born. Even once the cat is out of the bag, she admits that she might never have told him, which I thought was pretty ridiculous. I've never been a great fan of secret baby plots in general, because I feel like a man has a right to know that he's going to be a father unless he's a danger to the mother and child. When a romance heroine keeps a secret like that, it erodes trust, and that's especially true in a case like this where they were building a relationship while she was pregnant and yet she was keeping the information about her baby's parentage to herself. That said, though, I reluctantly admit that without this artificially inflated conflict there wouldn't have been much of a story to tell.
We don't know a great deal about Dale, except that he's a children's book author and illustrator, who makes occasional business trips to New York. He's still pining for his ex, Nikki, but after his sexy encounter with Lauren, Nikki begins to fade from his mind a little. Even though he can't remember for sure if the mystery woman was real or simply a dream, she haunts him. When he finds out that Lauren is pregnant, he begins to feel protective toward her, and when he realizes that she's the one woman who knows him better than anyone else, he starts to think about pursuing a romantic relationship with her rather than just friendship. First, though, he has to go back home to visit the ex he hasn't seen in three years, to find out if there's still real feelings there or not. He discovers, to his surprise, that the feelings aren't as strong as he thought, and returns to Lauren fully ready to declare his love and commit, but his memories of the mystery woman keep getting in the way and affecting his relationship with Lauren. Dale was a decent hero. He's pretty much the typical womanizer, with a different lady on his arm every few weeks, who eventually realizes that there's only one woman for him. He tends to vacillate between being a tad too dominant for my taste and sweeter, more seductively appealing moments. I enjoyed the way he dotes on Lauren throughout most of her pregnancy and he's a loving, caring father to the baby, even before he knows he is the father. He did have a couple of moments where he pushed my buttons a little, but overall, I liked him fairly well.
On the whole, Her Best Friend's Lover was a very readable story. I enjoyed the friends-to-lovers theme. However, the secret baby part was simply too overblown for my taste. Every time, Lauren tells herself that she needs to tell Dale the truth and then doesn't, I became a little more frustrated with her. Everything worked out OK in the end, but she could have saved herself a whole lot of worry and conflict but just coming clean from the start. Aside from that, there were a few other lesser issues that somewhat diminished my enjoyment. I've never been a fan of head-hopping, and here it's pretty extreme. Not only do we get the ping-pong effect between Dale's and Lauren's POVs, making it hard to keep track of whose perspective I was reading, we also get the thoughts of practically every minor character in the book, which I didn't need. In that same vein, I was getting pretty annoyed with all the men in the story - even the married ones - objectifying Lauren. I got that she was attractive, but I didn't need the men's lewd thoughts about her. The writing itself was stronger than a lot of erotic romances I've read, but it still could have used a better polish before publication. I found a number of typos, awkward wording, and most especially the over-use of Dale's name in dialogue. People just don't use another person's name while talking nearly every paragraph, sometimes more than once per paragraph. Otherwise, Her Best Friend's Lover was a pretty good story for a first effort. If you love friends-to-lovers or secret baby tropes and wouldn't be frustrated by the way in which that plays out, then it's worth the read.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations which may offend some readers, including dominant behavior, somewhat rough sex, light bondage, and a finger at the back door.
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