Mara Rosemond's parents died in an accident when she was a child, leaving her growing up in a series a foster homes. Now as an adult, she's lost her husband in a tragic rock climbing accident. Months later, she finds herself eight months pregnant and drowning in bills with no way to pay them and about to lose everything. When her husband's best friend, Brock Barnett, finds out, he comes racing to her rescue, offering to marry Mara and take care of her and her soon-to-be-born baby. But believing him to be nothing but a shallow, thrill-seeking playboy, she's never liked the man. Not to mention, since he was the one who accompanied her husband on the rock climbing expedition, she now blames him for her husband's death. Mara has no intention of tying herself to someone she can't stand, but when she's evicted from her apartment, loses her car, and the baby is about to make an early entrance, she feels she has no other option but to take Brock up on his offer. Although she doesn't want to like him, she begins to see glimmers of a man who is different from the one she assumed him to be. But can she get past all her animosity toward him to genuinely fall in love?
Brock blames himself for his best friend's death every bit as much as Mara does. When he finds out that she's pregnant and struggling financially, the wealthy rancher knows that's something he can help her with and feels he owes it to his dead friend to look out for his wife and child. Brock has been attracted to Mara ever since he met her, but knowing that she belonged to his friend, he's kept his distance. Now having her living with him, she proves to be a temptation that's hard to resist in spite of her prickliness toward him. But with his mother leaving when he was just a boy and his father growing distant afterward, Brock's upbringing was less than ideal and hasn't prepared him for family life. In spite of that, he manages to find a tenderness in his heart for Mara and baby Abby and discovers that he genuinely wants them to be a permanent part of his life. But can he convince Mara that he's a changed man who will always be there for her and Abby?
His Best Friend's Wife has been on my TBR pile for quite some time. I can't recall where I first heard about it, but it has good ratings at online book sites and I remember thinking that it sounded like an interesting story. It's about Mara, a young widow whose husband, Todd, died in a tragic rock climbing accident. She blames his best friend, Brock, who was with Todd that day for not doing more to save him, or at the very least, for being the one who instigated the trip in the first place. However, seven months later, she finds herself alone and very pregnant with bills piling up and her bank account nearly empty. When Brock finds out, he insists upon marrying Mara and taking full responsibility for her and the baby. She doesn't even like the man, but with financial ruin looming, she finds herself with few other options, so reluctantly accepts his help. Once living in his spacious ranch house, she discovers an attraction for Brock but still fights it, unwilling to forgive him for his role in Todd's death. Generally speaking this is the type of story that I'd typically enjoy very much, but I felt the execution was somewhat lacking in certain areas. I also tired very quickly of Brock and Mara's almost constant arguments, but at the same time, there were some tender moments that helped to make up for some it, making it a difficult book for me to rate in the end.
Mara lost both her parents in a car accident when she was a child and grew up in the foster care system. That being the case, she has a deep appreciation for the importance of family, and Todd was her only family until his own tragic death. Then she was left all alone with only a few friends. However, I don't believe it was ever explained as to why Todd had no family to help her out. Also, Mara is a devout woman of faith and regular church attender, but again there was no explanation as to why her church didn't help either. In any case, she basically has no one. She has a degree in history and taught school for a while, but for some reason (again that isn't explained), she's no longer working, and although Todd had a historical restoration business that she helped him with by doing research, it also appears to be foundering with little explanation as to why. So... Mara finds herself in a financial bind. Although she initially rejects Brock's offer of marriage because of her feelings of animosity toward him, she eventually gives in, leading to a hasty courthouse marriage just as the baby is about to be born. He's there with her during the birth and several little things he does for her and baby Abby afterward start to get under her skin in a good way, but despite that and her growing physical attraction to him, she still stubbornly persists in pushing him away for quite a while. I can understand a person wanting to find someone to blame after a senseless tragedy, but I felt like Mara's bad feelings toward Brock and her inability to forgive him drug on a little too long. Even when he's being sweet to her, she still can't seem to get past her own preconceived notions of him being nothing but a shallow playboy and she obstinately resists his efforts to tell her the truth of what happened the day Todd died. I know that not all spouses are going to like their significant other's friends, but given the length of time Todd and Brock had been friends, I couldn't help wondering how she couldn't see what her husband saw in Brock. Not to mention, her closing herself off from him so much sometimes came across as being a bit bitchy and ungrateful. She does eventually come around, though, and she is a good mother to Abby, so she wasn't a bad character per se, just one that I didn't entirely relate to.
Brock's upbringing was a rather troubled one with his mom taking his younger sister and leaving him and his dad when he was just a kid. Afterward, his father became distant, leaving Brock to his own devices a lot. He met Todd at summer camp and the two of them became inseparable friends. Even though their paths diverged somewhat with Todd settling down with Mara right out of college and Brock living a freewheeling lifestyle, they remained close throughout the years. Then the tragic accident occurred, after which Brock has blamed himself almost as much as Mara does. When he hears through the grapevine that Mara is pregnant and in financial trouble, he feels he must honor his friend's memory by helping her out. He's supportive during the baby's birth, like any good dad would be, and the miracle of new life starts to melt his frozen heart. Because of the way he grew up, he struggles with the meaning of family, but once Mara and Abby are living with him, he slowly grows to care for both of them, which is why Mara's insistence that he isn't truly her husband or Abby's father hurts. But Brock has harbored an attraction for Mara ever since the day he met her and knew she was Todd's, so now that he can finally have her, he isn't giving up easily. Brock is kind of rough around the edges, and aside from his support during the birth, it takes him a while to really step up. But once he does, he shows a kind and tender side that I liked. For the most part, I thought he was a good hero and felt like Mara was giving him an undeserved bad rap both for his previous lifestyle and for Todd's death.
As I mentioned there were some things about the execution of the story that weren't quite up to par for me, including the frequent arguments between Brock and Mara that started to frustrate and grate. They go on for probably a good two-thirds of the story and I found myself just wanting Mara to find a way past her animosity to give Brock a genuine chance, instead of judging him so harshly. Also, the entire premise of the story kind of falls apart if one looks at it too closely. Brock marries Mara ostensibly to take care of her and the baby financially, but I couldn't find a single, solid reason why marriage was absolutely necessary in their circumstances, especially given that they were essentially living separate lives in opposite wings of his huge home anyway and were both half-expecting to get divorced once Mara was back on her feet. Brock could have helped Mara no matter what, but even though it was a weak plot device, I was mostly willing to let it pass. However, there were other things that also annoyed me.
Many of the details of the childbirth scene were pretty outdated or inaccurate. The book was published in 1995, but I gave birth to my first child that same year, and it was not the way it was depicted here. Dad being gowned up in surgical garb? Didn't happen unless the mom needed a C-section, which isn't the case in the story. Mom giving birth on a gurney? Uh... no. As far as I know, gurneys aren't properly equipped for childbirth. Mom being moved into a delivery room? Again, at that time, (at least in my case) moms went straight to the delivery room, which didn't look like it was depicted in the story, or in some cases, depending on the hospital, gave birth and recovered in the same room. Baby always in the nursery unless mom was feeding her? No, baby stayed in the room with mom 24/7 unless there were reasons she couldn't, which again wasn't the case in the story. Mom and baby staying in the hospital for three days? Not hardly. Try just one day. Then there was the whole breastfeeding issue when Mara decided to go back to work, which was presented as a binary choice between staying home and nursing or working but weaning. I support a woman's choice in this matter, but it's hardly this black and white. She could have nursed part-time and/or she could have pumped at work like a whole lot of women do when it's time to return to their careers.
Additionally some of the sensual scenes were staged or worded in a distracting way. Brock and Mara's first major kiss takes place with a screaming baby sandwiched in between them. Talk about a mood killer! But they remain lip-locked for quite a while in spite of a commotion that would have instantly thrown me out of what should have been a romantic moment. Their second passionate kiss takes place as they're driving home, following a Christmas party and one of those numerous arguments they had. Brock pulls over to the side of the road and Mara jumps out in a huff. He follows and it ends up being an anger turned to passion moment, which in and of itself wasn't too bad. However, not only do they kiss, but he lifts her shirt, baring her breasts in the freezing cold with it snowing outside. Brrrrr! Then in one of their loves scenes, we find this awkwardly worded, oh-so-not-sexy line, "It was as though he were tearing her in two with deep, sure strokes..." Ouch!
While it may seem that I've had a number of criticisms of His Best Friend's Wife and there were certainly some eye-roll inducing moments, I still found it to be a worthwhile read. Once they reach a calmer place in their relationship and stop fighting so much, Brock and Mara do share some tender moments that helped to soothe some of the irritation I'd been feeling toward them. Despite him not really knowing what a good father and a strong family looks like, Brock eventually takes some initiative, leading to some sweet moments with baby Abby. I also liked that he went to bat for Mara with the BLM to get the contracts for Todd's company reinstated so that she could prove herself in his place. Although the book isn't billed as a holiday romance, the majority of it takes place over November and December with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's celebrations occurring, and I can never seem to resist a nice heartwarming holiday story. Even though I had some frustrations with it, the book was good enough that I wavered a bit on how to rate it, but ultimately I felt it just didn't quite make it over the hump to receive four-stars from me. But anyone who enjoys the tropes contained in it will probably find some enjoyment in it, possibly even more than I did, since it has pretty good ratings from other readers.
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