Amanda Zachary is a junior executive sent to Washington by her company, Extant Corporation, to broker a merger deal with the family-owed, Brant Computers. She already has the support of company president, Eric Brant, but his cousin, Simon, also holds a controlling interest, and is not convinced that a merger is the best thing for Brant Computers. Simon is a drop-dead gorgeous, eccentric genius who is also in charge of Brant's design department. When Amanda sits down with the cousins to present her proposal, Simon suddenly get distracted by a new idea, gets up, and walks out, mumbling something about Amanda coming to his house to finish her presentation. Needless to say, Amanda is a bit miffed, but determined to make this merger go through for the sake of her career, which is the only thing that has really mattered in her life since the divorce from her unfaithful and emotionally abusive husband. Amanda goes to Simon's remote island home on Puget Sound several times, only to have him seem more interested in sharing a meal or practicing Tae Kwan Do moves than listening to her proposal. In between these activities, Amanda manages to get in a few words about business, but Simon keeps disappearing into his lab at the oddest moments and staying there for hours or days at a time. Just as Amanda is getting to the limits of her patience, Simon's caretaker, Jacob, suggests that she stay at his house instead of traveling back and forth on the ferry, so that she can catch Simon on the rare occasions that he surfaces from his lab.
During the moments they have spent together, there has been an electrical attraction between Simon and Amanda, so the idea of "moving in" is a rather disconcerting one to Amanda. It is also an offer she can't pass up, both for business and personal reasons. She can't seem to stop thinking about Simon, but because of her failed first marriage and her ex-husband's constant put-downs of her appearance, Amanda hardly dares to even hope that anyone as hot as Simon would ever give her a second thought. Simon is equally drawn to Amanda, but has also felt the sting of rejection in the past, and his feelings of not fitting in because of his genius, make him believe that he's not a good prospect for any serious relationship. As Simon and Amanda spend more and more time living under the same roof, each one is slowly able to dispel these erroneous notions, leading to things really heating up between them, but when Amanda's boss subtly suggests that she use sex to gain Simon's cooperation on the merger, she is appalled. Simon is still adamantly against the merger, and Amanda is fairly certain there is nothing (not even her body) that will change his mind. Also, the more Amanda learns about Simon and her own employer, the more she thinks that Simon may be the one who is right. Extant won't wait forever though, and when they send in a surprise attack dog to take over the negotiations, Amanda stands to loose everything, the merger deal, her career, her burgeoning relationship with Simon and even the hard fought gains that she has made in personal self-esteem.
The Real Deal was a sweet, engaging love story that was imbued with a healthy dose of realism, but still managed to stay within the bounds of romantic fantasy that all readers of the genre seem to love. I really enjoyed how Lucy Monroe took two people with low self-esteem, due in part to failed relationships of the past, and helped them to grow and change by finding the perfect mate in each other. Although I don't believe I have previously read any romance novels that primarily take place in the corporate business world, I have to say that this type of setting along with all of it's attendant politics would not normally be of interest me. However, since my husband works in a similar environment and frequently deals with such things, I found that I knew enough about the topic for it to actually be quite interesting. I loved the peaceful, serene setting of Simon's island home off the coast of Washington. Until recently I had thought Washington to be a unique backdrop for a romance novel, but over the last few months I have read several stories that take place there. Ms. Monroe still managed to make it seem a little out of the ordinary though. I really enjoyed the loves scenes which I thought were hot, sensuous, and tastefully creative, while still being laden with plenty of emotion. In addition to a great hero and heroine, each of the secondary characters were very well rendered. I was particularly taken with Simon's housekeeper cum security expert, Jacob, and Amanda's one true friend, Jillian. Jacob was a crusty retired Secret Service agent with seemingly hundreds of different personas and Jillian was a flamboyant soap opera actress. Both added a lot of wisdom, levity, and humor to the two more serious main characters, and everyone was woven seamlessly into a tale that was a pleasure to read from start to finish.
I absolutely loved Simon. The only complaint I have about him is the author's repeated use of the phrase "gunmetal gray" to describe his eyes. In my opinion, it was a bit overused, but in the grand scheme of things it was merely a minor detractor to an otherwise great character. Having a techno-geek husband (and on occasion having been accused of being a geek myself), I can definitely say that Ms. Monroe's characterization of Simon was quite accurate, from his reclusive nature, to his frequent and lengthy forays into his lab, to his feelings of simply not fitting in with the rest of the world. I also liked Simon's katana collection and his choice of workout methods, both of which are typical geeky interests. The one thing I found a bit odd though, was his lack of electronic equipment (he didn't even have a TV), as in my experience most geeks tend to be rather enamored of almost any technical device, but maybe Simon got all the technical stimulation he needed in his lab. Since brains and beauty rarely come in the same package, I also thought that Simon's drop dead gorgeous looks were highly usual, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility. I did think it was very sweet and endearing that Simon was rather self-conscious about being so well-endowed, due to past lovers telling him he was too big. Since my research seems to indicate that this is a more common phenomena than most romance novelists would lead readers to believe, I really enjoyed Ms. Monroe's very different and more realistic take on Simon's impressive male attribute. I thought that Simon also exhibited a bit more confidence and social skills than the average geek, but again, social ineptness is a stereotype that is not always accurate. All in all, Simon was a wonderful hero who was kind and caring, a true gentleman, and an all-around great guy to anyone who took the time to get to know and understand him.
Fortunately for Simon, Amanda had plenty of time, and in the interests of a successful corporate merger, it was her job to understand how his mind worked. She was instantly attracted to him on a physical level, but she never realized how appealing the man inside would be as well. Amanda had plenty of hang-ups of her own after a failed first marriage to an unfaithful man who was a lousy lover and constantly berated her appearance. It was difficult for her to believe that someone like Simon could even be attracted to her, much less want anything more, but ultimately they both had to have a lot of patience and persistence to rebuild each other's confidence. While some readers may disagree, I actually liked that Amanda was a modern woman who had chosen not to sleep around, and that the only man she had ever been with prior to Simon was her first husband. I imagine that the issues Amanda faced in her work environment were probably not unlike what many women deal with in the corporate business world every day. It was interesting to watch her struggling with the realization that her career might not be the most important thing in her life after all, and that some of the things she had thought lost to her were actually within reach again. In the end, I felt a sense of pride in Amanda for making a difficult but gutsy decision about her job based on her personal ethics and values, and also for her having discovered a new confidence in herself that was not tied to her work.
The process Simon and Amanda went through, growing and changing and learning to love and believe in each other was a lovely and emotional one to read, but there were a few times I found myself wishing they would just tell each other what they were thinking and feeling. They trusted each other on some things right from the start, but other things took a little longer. Each of their stories came out in bits and pieces as they learned to trust a little more each day, which in hindsight was probably more realistic. I'm also grateful that even though Simon could be a little clueless at times and Amanda a bit stubborn due to her past hurts, no serious misunderstandings ever took place. Even though the revealing of their true selves to each other seemed a bit slow at times, without that pace, the final act of faith that Simon shows Amanda wouldn't have been half as sweet. Looking back, I think it might have been nice if these two had connected a little more on an intellectual level, as it didn't seem like they had a great deal in common. However, their emotional and physical relationship was so palpable that I didn't even think about this until the story was finished, so I guess I can't say that it really detracted from my enjoyment of the book. The Real Deal was an extremely well-written novel that hit very close to home for me, and also hit a home-run right onto my keeper shelf. This was my first read by Lucy Monroe, but after such a wonderful experience I am excitedly looking forward to checking out her backlist. While The Real Deal is a stand-alone novel with no apparent storyline connection to any of Ms. Monroe's other books, Amanda's friend, Jillian, does become the heroine of Deal With This, book #2 in The Goddard Project series. Lucy Monroe has also written inspirational romances as L.C. Monroe.
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