Within Reach

Sarah Mayberry
August 2012, Series Romance
Har Sup #1725, $5.50, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373717954

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

I can’t say that I seek out books about a loved one dying, but there can be such a sense of hopefulness and renewal when the book is well-written – rather like the Phoenix rising from his ashes - in an individual finding love again after experiencing despair and desolation. It reaffirms our belief that no matter what happens, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not every author has the ability to find the right balance of sorrow and hope, but that is not a problem for Ms. Mayberry.

People just gravitate to Billie Robinson’s natural exuberance and joie de vivre. Her less outgoing husband Michael and her best friend Angela Bartlett feel blessed to be satellites in the orbit of her shining star. However, at her 32nd birthday celebration the unthinkable happens. An undiagnosed heart defect, a weak spot on Billie’s aorta, dissects due to her high blood pressure and she dies almost immediately. Both Angie and Michael are devastated and shattered.

Michael takes a year off work to help his children adjust and ten months later he is still barely functioning. Returning from a six week business trip to New York, Angie finds the house shrouded in darkness. Charlie, Billie and Michael’s son, wears a dirty diaper and sits propped in front of the television watching a video, the kitchen is overrun with dirty dishes, and the countertops covered with boxes of open food. Eva, Angie's goddaughter, is elated that her auntie is back and asks her to please help her father remember a birthday party she has been invited to attend. He already forgot his promises to take her to see the new Miley Cyrus movie and roller skating.

Angie realizes that things have been going in a downward spiral for a while and even though she hates confrontation, she presses on after Michael says that they are doing fine. She implores Michael to tell her what she can do to help them get back on track. He responds that he just wants his wife back. Feeling like she has failed Billie, Angie leaves but her words do cause Michael to examine how his actions affect his children. He accepts that he has to leave the refuge he has created and ease back into living instead of just existing.

Angie is a jewelry designer and soon after her return from New York her studio is ransacked and trashed. Michael comes over to offer support and is appalled at the condition of the building. He advises her to find another place. While visiting Michael and the kids, Angie is jolted by the sight of Billie’s studio. She had completely forgotten about it, since her energetic friend flitted from one hobby to another, never really sticking with one thing. This is the perfect solution to her need for a studio and Michael’s need for help with the kids. Soon everything is running like a well-oiled machine. The children blossom and Michael feels a sense of relief as he realizes that he doesn’t have to do this alone while Angie loves feeling like part of a family. With proximity Michael and Angie are also faced with another challenge – the increasing sexual awareness and attraction they have for each other.

While I have never been in this situation, the characters’ feelings of guilty denial and then acceptance feel very realistic and accurate. The timing of the relationship is perfect, too. Having the story start ten months after Billie’s death keeps the reader from drowning in the more immediate shock and anguish. While Angie and Michael still have a big hole in their life from Billie’s death, they have taken steps to recovery and acceptance. They are both at a stage where they realize that life does go on.

Refreshingly, this is an adult relationship, with open discussion about their feelings of shame and reproach. Neither feels comfortable acting on the attraction, with both seeing it as a betrayal and affront to their past relationships with Billie. It is enjoyable watching how they come to accept that it is neither.

The only qualm I had with the book was that the beginning seems a little slow and the plot fairly predictable. Still, it is one of the nicest and enjoyable friends-to-lovers stories I have read in a long time, and that makes it easy to recommend.

-- Leigh Davis

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