Always and Forever

Farrah Rochon
December 2012, Series Romance
Harlequin Kimani, $6.25, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 037386289X
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

When I was in Junior High my parents renovated a one hundred-plus year old house in the heart of our small town. It could be inconvenient living in a home whose walls were constantly being torn down and rebuilt or whose flooring would be yanked out and replaced over the course of a grueling dayís work, but it was exciting too. When redoing the wash room perfectly preserved pages of a 1950ís newspaper were found under the flooring. The funny pages turned into framed works of art. A kitchen wall contained an 1860ís coin. Sometimes it seemed that for every bit of work there was a waiting piece of treasure. Finding out that this novel was all about an old home restoration inspired me to pick it for review and relive those old memories.

Architect Jamal Johnson is really feeling the heat on his latest project. His plans to renovate the beautiful Victorian house Belle Maison in the quaint town of Gauthier have become the lynch pin of the townís Christmas in Gauthier tourist weekend. They need Belle Maison to be open as a Bed and Breakfast if they are to have anywhere to put the guests. But Jamalís house is nowhere near ready. Concerned that the reservations he has booked will turn into costly refunds and angry customers, Jamal does what he had sworn not to Ė he calls restorer Phylicia (Phil) Phillips to help him get the place up and running. Phil had given him the cold shoulder after a perfect first date and he really doesnít need the trouble she undoubtedly represents. But he needs her help and he knows it. Putting pride aside, he makes the call.

Phil lost her family home to love. To the love she feels for her mother, who requires costly specialized care for her dementia. To the love of the man who swore he would be with her through everything and then wiped her out and ran off. Choosing between her momís facility payments and payments on the old family home had been easy. The house was given back to the bank and Phil began working hard to find a way to get the money needed to reclaim it. She had been on the verge of buying the place back when Jamal Johnson swept in and purchased it. Phil hasnít had anything to do with him since. But when she receives the notice in the mail that her motherís facility is raising the rates again and then gets the call from Jamal offering her work, she rethinks the situation. After all, sheís simply going to be restoring wood work; nothing says she has to get involved with the boss during the process.

Resisting each other proves harder than either expected. Sweaty clothes clinging to perfectly chiseled abs have led to more than a few heated looks from Phil to Jamal. All she has to do to inspire his interest is breathe. But it is the shared lunches and conversations that present the real trouble. Their shared passion for renewing old homes is not all they have in common. Mutual friends, similar backgrounds, and a cheerful camaraderie have Jamal convinced they should try to take the relationship to the next level. But will the relationship last past the renovation? Especially when they start to butt heads over key features of the project?

I really loved the emphasis this book had on two people facing everyday problems and falling in love while doing so. So often there is a big misunderstanding or a third party or a villain involved in the story but here the emphasis was placed on the type of things that happen to real life relationships. Jamal does some perfectly normal things in the renovation of his property which hurt Phil. Both learn to compromise. Phil does some butting in where she doesnít belong and Jamal learns to accept that just because he doesnít want to hear something doesnít mean he doesnít need to hear it. They complete each other in that way that normal couples do Ė not by grand gestures but in the quiet give and take that makes relationships grow. Their road to an HEA involves forgiveness, listening and learning to meet the other party halfway. Itís the kind of love story we all wish we had on our way to the altar.<

I also enjoyed the fact that these two were equals. Yes, Jamal had money but he didnít fall back on it constantly. He worked hard and feared failure same as Phil. Phil had financial struggles and family struggles but she was on her feet before Jamal came along and would stay on them without him. He was less a knight in shining armor than he was a companion for the tough times. Itís a treat when the hero and heroine can have a balanced relationship rather than having the heroine always be in need of rescue and the hero always being the champion. I liked that the support Jamal gave Phil was emotional rather than financial. I especially appreciated how he behaved regarding her mother. So often the mentally ill are treated like pariahs and the family members forced to virtually hide them from their dates. Jamal was genuinely interested in Philís mom and provided Phil with his love and support just by meeting her and spending time with her.

I am a sucker for a good date and these two had a few terrific ones such as a picnic by a lake and an evening spent on dinner and jazz. Which brings me to another great point about them Ė they had hobbies! To me, a truly rounded person does something beyond eat and work. Jamal played sax and Phil paints. The author does an excellent job of showing us just how this completes their personalities.

Ease of reading, a lovely relationship and the beauty of two well written characters make this a romance I am happy to recommend.

-- Maggie Boyd

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