Within Reach (Harlequin Super Romance) - Sarah Mayberry
This is the first book I've read by Sarah Mayberry and I'm thoroughly convinced I need to read more from her. Soon.In Within Reach wife and mother of two, Billie Robinson, dies suddenly at a very young age. Ten months later her husband, Michael, is still devastated and having a hard time living. Her best friend for half her life, Angie Bartlett, is grieving but trying to help Michael and the kids (Eva and Charlie) as best she can. As Angie helps Michael emerge from the darkness where his grief has left him, and he starts living life again, the two get closer. They had always been tangential friends through Billie and now they're becoming friends in their own right.This was certainly not a lighthearted romance. The grief these characters were feeling was palpable and Mayberry did an excellent job of conveying these emotions. From the sadness of the little things they missed about Billie, to the kids' grief, to the crushing guilt and self-loathing they felt at the prospect of this burgeoning relationship – however irrational their feelings may have been. I've read plenty of stories with the widowed parent falling in love again, but I'm not sure I've read very many where the new love is the best friend of the deceased spouse. Still, I feel as though this is the most realistic portrayal of this trope I've ever read. Charlie and Eva were resilient as children often are, but they are obviously still grieving. While I wish there was more with the children later on in the story they aren't shuffled off somewhere, they don't disappear. Taking care of them is a big plot point in the story and the issues with working a sexual relationship around the children is addressed (including one scene where someone may have wanted to make Eva a Ragu dinner later).I really liked Michael and Angie. They had likable personalities, and a great sense of humor that shined through the sadness. They worked well together as a couple. There was nothing forced about them. However, the guilt both felt at every glance, the attraction, sexual encounters, and feelings of something more was intense. They put themselves through a lot of self-flagellation every step of the way. The reader is put in the position of empathizing with them but also wanting to shake them and tell them to give themselves a break. Within Reach was published under Harlequin's Superromance line. I think maybe I haven't read a lot from this line because I was rather surprised how numerous and explicit the sex scenes were. I'm not saying that's bad at all (though it was approaching the border of too many), it just caught me off guard because I had a completely different idea of that line. That said, these were the best sex scenes I've read since Julie James. The chemistry between Michael and Angie leapt off the page. They were sensual and lacked cringe-worthy euphemisms almost entirely (though he did find "the hard pearl of her clitoris" once). Unfortunately for these characters, after they finished, the hard reality of grief came crashing down each time (including one particularly difficult scene where Michael woke up thinking he had Billie in his arms again) and their reactions often weren't pretty.While the change from their sexual relationship into a lasting, loving relationship made sense the time frame of the story was sort of difficult. Not only did it seem too soon from a reader's perspective – it goes from ten months after Billie's death until well after the one year anniversary – but much of the acute grief they displayed reinforced this notion. For the most part I was able to push this aside but it was a niggling complaint in the back of my mind. I'm not sure if the idea of Angie as the second place woman was an actual issue or if it was just a personal hang-up I was having. I truly believe that Michael came to love her but I couldn't help thinking how he would always prefer to have Billie. Then I was sad for Angie that she would never be someone's first-choice love. I'm aware this is probably an odd thought process but that is where my mind went. It's possible the quick time frame and Angie being Billie's best friend had something to do with it. I'd have to read this version of the trope a few more times to figure it out.Though it was, at times, quite heavy, this was a good read. Like I said, I am definitely going to be reading more Sarah Mayberry in the near future. I was provided an ARC of this book through NetGalley.