It’s another Harlequin Special Edition, thanks to my anonymous neighbour, who regularly sends these to the laundry room library. His Best Friend’s Wife, by Gina Wilkins, has a slightly naughty sounding title, and the author’s note promises the theme of friends becoming lovers, but the title and the note both promise more than they deliver.
Renae is indeed his best friend’s wife, but her husband Jason died seven years ago. She gave birth to twins soon after her husband died, her mother-in-law moved in, she got a job at a doctor’s office, and had no time or inclination for dating. Evan was a friend of Jason’s, but when she met Evan, she found herself attracted to him. Shortly before her marriage, Evan and Renae shared one very hot and memorable kiss, but she went ahead with the marriage to Jason anyway. Jason died in a motorcycle crash. Renae’s mother blamed Evan for the accident, but Jason told both Evan and Renae that he wanted to go for a ride rather than paint the nursery. So Jason is long out of the picture when the story opens, and his value as a lover and father was not high to begin with.
As for friends becoming lovers, Evan and Renae have had almost no contact for the past seven years, and then they meet cute. Evan has always pined for Renae, and never gotten involved with anyone else, although he did not miss her enough to seek her out. It’s not clear why he’s been on his own all this time. Once together, they quickly pick up where they left off and proceed into a friends with benefits relationship. This is at her request, because she does not want her mother-in-law to know she’s dating her husband’s killer. It is also appropriate, because they don’t seem to share anything beyond a simple physical attraction.
Assuming you can accept the setup, the rest of it falls into place neatly. There nothing particularly sentimental…or dramatic…or romantic. The story is solidly structured and well written with lots of secondary characters and dialogue, and a high degree of realism in the setting and the characters’ daily lives. One aspect I find tiresome about romances where the couple bed early and often is the amount of time describing what they are doing. In this story, the author spares us the gory details much of the time, and therefore builds a little erotic suspense by giving physical details unexpectedly. The other things that kept me guessing were 1) what emotional connection do these people have, and 2) what took them so long to get together?