Until You Loved Me
By Brenda Novak
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
Reviewed by Janga
Ellie Fisher is an intelligent woman with an important job, but in the aftermath of finding her fiancé in bed with his best friend since college, she ends up in bed with a stranger. She thinks it was a one-night stand and the best sex of her life, but that one night will change her life forever. Ellie, a bookworm since childhood, holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from Yale and is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Banting Diabetes Center in Miami, a premier site for diabetes research. Her ex and his lover also work there. Ellie’s social experience lags far behind her intellectual accomplishments. She has been with only two men, one of them was her fiancé, and both long-term relationships. She is not the type to frequent nightclubs, but she is reeling with the realization than the man whom she expected to marry and with whom she expected to rear a family was only using her as a cover to hide his sexual orientation from his conservative, religious family. When her best friend urges her to join her for a night at Envy, a ritzy South Beach bar, with the intent of meeting someone, Ellie agrees. However, Ellie is just about ready to leave when she meets a big, incredibly handsome man who is clearly interested in her. She has no idea that he is a superstar athlete; she only knows he makes her feel like a different woman, someone very different from the pathetic, deceived fiancée who is the focus of gossip at her workplace.
Hudson King was found abandoned under a hedge in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood and named for two intersecting streets in the area. He grew up in foster homes, most of which cared little about the unwanted boy. Getting sent to the New Horizons Boys Ranch in Silver Springs, California, as a young teen proved his salvation. It was there his talent for football was developed, a talent that led him to UCLA and the Heisman Trophy and to his current position as starting quarterback for the LA Devils. He has fame, fortune, and a few good friends, but he does not trust easily. He is particularly wary of women because so many have been more interested in his wealth and star status than in him. He finds Ellie’s failure to recognize him refreshing, but his interest in her is cut short when she disappears before he awakens the morning after their night together without leaving a note or a phone number.
Seven weeks after Ellie’s night with the hunk she knows only as Hudson, she discovers that she is pregnant. She is preparing for life as a single mother when during a Super Bowl party, a familiar face appears on the television screen. Since Ellie now knows who Hudson is, she feels morally bound to tell him that she is pregnant. She is nervous, but she is unprepared for the anger, suspicion, and accusations that her news provokes. She wants nothing to do with this man who seems so different from the man she met in that club. But once Hudson believes the child is his, he is determined not to expose a child he fathered to the abandonment that shaped him. He pressures Ellie to move to his home in Silver Springs so that he can be actively involved from doctor’s visits through delivery, the first months of the child’s life, and beyond. Ellie eventually agrees, but she has reservations about her decision and about Hudson. Hudson still doesn’t fully trust Ellie either. With the combination of distrust and a chemistry neither can deny, the future promises complications that make an HEA seem remote.
One of the things that has kept me reading Brenda Novak over many years is her ability to take the tritest conventions of romance and give them twists that make them seem fresh and intriguing. Both the pairing of brain and brawn and the unplanned pregnancy are common tropes in romance fiction, but Ellie and Hudson emerge not as types but as distinctive individuals with specific histories that account for the baggage they carry. Ellie is the more sympathetic character, but she is also less damaged than Hudson. Their story is engaging with unexpected turns. And the added thread of Hudson’s quest to discover his origin adds its own twist.
Novak is also a writer who takes risks. Here she risks showing the hero behaving like an out-of-control alpha jerk in a key scene. Readers will draw their own conclusions about whether he redeems himself. I had some doubts initially, but after his reaction to the nursery, I began to believe that he would prove his violent response (not directed toward another person) in the hotel an aberration. His feelings for his unborn child, his mentoring of boys at New Horizons, and ultimately his love for Ellie weigh more heavily in defining him. Hudson is not the only one who behaves like a jerk. Ellie’s ex does as well. His jerkiness is a matter of character and is unrelated to his being gay. He uses Ellie, and his self-absorption afterwards compounds his error. But he too has finer moments.
Until You Loved Me is the third book in in the Silver Springs series, but it is only loosely related to the first two books. The New Horizons Boys Ranch and its founder serve as the primary connection. This book can be read easily as a standalone. If you like your romance novels with a high degree of emotional intensity and a realistic world where flaws are the norm, I suggest you add it to your TBR.