|There’s nothing more satisfying than a good redemption story, especially when it’s paired with a romance. Seeing a formerly bad guy struggle to do good echoes our own daily efforts to overcome our weaknesses in a satisfying, dramatic manner. Fortunately, Susan Grant recognized early in her “Otherworldly Men” trilogy that the trained assassin who targeted the first novel’s hero for termination was really a hero in disguise who just needed a little love, understanding, and brain surgery. Although How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days is not without flaws, it is easily the strongest entry in the series.
When we first met Reef in the trilogy’s first installment, Your Planet or Mine? he was a cold-blooded killer sent to Earth to execute stranded spaceman Cavin of Far Star. A few hints of humanity were evident despite his grim demeanor before he was defeated and left for dead. In the prologue of How to Lose an Extraterrestrial, we learn this mercenary’s back story: once a carefree, well-loved child named Eriff from a remote planet, he was kidnapped by a Coalition officer, his memory wiped clean and his mind controlled by an internal computer which programmed him to become a REEF (Robotically Engineered Enemy Fighter) without any free will, emotions or, interestingly, sex drive. Now Cavin and true love Jana Jasper realize he is injured but still alive, and they arrange for his controls to be removed so he can learn to be human again. Unfortunately, when Reef first arrived on Earth he caused some major destruction, so there are numerous individuals who would like to arrest him, not to mention government officials who would be eager to get their hands on an alien who is roaming the streets. Reef needs a place to hide while he recovers fully.
The solution, oddly enough, lies with Jana’s sister, Evie. In contrast to her sister, a hotshot Senator, and brother, a hotshot pilot who is now married to the Queen of the Galaxy, Evie has always felt like the classic underachiever. She doesn’t like the public eye and is happy to live quietly in suburbia, mothering her two teenaged children and producing mouth-watering chocolate-covered strawberries for local events. When Reef was chasing Cavin, he tore apart her home and terrorized her dog, so her initial response to Jana’s request to provide him with asylum is a resounding No. When he saves her life, however, in a bizarre mob-related shootout, she quickly changes her mind, opening first her home and then her heart to him.
Reef, who has lived too long in isolation, welcomes the everyday chaos of Evie and her family, and he soon realizes that his long-repressed sex drive is now fully functioning. But some of our planet’s residents aren’t so quick to forgive Reef’s earlier transgressions or trust his transformation, and in a galaxy far, far away his original creator is determined to track down his first and best REEF to bring him back where he belongs. Even worse, despite his best intentions to be a real human being, Reef is tormented by violent thoughts indicating that his bioengineering has started to regenerate, causing the ascendancy of the trained assassin personality. Can he trust himself to take care of Evie and her family, or might he turn on them if he lets his guard down and his dark side takes control?
The first two novels in this series, Your Planet or Mine? and My Favorite Earthling, focused almost equally on romance and intergalactic intrigue as the powerful Coalition battled the evil godless Drakken Horde while also pondering the fate of Earth. How to Lose an Extraterrestrial, by contrast, is much more personal. Much of the drama between the Coalition and Earth happens off-stage, so there’s more time to devote to the relationship between Reef and Evie. In ways that are sweet, humorous and sexy, Susan Grant shows how perfectly they are matched. Evie has felt undervalued and unappreciated by her family and ex-husband. After spending a lifetime putting others’ needs before her own, she basks in Reef’s focused attention and learns to quietly but definitively assert herself. Although she’s not a typical Grant butt-kicking heroine, she’s tough and virtually fearless. Reef is starved in more ways than one, and his appreciation of Evie’s cooking is almost as passionate as his admiration of her curvaceous body. Her absolute trust in him helps Reef persevere when he is afraid that his dark side is threatening to take over his personality. And despite his inexperience, his repressed passion, along with the patience he has shown since childhood, make him every woman’s dream in bed.
Susan Grant is a creative and enthusiastic writer, but her books are not perfect. Evie’s attitude about-face from dislike of the man who trashed her home to sympathy and attraction occurs unbelievably quickly. Likewise Reef’s change from robotic killer to noble human is almost instantaneous. The logic of sending an unaccompanied Reef to Evie’s house for safekeeping while Jana and Cavin march off to save the galaxy strains credulity, as does the cheerful, helpful attitude of Evie’s teenaged son and daughter, neither of whom exhibit a single eye roll or other typical adolescent behavior. But if the plot has some holes, the love story remains intact.
On the whole, Grant’s series for HQN has been lighter in tone and less thought-provoking than her early Love Spell work such as Contact and her two entries in the 2176 series. But for readers who want strong heroines and sexy alien hunks, she’s definitely still the go-to author.