I Got You, Babe

Light My Fire by Jane Graves
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-45841-9
I’ll admit it. I groaned out loud. When I saw Light My Fire in my latest shipment of review books I thought the gods were playing a joke on me. My past experience with Graves’ work was having been assigned to review one of the other books in her DeMarco series – and I hated it. I pretty much actively loathed it. So much so that Graves landed in my “never again” pile.

Please pass the ketchup; I’ve got a tasty crow I’m cooking up.

Ethan Millner is a high priced defense attorney who has just gotten his latest client off from a rape charge. Of course, Ethan chooses to celebrate this victory, but he has a funny way of going about it. After downing a couple of drinks at his favorite watering hole, he hops in his fast Porsche, with an equally fast woman, and proceeds to wrap the car around a tree. He narrowly misses a DUI charge, but the judge chooses to make an example of him. He assigns Ethan 40 hours of community service on a neighborhood crime watch patrol.

Sandy DeMarco owns her own flower shop and is the head of her local neighborhood watch. Much to the chagrin of her three younger brothers, Sandy agrees to oversee Ethan’s community service. Her overprotective brothers are all cops. Not only is Ethan a scum sucking defense lawyer who is really good at his job, he’s also a womanizer. However, Sandy has never bowed to her brothers before, and isn’t about to now.

Ethan can’t believe he’s going to have work with Sandy. He’s never met her, but he does know her brothers, and their opinions of him. Then he meets Sandy and knows he’s in big trouble. She’s hearth, home and babies. He’s one-night-stand and single malt scotch. That doesn’t make him any less attracted to her though.

Sparks and banter immediately fly between the two, but they soon find themselves spending even more time together when a grisly murder happens in Sandy’s quiet neighborhood. When a young man that works for Sandy is accused of the crime, she begs Ethan for help. And going against his cutthroat persona, he agrees.

There’s a whole lot to like here, and it really all starts with Ethan. Here’s a guy who is seriously messed up, which the author illustrates quite well in her opening chapters. He’s not very likable, either to the reader or to the character himself. He may be living the dream life, but there’s a good amount of self-loathing going on. He’s the ultimate defense attorney. He says he doesn’t care about guilt or innocence – his clients pay him a ridiculous amount of money to prove reasonable doubt. Ethan claims his conscience doesn’t bother him, but of course, the reader knows he’s lying through his teeth. To watch as Graves slowly transforms this man over the course of 300+ pages is a real treat.

Sandy is a nice woman fast approaching 40. She has a good life, a good family, a good business, and she’s lonely. She’s tired of her friends fixing her up with steady, boring men. She wants a man who challenges her, excites her, and can see what a truly beautiful woman she is. Ethan excites and challenges her – but she has three brothers warning her off and Ethan himself keeping his distance. He says it best when he claims, “he’s not the man for her.”

Or is he? That’s what makes Graves’ romance so charming. Ethan and Sandy are opposites, but unlike many such relationships in romance novels, they are not adversaries. They like each other, and their banter is electric. Sandy may think she knows what she wants, but Ethan has only gotten involved with “fast women” for a reason, again – he doesn’t like himself much.

The mystery angle keeps the plot humming along and allows our characters to be together outside of the community service angle. It’s a nice little thread, and Graves tosses in a few red herrings to make it interesting. My only minor quibble is that the ending felt a little rushed. While I’m normally not a big fan of epilogues featuring a pregnant-with-her tenth-child heroine, one would have been nice here if only to allow Ethan the chance to take care of some unfinished confrontational baggage with his demanding father.

This reviewer is not a read-a-book-in-one-day kind of girl, but every once in a great while a story grabs my attention to the point that I won’t put it down. A nice, girl next-door heroine who isn’t a goody-two-shoes, a wounded hero who is not always easy to like, and credible conflict make Light My Fire a fast, fun and often emotional read. I’m glad my hand was forced and I tried Jane Graves’ work again. Mmmm, mmmm, that’s tasty crow.

--Wendy Crutcher

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