Just the Way You Are

Just the Way You Are - Barbara Freethy Freethy walks a fine line here between making her characters humanly fallible and making them too dislikable. Although I enjoyed the book overall, I sometimes felt they wound up on the wrong side of the line.This is the story of Alli, who's recently asked her husband of nine years for a divorce, Sam, who married Alli because he got her pregnant, and Tessa, Sam's first love and Alli's sister. Tessa has never forgiven Alli for seducing her boyfriend, and they haven't spoken since, but when the grandmother who raised them has a stroke, Tessa is forced to return home. When Alli impulsively tells Tessa that their marriage is done because Sam has never gotten over her, Tessa can't help but wonder if they can start again.The most virtuous person in this trio, oddly enough, winds up being the Other Woman, Tessa. She never did anything to deserve losing her boyfriend unless you count wanting to pursue her modeling career (which Sam apparently did) and she never tried to interfere with Sam and Alli's marriage. Alli is also sympathetic: she was certainly no angel, and her insecurities get tiresome, but you have to feel sorry for her -- she ruthlessly went after what she wanted when she was very young, and then discovered it wasn't enough. It was painful to bear the weight of what Alli's been feeling all these years: "They sat in silence for a few minutes, a silence that gradually began to turn tense as they struggled to find something to say to each other. This has always been the hard part, the moments after they made love, moments when they should have felt closer than ever, yet somehow didn't."The real weak link in the story is the man they both want, Sam. He starts out seeming like a very honorable guy: he married Alli and stuck with her, he's a great dad, and he's shocked when Tessa comes on to him. Although he and Alli are separated, he still seems to believe in fidelity. (Physical, at any rate.) But as the book goes on, he starts to seem more and more like a weasel, and you can see why Alli's been so miserable. He's been such a martyr for the past nine years, he refuses to admit, even to himself, that he had been attracted to Allie when he slept with her or that he missed her when she was gone. And he has an evasive way of lying with the truth that puts all the blame for everything onto Alli:"'I think you believe deep down that no one can love you that way, especially me, because I'll always love Tessa.'Her heart thudded against her chest at his words.'Is that the truth, Sam? That you'll always love Tessa?''You think it's the truth.''Can you deny it?'He shrugged. 'If I say yes, will you believe me?'She hesitated a split second too long.'That's what I thought,' he said."Of course, we know that Sam does believe that he'll always love Tessa. He has an almost identical conversation with Alli when she asks him if he kissed Tessa, completely dodging the question and putting her in the wrong. And then there's the way he constantly tries to seduce Alli, making it clear that he wants them to be together, but when she asks him straight out, "Are you saying you don't want a divorce?" (quite a ways into the story) the best he can come up with is "Maybe -- maybe I am."So I was not a huge Sam fan, and would not have been all that heartbroken if the book had ended with him dying from a bee sting. He's allergic to bees, but apparently he'd rather carry condoms around than an epi pen. But the story ends with family reconciliation and both Alli and Tessa happy, and that's not a bad thing.This was maybe the second book I've read by Freethy; I find her writing smooth and easy --  a little on the sentimental/women's fiction feeling side, but still with the elements I want in romance. It's the kind of writing that will pretty much always equal 3 stars for me, because it's good but not especially vivid or emotionally intense.