Southern Gentlemen, Book #1
Heat Factor: Steamy enough
Character Chemistry: “Let me put you on this pedestal.”
Plot: “I’m not the same girl I was ten years ago.”
Overall: There were bits that were really great, but the hero put me into a paroxysm of rage
Xavier and Imani were high school sweethearts who broke up when they headed off to college – specifically, when Imani went to Atlanta to attend Spelman, and Xavier stayed in Raleigh. Now, after ten years, Imani is back home and Xavier is all about rekindling that special relationship. Imani has some misgivings – she was upset when he dumped her, she wants to focus on opening her own medical practice, she has a shameful secret that would ruin his nascent political career, etc.
Let’s start with the bits I liked. I loved that both Imani and Xavier have well-developed support systems. Xavier spends a lot of time with his fraternity brothers, who offer both emotional and material support, and I really appreciate seeing positive male friendship depicted in romances. I liked that this second chance romance wasn’t full of drama, but rather was centered on a completely understandable conflict – people change, but sometimes we hold the image of who they were in our minds so strongly that it’s hard to see the new person they are.
There were a couple of loose threads and narrative discrepancies – bits where the timeline didn’t quite add up, or a side plot about Imani’s practice being vandalized by kids at Xavier’s youth center that didn’t go much of anywhere – but these were minor annoyances when it came to how I felt about the hero.
So let’s talk Xavier. In the early part of the book, his pursuit made me uncomfortable. He talks a good game about how he’s willing to take it slow per Imani’s (completely reasonable) request, but then he does things like have a dozen roses delivered to her office every day for more than a week until she agrees to go on a date with him. Yikes, dude. Imani seems to find this single-minded pursuit charming, because she does really like the guy and does want to date him (mostly), but I did not. It was especially uncomfortable given how much time was spent by other characters waxing rhapsodic about how wonderful Xavier is, and telling Imani that she loves him and should just give in. Double yikes. In short: he’s a “Nice Guy” who has a hard time taking no for an answer.
Furthermore, Xavier does a lot of thinking about how wonderful and perfect and classy Imani is – definitely not like that last bitch he dated. To be fair, the way he puts her on a pedestal without taking the time to get to know the woman she is now is the central impetus for the main dramatic conflict, but still, this is not a relationship dynamic that I dig.
But my main rage centers around the reveal of Imani’s “Shameful Secret”, so here’s your spoiler warning.
When Imani was in college, she worked as a secretary for a law firm in Atlanta. The lawyers there were pigs. One of them sexually assaulted her. When she went to HR about it, the dude retaliated and said they were in a consensual relationship. Because she was young and didn’t have other resources, she took a cash settlement and signed an NDA.
All of this backstory is hinted at pretty heavily, so I wasn’t particularly surprised by the reveal. In fact, I was all keyed up to be angry at society, because Imani believes so completely that the fact that she was assaulted by a man in a position of power over her would be detrimental to Xavier’s campaign, because that is one toxic bundle of victim blaming. Anyways, Imani very understandably doesn’t tell Xavier about what happened to her, even when, in the biggest coincidence known to fiction, she discovers that the man who assaulted her is the man Xavier is running against for a seat on City Council.
Turns out that NDA was not worth the paper it was printed on, because Imani’s past involvement with Political Rival Villain Man (PRVM) is leaked to the press, and Xavier is pissed. Here’s where the rage sets in. Part of my rage was generalized, because I just fail to understand why hints that an older married man dallied with a young secretary ten years ago (consensual or not) would reflect badly on her, and even more so, would reflect badly on her current partner, but would NOT reflect badly on PRVM. But most of my rage was centered on Xavier, who accuses Imani of fabricating her sexual assault to hide the fact that she had an affair with PRVM.
What the ever-loving fuck.
And then! After Xavier gets all righteous and mad about Imani not telling him this secret, HE DOESN’T EVEN GROVEL! In fact, they make up because his frat brothers go stake out Imani’s apartment and essentially harass her by refusing to leave until she agrees to come to Xavier’s victory party, and she caves. And then SHE APOLOGIZES for not telling him, but HE NEVER EVEN APOLOGIZES FOR CALLING HER A LIAR ABOUT HER TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE OR FOR ALLOWING THE PRESS TO DRAG HER NAME THROUGH THE MUD.
Sorry about the yelling.
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