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When Lightning Strikes
(The Whiskey Creek series, Book 1)
Brenda Novak
Fiction, Romance

DESCRIPTION: Gail DeMarco, the small-town girl from Whiskey Creek who made good as a PR agent in Los Angeles, may just have gone bust overnight. Her most lucrative (and most difficult) client, the notoriously out-of-control actor Simon O'Neal, took his business elsewhere... and spread the word that everyone else ought to do the same. Anybody who is anybody - or who ever hopes to be anybody - follows O'Neal's lead in this town. If she can't smooth things over with the man, she'll go bankrupt in a matter of months, and she has too many employees depending on her to give up.
Simon O'Neal may be top dog at the box office, but his life off-screen is crashing and burning. Ever since his disastrous marriage ended, leading to a bitter custody battle in which his ex-wife has pulled every dirty trick in the book (and then some), he's been running from bottle to bed to barroom brawl in a slow-motion disaster - and with paparazzi documenting his every misstep, proving himself a fit parent to his only son is nigh impossible. His depression borders on suicidal, his heart's been shattered beyond repair, and his antics are about to cost him the only thing he has left, his career. Unfortunately, he just fired the only PR agent in town who was willing to tell him when he was crossing the line... even though he knew she was right.
Gail needs to save her PR firm. Simon needs a new image. The answer for both: marriage.
It's all an audacious publicity stunt. Show the world that Simon O'Neal is finally settling down with a straight-laced woman, and not only will he be able to use it in court with his ex, but Gail and her firm will benefit from the publicity. Just two years ought to do the trick. But things go wrong almost from the start... leaving Gail no choice but to up the stakes and remove Simon from the public eye until he can pull himself together. He needs somewhere quiet, somewhere stable, without the temptation of glitz and glamor and the constant glare of flashbulbs in his face. Where better - or worse - than her small home town of Whiskey Creek?

REVIEW: Like most romances, this is largely an escapist fantasy. Gail's the hard-working, no-nonsense "Plain Jane" who has devoted herself so completely to her work and pleasing her authoritarian father that she's neglected her softer, sensual side. Simon is (literally) the movie star, the hot and famous masculine man whose looks and money hide a deeply wounded heart... a heart that, naturally, only one woman can heal. They enter into their little bargain on barely civil terms, though there are hints of sparks behind every clash. It isn't long before their fake marriage is threatened by real feelings, which might destroy more than the paparazzi and corrosive Hollywood atmosphere combined. Gail can't believe a man like Simon could ever love someone like her, while Simon has trouble reconciling his own emotions with his bitterness over love in general. Though things start out a bit stilted, with Gail having to eat crow and apologize to Simon, the two actually find themselves on fairly even footing in their (at first) scripted relationship. Aside from their own issues, other threats of varying degrees, from Gail's distrustful family and her old flame to Simon's manipulative business manager and washed-up actor father (who played a significant role in the breakup of Simon's marriage), emerge along the way. Being a romance, there were several givens about the story, but it played out decently nonetheless, and I came to care about the characters. It read quickly and provided just what it promised: a little romantic escape to a small town where happily-ever-afters are still possible.

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