When her in-laws died in an auto accident eight months ago, Candice "lost" her husband Ian, also. After only two years of marriage, their guilt and pain have left them living together but apart. During Ian's month-long absence overseas, Candice plans to determine if her marriage can be saved. But when the first man she ever loved becomes a client at her work, she wonders what she really wants from life and from love.
Candice and Ian are struggling to find a way back together after the terrible accidental death of Ian's parents a few days before Christmas when they were on their way to buy a present for her. Ian's pain and grief motivated him to exclaim: "If we had never gotten married they would still be alive!" Candice's guilt over the reality of their death and Ian's guilt over his hurtful words spoken in grief have now opened an emotional and physical chasm between these two people whose marriage began with love, commitment, joy, and passion. Now each wonders if they can save their relationship or if they even want to. Their "goodbye" at the airport would cause anyone who witnessed it to wonder if these two had ever loved each other.
Enter Kegan, a wealthy, handsome, well-spoken, beautifully dressed, successful attorney who now has amassed sufficient wealth to fulfill his personal dream of owning his own restaurant. Candice's firm specializes in designing restaurant interiors and Candice is assigned as a liason with this important client as he works to open his new restaurant Steel. What Candice's boss doesn't know is that Kegan and Candice have history--they dated for three years in college and he was her first lover. His charm is as attractive as ever and Candice is immediately aware of his personal charisma that ensnares her just effectively now as it did ten years earlier.
This novel is the prequel of Wardell's newly released novel Stir Until Thoroughly Confused what was recently reviewed on The Book Binge. As in that novel, Kegan is goal oriented, focused, fully primed to get what he wants. It's the way he lives and the way he works. The novel is written as a life journal spanning the four weeks that Ian is away. It is the time of Candice's greatest vulnerability and unbeknownst to her, her personal emotional upheavals are putting her job on the line as well. As the journal progresses, the reader can almost visualize Candice's sinking under Kegan's spell, that each decision she makes to spend time with him away from their professional involvement is drawing her deeper and deeper into the black hole of indecision and toward that point where she will have to choose between Kegan and Ian. It doesn't help that there are only a few emails each week from Ian, many of which are bare-bones, sketchy as to what he is doing, and could have been written by a stranger. There is only one overseas phone conversation each week and that is also strained--between two people who never had any trouble talking together for hours when they were first together. It just doesn't look very good for this marriage.
This is a compelling piece of fiction that I found I really enjoyed reading and having read Wardell's just released novel, was delighted to find out a little more about Kegan. I was troubled all the way through with Candice's attraction to this man, simply because it was Kegan who had hurt her so deeply that she broke up with him, throwing her into deep depression. Her best friend wafts in and out of the story as a person who doesn't like Kegan, doesn't trust him, and doesn't want Candice to even give him the time of day. It was this very friend that held Candice together at the time of the break-up. Little wonder she wanted nothing to do with him! This was one of the aspects I liked a lot about this novel--it was filled with characters who held their own, people who I would have loved to know in real life. Even those who played a very minor role in the story itself were still very good. No literary clones here. Ms Wardell is a very good writer and even though she doesn't have as thick a literary portfolio as some, it appears that all her work is well crafted and well written, filled with stories contemporary readers can enjoy to which they can relate.
I think those who like stories about people who take risks, even very fearful people who take risks, will like this book. The episode with the polar bear tattoo was symbolic of Candice's fear of the unknown, of wondering if she could endure the pain, and the freedom one experiences when they take their future into their own hands and don't allow someone else to make that decision.
This is a free read so there is no excuse for a reader not to take advantage of such a good book. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.