Road Signs

Road SignsBy MJ Fredrick

Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: March 14, 2011
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Netgalley

Briefly captivated by the idea of romance and pretty, shiny weddings, Willow Hawkins agreed to meet her potential boyfriend’s family and quickly realized she’d made a mistake.  Stranded in small-town Nowhere, Willow calls her best friend, Cameron Trask, for an escape.

Even though he’ll miss an important job interview, Cam comes to her rescue.  When Willow starts to see Cam with new eyes, she wonders how she never made the connection from best friend to best lover.  Willow has one chance to help the man she loves – join him on a cross-country road trip to get to the interview on time.  On the way they’ll face a jealous puppy, an unreliable automobile and weather that threatens to trap them alone..together.

The biggest roadblock she’ll come up against?  If Cam gets his dream job, Willow may lose him for good.

Goodreads Summary

At loose ends for Thanksgiving since she and her best friend Cam decided not to go to his sister’s house like they always do, Willow made the impulsive decision to go to her new boyfriend’s parents’ home instead.  Big Mistake.  Her first clue was when her boyfriend’s mother started showing her the house next door – the house that Willow was going to live in after she married her son.  Then the previously-normal boyfriend started going frat-boy/caveman on her in front of his friends and getting angry with her when she tried to remind him that they were only dating casually.  In a panic, she grabbed her luggage and made a break for it, calling Cam, begging him to rescue her and bring her home.

Willow’s call put Cam in a bind for more than one reason.  He’d been trying to distance himself from her for a while, stretching their contact out to just some phone calls a few times a month now.  He’s been sick in love with her for years and it’s just time to move on.  He’s got his dream job interview lined up halfway across the country in a few days and if he gets it, he won’t even need to be anywhere close to her anymore.  He doesn’t have a car either, so he has no idea how he’s supposed to pick Willow up anyway.  Hearing the panic in her voice though, he can’t say no and when he gets to her, rather than tell her about the job interview and that he needs to get to Seattle, he takes her where she wants to go, to his sister’s place for Thanksgiving.

Cam comes clean about his job interview the next morning, when he plans to send Willow back to her place with his brother while he continues on by himself.  When his plans get screwed up, she decides since she’s the one who interfered in the first place, it’s her job to get him to the interview, but the train and flights are all booked so they’ll have to drive the entire way there.  Cam can’t decide if it’s going to be torture to be with her, a chance to get her out of his system or a chance to finally make her notice him.  For her part, Willow feels something different for Cam but she doesn’t know what it is or if she’s even interested in finding out.

I love, love, love the friends to lovers trope.  I’m even capable of being happy with a healthy dash of unrequited love mixed in, as long as it doesn’t involve anyone who’s TSTL.  I really wanted to like this because there were things about it that were lovely to read, but there were too many times that I just didn’t think Willow was likeable or that the situations she and Cam found themselves in were close to believable, even for Romancelandia.

Willow was completely a Type-A personality, career-driven woman to Cam’s more tentative, almost beta guy.  This job interview was more than just a meeting to Cam, it represented a clean break from everything Willow.  Yet when she called him to come get her, he was reluctant for about a minute before he caved.  At nearly every obstacle the two encountered on their trip west to the interview – and there were many, this was a long, long trip and whatever could go wrong, did – he kept taking it as a sign that maybe he wasn’t meant to take this job.  Cam constantly searched for reasons to keep waiting for Willow and she kept giving them to him without ever really promising him everything.

Willow has a mother who only depends on other men for money and as a result, resolved never to be without a career or her own income.  It made her totally focused on her job to the exclusion of a romantic life with any meaning.  She never even paid that much attention when Cam started drifting away, except in retrospect.  When he came to pick her up, she noticed he’d made some physical changes and she felt odd about it.  When she found out about his job interview, she felt odd and sad about it.  When he needed help getting west to his interview she felt responsible for it.  As their interminable drive continued, she felt attracted to Cam, but she didn’t want a relationship with him really, and she didn’t admit that she loved him.  She knew how he felt – he never hid it and even told her about it – but she didn’t reciprocate, even after they were together.  Her lack of any real emotional investment in his feelings, whatever her reasons, made her very hard to like.  Worse, the longer the trip dragged on and the less likely it looked that she’d ever figure out what she felt for Cam, the sadder he looked for waiting for her at all.

While this had some funny moments and elements that were road-trip funny (like rooms with heaters that worked at one stop and wouldn’t turn off at the next), this isn’t a romantic comedy.  In the case of the heaters for example, the hot room was used so they could be tortured by each other wearing next to nothing.  The erotic elements were nicely done and the one area where Willow and Cam could come together perfectly without any imbalance.  I liked them there – they ought to have gotten there earlier.

My Summary: I turned this story over in my head a lot after I read it and I wondered if part of the problem I had with Willow was that for a friends to lovers trope, there just wasn’t a lot of back story to show why Cam loved her in the first place, so all I had to go on was what I saw of her here and I didn’t like much of it.  In this day and age of planes and trains getting you anywhere (even the weekend of Thanksgiving), a long, necessary road trip plagued with every mishap you can think of probably wasn’t the most plausible plot choice but it was still a unique way to throw Cam and Willow together, even if I thought he deserved better.

My Rating: C

Barbara

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