Blurb from Goodreads:
The dead of winter.
An isolated island off the coast of Maine.
A sinister house looming over the sea …
He’s a reclusive writer whose macabre imagination creates chilling horror novels. She’s a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids’ puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill with laughs.
But she’s not laughing now. When she was a teenager, he terrified her. Now they’re trapped together on a snowy island off the coast of Maine. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.
It’s going to be a long, hot winter
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of my very favorite contemporary romance authors. My first foray into the world of SEP romance was Heaven, Texas and while not my favorite of her books it did start me on a Susan Elizabeth Phillips glom that had me reading almost her entire backlist. Since that time I’ve highly anticipated almost every one of her new releases, which only happens every 18 months to two years and therefore gives me plenty of looking forward to time. Heroes Are My Weakness is a stand-a-lone and isn’t related to either the Chicago Stars or Wynette, Texas series. This is an all new story, set amid the gloomy coast of Maine and tells the story of the quirky, fun Annie and her teenage crush/nemesis, Theo Harp.
When the tale opens readers are immediately introduced to Annie Hewitt, a ventriloquist on her way to the isolated cottage where she spent a few of her teenage years. Annie is alone, tired, completely broke and just getting over pneumonia. Her only goals, once she conquers the wind and snow and actually gets to the cottage’s front door, is to fully regain her health and locate the “legacy” her mother spoke about on her death-bed. Annie doesn’t have a lot of good memories of her time spent at either Moonraker Cottage or the main house on the property, Harp House, but according to the divorce decree between her mother and Elliott Harp she must spend two months out of the year, every year, without leaving the island, to keep it. Her main problem with being back in the area is Theo Harp and her memories of his bullying. Serious bullying. She remembers Theo as a hot and cold sixteen year old boy, introducing her to kissing, groping and teenage hormones one minute and then locking her in the dumb-waiter, pushing her off a bridge and being cruel the next. He even tried to kill her once. His literary career as a horror writer doesn’t inspire her to think he’s changed all that much over the years.
We’ll get to Theo little later, because it takes a while before he actually makes any kind of impression other than being the boogey man who’s holed up in the dark, dreary castle. Annie is who takes center stage for the first several chapters. If you’ve ever read Ms. Phillips then you know, you know, she gives her heroines impossible situations, with plenty of conflict to overcome in order to find their happily ever after. Annie is no different. My first impression of her was one of pity and fear. She’s so down on her luck, broke and hoping to find some kind of miracle that I felt sorry for her. As soon as the story opens she’s having quite the intense conversation with her puppets all in her mind. I will admit to being a little worried that Annie seemed to be quite content to have a full discussion with make-believe characters, but it didn’t take me long to realize that this is how Annie talks through situations with herself and deals with her conflicting emotions. Annie very quickly realizes she has to head up to Harp House to find out why the caretaker hasn’t started her generator or turned on her water. She has absolutely zero desire to be anywhere near the house that reminds her of one of the worst summers of her life, but she really doesn’t have any other choice. Once at Harp House she not only runs into Theo, but also the woman who saved her life that summer and that woman’s mute little girl.
I have to say I kept wondering where this story was going, and how in the world Theo would be redeemed enough to turn into the hero mentioned in the title. Some of the things that occurred between him and Annie while teenagers were awful. Simply awful. I did not have a good impression of Theo at first because he’s just so dismissive of his past actions. In fact I do believe he uses the excuse “I was just a kid” a couple of times, and while I do believe people make mistakes and do foolish things in their youth, sometimes even those things are not forgivable. Theo is dark, moody and intense. It was hard to get a grip on his personality and motivations. Even through her fear and distrust of him, Annie holds her own and gives everything he dishes out right back. She’s all sarcastic wit and sass and is quite intent on helping the woman who saved her life through a tough spot even though that means coming into contact with the distasteful Theo. After much back and forth the two finally come to an arrangement that gives her time at the house and him time at the cottage alone to write. It’s not until bad things start happening and Annie is in danger that this couple start to reconnect and really get to know each other. That’s when everything changes. Slowly at first. The romance is skillfully built and developed. This couple has a fun, sexy romance even while working through their external and internal conflicts.
I think the thing I enjoy the most with any Susan Elizabeth Phillips story is how her characters grow and evolve from their first impressions to be so much more than the reader anticipated. Theo isn’t who you think he is and all those past events didn’t exactly happen like Annie remembers them. Annie might seem weak and broken in the first few chapters, but it soon becomes clear that she’s tough, resilient and through her puppets a gifted healer. I love the depth and dimension of not only the main protagonists, but the secondary characters as well. I never knew what was going to happen or who the bad guy would turn out to be, and was actually surprised at how everything wrapped up. This story also touches on mental illness and what I would assume to be a type of post traumatic stress disorder. I thought both were handled well. There is a side story of the mute daughter of Annie’s childhood friend and I was quite charmed by Annie and her use of her puppets to get the four year old to open up, develop a sense of trust and safety and ultimately heal.
In the end, this was another heart warming, touching romance by the very talented Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I think her fans will be more than pleased and will be adding this title to their favorites shelf. Final Grade- B+
Out of nowhere, he heard a puppet’s voice. Kiss her, you dumbass.
There was nothing he yearned to do more, but he reeked of smoke, his face was coated with oily soot, and his hands were filthy.
Just do it.
And so he did. He tunneled his dirty hands through her hair and kissed her breathless. Her neck, her eyes, the corners of her mouth. He kissed her lips as if his life depended on it. Kissed their future into her. All they could have and all the could be. The soft sounds they made together became a poem to his ears.