Anne McAllister’s The Return of Antonides
Importantly: There are HEAPS of spoilers! This is going to be one long, bumbling mess of a mind dump spoilers post because I can’t bear to pretend that I can contain my thoughts.
I adore Anne McAllister. I love her books and she ranks up there with Lynne Graham and Charlotte Lamb in category romance author love from me. I have spent the last 3 years going back and forth on her blog waiting and anticipating the arrival of this book and I am so glad that it was wonderful!Crossing the line between love and hate…
Widow Holly Halloran’s fresh start is only a plane ride away. Until Lukas Antonides — the man she hates but has never been able to forget — strides arrogantly back into her life…
Lukas was her late husband’s best friend and he openly disapproved of Holly. Then one unforgettable night their acrimony ricocheted into the bedroom!
Now the arrogant Greek is kicking the hornets’ nest again — he offers Holly a job. Holly agrees, determined not to let Lukas get beneath her surface this time. But as the tension mounts between them so too does that bubbling attraction of old…
Widowed Holly finds out that her husband Matt’s best friend Lukas is back in New York after close to twelve seemingly itinerant years. Holly’s memories of Lukas are not pleasant – from being ignored by him when she was 9 to his and Matt’s 11, the two boys often heading off to adventures without inviting her to the memory of one night when they both betrayed Matt.
Due to Matt breaking his leg he suggested that Lukas take Holly to her prom – Lukas does so and for the first time ever Holly enjoys his company. He is a gentleman, he dances with her all night, he takes her to the after party and then they go for a midnight swim. They get closer and closer until, in an act of young adults getting carried away they have an incredibly hot and heavy make out session, getting to third base. Not only do they make out, but from just clitoral stimulation he gives Holly her very first orgasm despite the fact that she and Matt had been having sex for several months.
Holly is immediately guilt ridden at her betrayal of Matt. Lukas not only has guilt towards his best friend but he is also heartbroken as the reader knows from the very first chapter that Lucas has loved Holly from a young age and wanted her to choose him.
She didn’t love him. She loved Matt.
Lukas felt sick.
Throughout the book you see glimpses of Holly’s rejection of Lukas – where she thought he was taunting and objecting to her and Matt being together, misunderstanding that he actually was trying to show himself as a contender.
He railed at them about the stupidity of their engagement since Christmas. They were too young, they didn’t know their own minds, they might marry the wrong person, they might not be the right person for the other…
And that night he’d set about proving it – to prove to Matt that he never should have asked her to marry him, that she must not really love Matt because, if she did, how could she have been tempted by another man?
Lukas always regretted his actions that night – even though they were not premeditated.
He had pushed her twelve years ago, trying to make her see what she didn’t see at all.
Holly though was young and needed to deny her attraction to him as that would mean hurting Matt whom she loved deeply.
She had always, deep down, had a thing for Lukas. Not that she’d ever admitted it-not to anyone. Not even to herself.
Lukas abruptly leaves for Greece the day after Holly’s prom leaving his degree half-finished, leaving his best-friend waiting for him to return to rebuild a boat they shared, leaving his family and siblings and New York. Holly does not acknowledge his act as being precipitated by their joint action instead considers him to be unreliable and fickle. Lukas’s perspective differs from Holly. He is a good son, employee and friend – even allowing himself to be forced to be Holly and Matt’s best man considering it his “punishment” for that one time. Lukas exiles/ostracises himself from friends, family, his city, his country and even his twin sister in his need to keep away from the loving couple and he ends up being considered unreliable, and unloyal.
The first half of the novel iss full of flashbacks and set up the story for the protagonists to move forward. Lukas seemed to be tiptoeing around widowed Holly until he found out that she was dating already and all of a sudden the pity party of tangled memories was over.
He flirts with her, he smoulders at her and the tension goes through the roof. Holly tries to hold him off but eventually folds and decides to have a 6 week affair with him until she is due to leave for the Peace Corps. Holly in deciding to have sex with Lukas thinks
As the reader, you see exactly what Lukas sees – two people who are knit together, they have a relationship that makes them better and stronger in their union but Holly does not see this at all. Despite having an affair and satiating their physical needs Holly and Lukas do not completely reveal themselves to each other until much later in the book. It isn’t sexual activity that makes them vulnerable, sexual activity in this book was a way for Holly to hide her real fears and needs from Lukas. However, Lukas breaks down and reveals himself, guttural and desperate for Holly to want him too. When it comes to a love declaration it is the unexpected declaration that is honest and not the planned grand gesture that rings false. The “I love you” that comes from a moment of desperation and of need. So when Lukas utters “I love you, damn it” in trying to convince Holly that he doesn’t consider their liaison an affair, as the reader you can feel his heart wrenching and grasping at her yet she still chooses to leave him. He is stoic and gets on with his work in New York but his world has fallen apart. He won’t chase Holly as she was clear that she didn’t want him. It is only when she returns to him that both of them reveal every doubt, every raw emotion to each other at only then does the tension of this book move into the Happily Ever After zone.
It wasn’t love. For it to be love, it had to be mutual. It had to knit together two people, create a relationship, make them better and stronger together than they were apart. They had to want that.
I adored this story and there are so many things about this book I want to discuss. So here goes:
Dancing and romancing
Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a rantyMcPoopyPants piece about how crap dance scenes are in romances. Since my ranty piece I have come across some better dance scenes – Lynne Graham has had clubbing scenes and Anne McAllister had Holly go to a club with her girlfriend in this book. This is a welcome change to the daggy dinner dance that used to do my head in. But what really stood out to me in this book was that Lukas, typical of Greek men, was an awesome dancer and it is the closeness and the rhythms of their bodies to the music that precipitated our then teenage/young adult protagonists to betray their fiance/best friend and have their make out session. Music is heady that way. It can lead you astray. Unlike the McAllister novel in my McRanty post, the dancing in this book was well described, allowing me to feel the rhythms through the writing. This makes me happy (despite the word “shimmy” being in there).
Let’s go Greek, endaxi!
One thing that I adore about Anne McAllister’s Greek series is that she is spot on with her description of Greek families living in the diaspora. The meddling mum always wanting to find a bride for her son makes me giggle for despite their Alpha HP gazillionaire status, despite the jetsetting and flash cars, Anne McAllister grounds our hero in the need to meet family expectations.
…Lukas strangled the steering wheel. “And I’m not marrying to please my mother.”
In acutal fact, she writes heroes that are not all that different to some of the cashed up Greeks that I know (not really gazillionaires but you know they are doin’ alright). They are seemingly independent but their phone rings and they need to go to Yiayia’s place to be fed – which is what I adored about this book because there IS a Yiayia scene! My only disappointment was that Lucas’s nephews call him “Uncle Lukas” and not “Theio Lukas” and mannnnnnn! I would have loved to have seen Theio mentions. The other fab McAllister trait is that her heroes do not use Greek epithets. No awkward appropriations like “gyneka mou” or “meli mou” for La McAllister!
Betrayal and infidelity
Now here is a vexed issue in romancelandia. Readers seem to be in either the camp of hating infidelity in romance fiction and refusing to acknowledge it as romance or they are like me, interested and open to infidelity as part of the romance narrative. Unfortunately, I have been caught up in the infidelity conversation many times over at twitter and in all instances, good manners prevail and though I will speak up about my viewpoint I am gentler than I prefer. But here I find myself on my blog, and with an infidelity plot in hand and all I can say is that it is the betrayal of a dead but main charaacter that drives this book and I am sooooo glad. So few authors in romance have the temerity to stand up to that bible-belt readership and romance has really suffered over the years by the watering down of infidelity as the driver for a romance. Done badly, the infidelity story can grate, but written well it can show the complexity of life. And when it comes down to it – life and love is complex. People get hurt through the consequences of other people’s coming together. This does not make their own narrative less important or lesser than another person’s socially approved romance. A skilled author should be able to take a premise, a situation that pushes our personal boundaries, that makes us question our moral stance and allow us to question ourselves – what would I do in this circumstance? Is it possible to love two men equally? Is it possible to love one man and feel burning desire for another? Is a teenage indiscretion any different to one made by mature adults? Anne McAllister skirts many of these issues in The Return of Antonides by killing Matt off before the story begins but these questions still remain.
And do I think that these two will actually last? I do. They had a friendship and a spark of life to them. The more I read about Holly’s relationship with Matt, the more I became bored. Lukas however was vibrant and thrilling. Holly though refused to compare the two men that loved her, assuring a hurt Lukas that her love for him was not less or more than her love for Matt – it was just love realised at a different point of her life.
I have always said that I consider the category romance novel to be the most pure form of romance fiction. Concisely written with a microscopic lens on the eventual love declaration of two people without any superfluous subplot, few secondary characters and, when written well, includes a whole lot of internalised thought without any waffle. With all that in mind, I have to say that The Return of Antonides is a rare category romance that left me wanting more introspection. It is a novel that left me with more questions about the evolution of the relationship established in a moment of betrayal and regret. It was angsty but I wanted more of their angst. This is the only fault of this book. For once, I wanted more. I wanted to explore Lukas’s life overseas, distancing himself from his family and friends due to the depth of his love for both Holly and Matt yet also due to his betrayal of his best friend. I wanted to explore these feelings further, I wanted, DAMN IT, I wanted a DEEPER read! This is definitely a consequence of the way my own reading has changed over the years. Perhaps this was also highlighted by the three years since I last read a new Anne McAllister novel. The past three years have brought phenomenal changes to my own life as I never expected to be doing a PhD. Obviously, it has changed the way I read but I also think my constant engagement with other romance readers has also affected this change in me and perhaps I will need to explore this change in a future post.
This story was wonderful but it skimmed the surface, and it makes a mockery of my moniker as it left me in the shallows when all I wanted was to drown in the depths of their story to satiate my feels.
I borrowed a copy of The Return of Antonides from a public library in NSW.