Along Came Trouble, Ruthie Knox’s latest full-length novel, was released on March 11, 2013. I received an advanced reader copy from Random House Digital.
An accomplished lawyer and driven single mother, Ellen Callahan isn’t looking for any help. She’s doing just fine on her own. So Ellen’s more than a little peeved when her brother, an international pop star, hires a security guard to protect her from a prying press that will stop at nothing to dig up dirt on him. But when the tanned and toned Caleb Clark shows up at her door, Ellen might just have to plead the fifth.
Back home after a deployment in Iraq and looking for work as a civilian, Caleb signs on as Ellen’s bodyguard. After combat in the hot desert sun, this job should be a breeze. But guarding the willful beauty is harder than he imagined—and Caleb can’t resist the temptation to mix business with pleasure. With their desires growing more undeniable by the day, Ellen and Caleb give in to an evening of steamy passion. But will they ever be able to share more than just a one-night stand?
Writing reviews of books, I find that I end up confessing things I wouldn’t necessarily confess otherwise. But if I’m going to explain my reaction to this book, I have to be honest about my thought process while reading it.
So, in Along Came Trouble, Ellen has a toddler (his name is Henry) with her recent-ish alcoholic ex-husband (Richard). And, honestly, I rarely enjoy romance novels where either one of the main characters has a kid. When I realized that Knox’s latest book would have a kid, I immediately thought, “NO! Ruthie, WHY?!?” Because I absolutely love Ruthie Knox’s writing and I feared that this would be the first piece of hers that I would not enjoy.
I was wrong.
I should have trusted in Knox.
I will from here on out.
And, to be honest (because why not?), I also wasn’t so thrilled a the idea of a bodyguard plot line (though Caleb does not consider himself a bodyguard. “I’m a security specialist,” he tells Ellen early on). Then Knox goes and makes Ellen and Caleb so likable, each on their own and when they’re together. Knox fills out their back stories and explains them each in such a way as to make their eventual hot chemistry and hot sex completely believable. Still, she leaves enough room for the relationship to struggle and for the characters’ flaws to rear their ugly heads. How hard can it be to craft that kind of story? Knox makes it seem easy, that’s for sure.
First, Ellen Callahan.
- her path in life: college, law school, marriage, divorce, motherhood
- now a single mother raising her young son alone, living on a cul-de-sac in Camelot, Ohio
- Ellen’s ex-husband cannot co-parent because of his alcoholism so his mother, Maureen, helps Ellen out by watching Henry Thursday afternoon through Saturday mornings
- she’s an entertainment lawyer who advocates for artists against the giant corporations that exploit them
- Jamie Callahan, her brother, is a famous pop star who lives in California. He recently was involved with Ellen’s next door neighbor, Carly. When the paparazzi found out about Jamie’s relationship with Carly, they had descended on Camelot. And despite Jamie leaving Camelot and (a pregnant) Carly behind, the paparazzi had not left.
- “In the winter after she kicked Richard [her now ex-husband] out for being a philandering dickhead” [related: I love you, Ruthie Knox], their son had sprouted from a pea-size nothing to a solid presence inside her womb, breathing and alive.”
- Her son, Henry, is now 2
And Caleb Clark:
- runs his own security company (Camelot Security) but has been subcontracted by Jamie’s regular security company out of California (Breckenridge) to protect both Ellen and Carly from the prying eyes and lens of the paparazzi
- Caleb bought a house in Camelot after 9/11 because he had gone into the service and figured he’d be seeing combat. “He’d wanted the comfort of knowing that one day the war would be over and he would move home to Camelot and live in his own house.”
- he was deployed to Iraq 3 times in 5 years, stayed in the Army for another decade, and finally returned home at the age of 33.
- he’s back in Camelot for 6 months
- his parents own an apartment complex but his father has had a stroke and his mother refuses to let Caleb help her maintain it (though she does passively-agressively guilt trip him about not helping)
- older sister is Amber, who is married to Tony (Knox told their story in her wonderful short story, How To Misbehave)
- he lives with her younger sister, Katie (who has her own story that Knox hints at and which will be the focus of her next book in the Camelot series)
- he has known Carly, Ellen’s neighbor, since they were in fourth grade
So, Ellen is coming out of a messy divorce with a man who cheated on her and she is the parent of a toddler. Caleb is recently home from war, dealing with his mother and father, living with his sister, and trying to run his own security business. He wants commitment, she doesn’t.
Now: Caleb and Ellen together
Ellen doesn’t want to like Caleb because she doesn’t want a bodyguard and she resents the idea of him. But, you know how it is: she does actually like him. And boy, does he like her. But he has a job to do, one she fights him on every step of the way. The fighting, though, is more like foreplay and we eventually get to a scene where Ellen and Caleb flirt in a no-going-back way:
When she dared to look up at him, he was grinning at her. “I’m standing right here, trying to figure out why I haven’t kissed you yet.”
“You’re not standing, you’re slouching. And you haven’t kissed me because we just met yesterday, so kissing would be way out of line. Plus, you have a couple employees who are probably watching us right now, so you can’t even afford to look like you want to kiss me, much less actually go through with it.”
“It’s going to be fantastic, though, when we finally do it. Fireworks are going to go off. Pyrotechnic kissing. You hair will probably catch fire.”
And since they couldn’t go back after this, they went forward, to Ellen’s bed. Ellen thinks this is a one-time, shake-off-the-lust thing. Caleb thinks it’s the beginning of…something. And so when Ellen basically runs from the room after they’ve done the dirty deed, Caleb is disappointed. But he forces her to negotiate and they start by explaining what each of them wants.
“I want to take you out on dates. I want to get to know you better. I want to get to your son better. I want to make love to you repeatedly, in every position I can think of. And I want to spend the night.”
“I want lots of sex. After hours, when I’m not working. Or in the morning would be okay, too, but not after eight o’clock Pacific time, because that’s when I have to make calls. We do it at my house. Either one of us can initiate, but not when Henry’s here and awake. Oh, and no sleepovers. No dates, no deep conversations, no getting-to-know-you-better.”
From there they do actually negotiate:
- Caleb can stay over whenever Henry is not there.
- Ellen can ask Caleb any question she wants, at any time, and he will answer it.
- Caleb gets to ask Ellen one personal question per each orgasm she has, but he has to ask within an hour of the orgasm or he forfeits the question.
- Dates will happen but on case-by-case basis.
- Caleb can interact with Henry but can’t give him (or Ellen) presents.
Well, you can imagine how well Ellen holds up the walls she is trying to maintain around her heart. But it sure is fun watching as Caleb knocks those walls down.
Henry, the son whom I worried would ruin this book, turns out to just be…real. There’s no romanticizing of motherhood on Knox’s part. She gives enough space for Caleb and Ellen to build a relationship that isn’t about Henry but then makes sure that Caleb’s interactions with Henry are consistent and loving. And Ellen and Caleb don’t always get to run off and have sex just because they want to. It’s a realistic portrayal of a mother trying to move on from a terrible marriage and a man fitting himself into the life that they are creating.
And throughout Along Came Trouble, Knox also provides a compelling and satisfying story regarding Carly and Jamie. Turns out, Jamie isn’t really over her and a big section of the book revolves around his attempts to win Carly back (and the public and private fallout from his machinations).
Finally, my favorite scene unrelated to Caleb/Ellen romance:
One of my favorite scenes (and I know Ruthie will not be surprised by this) involves Carly’s grandmother. Her grandmother is 84. Last year, she broke her hip and during her recovery, decided to move into an assisted living facility. She gave her house to Carly, who needed a place to stay after her marriage had ended. Nana still spent plenty of time at her home with Carly.
Here is Nana, in all her Golden Girls glory, explaining to Carly and Caleb why she doesn’t (and does) like the assisted living facility:
“Everyone is so wrinkly. It’s disgusting. But on the plus side, I’m getting laid left and right.”
Caleb choked on his chip, which made Nana laugh.
“Don’t encourage her,” Carly said. “Honestly, Nana, nobody wants to hear about your sex life.”
“Tough. It’s my duty as a feminist to talk about it. The media perpetuates terrible stereotypes about mature women’s sexuality, like it’s a crime to want to get some if you don’t have perky boobs anymore.” Nana was on a roll. “Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m neutered.” She wagged a finger at Carly. “And it sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to put on one of those ugly red hats and go on cruises with a bunch of biddies.”
Please, any god reading this post, let me be like Nana when I am 84 years old. Please.
Knox is a master at realistic characters who grow and evolve through her books. She is funny, her characters are funny, and her writing reads effortlessly. I would read anything she pens.
I give Along Came Trouble 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend it.