REVIEW: Friends With Benefits by Lisa Swift
Could Mr Right-Now actually be Mr Right?
Lexie Whittle thought she had life all sewn up, with a gorgeous husband, a beautiful home and a delightful teenage stepson. Until husband Daryl left to work overseas…and everything changed.
A year later, Daryl and Lexie’s marriage is over. Lexie is fighting to stay on top of the bills, juggling her job at the Blue Parrot 1940s cafe in Leyholme with being mum and dad to Connor in Daryl’s absence.
The only thing keeping her from meltdown is the support she gets from Connor’s godfather: Theo Blake, Daryl’s former business partner. Theo might be a jack-the-lad, drifting from one woman to another, but Lexie knows she and Connor can depend on him.
After one too many glasses of wine leads to them falling into bed together, Lexie and Theo begin a friends-with-benefits relationship. What starts as just sex soon becomes something deeper.
But when Daryl returns, Lexie is faced with an impossible decision. Will she be forced to choose between her feelings for Theo and the boy she loves as a son?
Dear Ms. Swift,
The lovely cover for this book grabbed me and whispered “read me.” Since I’m not one for romantic triangles, I was glad that the blurb put my mind at ease. This is a thoroughly English contemporary fiction with heart, romance, comedy, a little heartbreak (a very, very little), and wonderful family relationships.
I had thought the book would be more of a rom-com or just straight romance but there’s a lot more to it than that. Stepmom Lexie and her stepson Connor are the heart and soul of the story and it was delightful to see their close and loving relationship. Stepmoms get such a bad rap but here these two love and care deeply for each other. Connor also loves his godfather Theo and watching these two adults do their best for teenage Connor made me smile. They stumble at times, worry that they’re doing things right, and at this stage in Connor’s life have to have those talks —
Lexie was stirring bolognese sauce on the hob when Theo, looking mildly traumatised, entered the kitchen.
‘So, how did it go?’ she asked.
‘I think there was mutual unspoken agreement that we would never, ever speak of this day again. Oh, and Connor owes your swear jar about six weeks’ pocket money.’
‘That bad, eh?’
‘Let’s just say it’ll be at least a week until my toes uncurl.’ He managed a smile. ‘Still, I think I got the message across. I told the lad he knows where I am if he needs someone to confide in.’
— but it’s clear that they’d do anything for him and have brought him up to be a fine young man. He should have been introduced to Monty Python before this point but the damage has been rectified so, okay.
One surprise I wasn’t expecting is Connor’s exploration of his own sexuality (just kisses and tops so far) which is sensitively handled. Connor is confused at first, unsure of what he’s feeling, and hesitant to tell anyone. Then some relationships go pear shaped for a while so there was teenage angst everywhere for Uncle Theo to help with and Lexi to worry over. Connor’s school friendships seemed realistic as well as his way of speaking in mostly teenage grunts and the aroma of his bedroom (a friend used to horrify me with descriptions of her son’s teen male funk smell).
The relationship between Lexi and Theo moves both quickly and slowly at times. At first it’s all “oh, no there couldn’t be that between us” until two bottles of wine aid the process and then Theo and Lexi have to (lengthily) hash just why a “friends with benefits” plan would be great and no problem. Yeah, we all know how that will eventually go once past the “best sex ever” beginning.
The reasons beyond merely how they feel are numerous and carefully integrated into the plot. Lexi knows her marriage is over but for the two year waiting period but once that is over, she wants another family with a child of her own which she just knows Theo doesn’t want. She worries about how Connor will react (his perception about what’s really going on is hilarious as is the scene in which he catches Theo out) —
‘It’s fine, Theo. I know already.’
‘What do you know?’
‘About you and Lexie.’ Connor sat back down and started scrolling through his phone again.
‘What about me and Lexie?’
‘Theo, come on. I just caught you with your dick hanging out, hiding in the pantry wearing my stepmum’s dressing gown. I’m fourteen, not thick.’
Theo sighed and sat down too. ‘All right, it’s a fair cop. How long have you known then?’
‘Er, since the beginning, obviously.’
Theo frowned. ‘You what?’
‘You guys are crap at keeping things secret. I can hear you tripping over stuff when you sneak in.’
The way Lexi and Theo go after each other, I’m amazed they thought no one would notice. I like that while the sex is described as orgasmic and of “best ever” variety, there’s also mention of how much it means to them emotionally which thus lays part of the groundwork for when they finally do admit that this is a deeper thing than just fuckbuddies.
Still there are other hurdles to be cleared which, again, are carefully included along the way and not just dumped in all at once. Ditto for the final conflict between Lexi and Theo which is partially caused by and references things from Theo’s past rather than just being something stupid. The last family conflict and its wrap up was a little bit fast based on the depth of emotions and years long buildup but it was still believable.
I loved the chemistry between Lexi and Theo – it really felt as if these were two friends of long standing who were amazed to discover that true love had been staring them in the face all this time. The best parts for me were concerning young Connor who usually steals whatever scene he’s in. I would advise going into the book expecting more fiction with romance than a straight romance – though there is plenty of that as well. B+