First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips is an old novel from the 1990s about a runaway First Lady and a runaway brother of seven sisters. Although most of the author’s “heroes” are bullies, Mathias Jorik is probably the best among them. I wish that was saying something positive but it really isn’t.
6 out of 10 stars. The plot is completely implausible but I read science fiction occasionally so I can stretch my imagination. There are other issues, however, that make it a slow read in places. For example, the heroine Nealy Case is the widow of the President and only 31 years old, highly unlikely. She’s able to ditch Secret Service with barely a thought, also hard to believe. Mat Jorik is a jerk, like most of SEP’s heroes, but it began to really grate on my nerves just how often he stated that he hated women, girls, and anything female in general. I think after about the fiftieth time it got harder and harder to continue reading. SEP really does overdo the bullying in her books. Some heroes can’t come back from that. At the end of this novel, I felt like the heroine was shortchanged getting stuck with this guy. Another example is that every single person who described the hero called him very handsome. No one called the First Lady that. That kind of bias and sexism in a romance is hard to swallow and hard to read.
Cornelia “Nealy” Litchfield Case is the daughter of a former Vice President and the widow of the President who passes away on an October day. By July, the Vice President still has her performing duties of the First Lady because he is a widower. Not given a chance to grieve, or to have a life, she runs and takes a vacation. She dons a disguise by cutting and coloring her hair, putting on cheapo clothing, and tying a pillow to her stomach to look as though she’s pregnant. She takes $50,000 with her and buys a car without any ID, but leaves her keys in the car when she stops at a diner and it’s stolen with her cash in the trunk. Now she’s stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Mathias “Mat” Jorik is a journalist whose spent the last six months doing tabloid type reporting. He’s quit his job, sold his house, and is on his way back home to do real journalism again. When he gets there, he discovers a lawyer has been trying to contact him about his ex-wife who died in a car accident with her current boyfriend. Mat was married to her for six months, but she put his name as the father on both of her children’s birth certificates, two girls ages 14 and 1 that he’s never even met (and isn’t the father of). He wants to get a blood test to prove he’s not the father and be off the hook, but the attorney won’t allow him to do that. He has to find the legal guardian first. That puts Mat in a conundrum. He can’t prove he isn’t the legal guardian without kidnapping them long enough to take them in for a DNA test. Lucy, the 14 year old, is petrified of needles and freaks. So he compromises by taking Lucy and Button, the 1 year old, across country to Grandma Joanne’s house so he’ll be off the hook. They won’t all fit in his tiny Mercedes convertible, so he has to take their yellow Winnebago. It makes for an entertaining ride.
Along the way, Mat runs into Nell, Nealy’s alter ego, who just had her car stolen. He needs a babysitter and Nell needs a ride. So they travel together at least as far as Iowa to Grandma Joanne’s house. Here’s where I had great difficulty with this novel. Nealy’s delightful. She’s had a hellish life and still manages to see everything beautiful in the countryside. Mat, on the other hand, has had a lot of responsibility with his seven younger sisters, but it’s nothing compared to what Nealy’s endured. He complains all the time about how much he hates women. She doesn’t complain at all. His complaining gives Lucy an ulcer because she’s terrified of going to foster care and being separated from Button. More than 200 pages of this was hard to read.
Mat is no ordinary looker. He’s 6’6″ and 210 pounds of gorgeousness. The author’s description, not mine. This is repeated so many times I was getting nauseous. Looks are far from everything. He also likes talking dirty to Nealy which I found objectionable. Three pages in one scene were entirely devoted to him dirty talking Nealy, but it was nonsensical (excerpt below).
Eventually they make it to Grandma Joanne’s and Mat discovers she’s been dead for a year. Lucy knew and hid it. He calls Social Services and Lucy runs with Button. Up until now, Nealy has had a hard time staying hidden when the whole country is looking for the missing First Lady. Mat has figured out who she is and plans on writing an expose on her. Talk about betrayal of trust to all three females. He runs off and that’s when Lucy takes off with Button, so Nealy is forced to expose herself as the First Lady in order to get help catching Lucy and Button. Without hesitating, she sits Lucy down and tells her she wants to adopt both of them. She patiently and lovingly describes what life will be like constantly in the public eye and Lucy, who has no other options, doesn’t hesitate to say yes, please adopt them. Mat goes off and writes his little expose, completely severing ties with all three women.
Three months later he changes his mind. At the same time she’s running for Senator. Honestly, she deserves better. The ending was kind of cute. He kidnaps her and takes her away in the Winnebago. The sex scenes were over the top. There’s a side story about her being a virgin because the President was gay and had a monogamous relationship with his male adviser Terry. For her to do a complete 180 degrees and enjoy Mat’s dirty talk was hard to swallow. But whatever.
6 out of 10 stars. It’s definitely SEP’s best novel. I can’t stand the “heroes” in any of her other novels. In some of them the heroines are even awful. The idea that Mat could stand by and watch these two children be separated and sent to foster care and not even consider adopting them was really disappointing. In reality, three months later it would’ve been way too late to see them again, much less get them back.
The …’s below were not added by me. I’ve copied them exactly as they appear in the text.
“…stretch you out…open your legs…open you…”
He spoke into her mouth. Claimed her with his tongue. And his hands…oh, his hands…they were everywhere. Possessing her body as if he owned it.
“…touch you here…fingers seeking…”
“A little deeper…”
Yeah, I was bored. 😉
Reviewed by Betsy.