Co-authors and former friends become lovers when forced to return to the beautiful Key Largo, Florida, beach house where they first struck literary gold in young adult fiction duo Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka’s debut book for adults, The Roughest Draft.
From the moment they met, aspiring novelists Nathan Van Huysen and Katrina Freeling had brilliant, intense chemistry. Nathan was already engaged, so romance was off the table. But their combustible blend of friendship, banter and trust was undeniable. Together, they won a two-book contract, and their excellent first novel became a runaway hit.
Three years later, Katrina and Nathan aren’t speaking. She got engaged to their once-shared agent and he has married his fiancée. Nothing has gone quite as well for either of them since the break. Nathan’s solo book was dead on arrival, and no one wants another. Katrina is even more stuck: She’s not writing or even venturing into bookstores in person for fear of being recognized or connected to her formerly lustrous career.
In the midst of this limbo, they get a call. Their publisher wants them to fulfill their two-book contract, and time is running out. The solution: Recapture the magic by returning to Key Largo. This section of The Roughest Draft unfolds like a mystery with the central relationship as the corpse. But who or what killed it. And is it really dead, or just in cold storage? This is also where Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka cleverly employ a popular romance trope by forcing Nathan and Katrina into close proximity. The Roughest Draft demonstrates why that plot device is so effective: An isolated closeness allows for greater freedom. Being separated from their daily lives while writing a romantic novel together means they can flirt and dance and call it research, even though there’s obviously more to it because of their history.
Katrina and Nathan are easy to care about, both as individuals and as a potential couple. But some structural and stylistic aspects prevent The Roughest Draft from reaching its full potential. The flashbacks are well done, but the slow-drip reveal of what caused past hurts and hostilities keeps the reader from understanding the couple’s present-day motivations. And the often self-conscious and metaphor-stuffed prose, plus abundant reflections on the nature of reality versus fiction, creates distance where there should be intimacy. However, this romance is a joy to read once Nathan and Katrina let go of the past, at least temporarily. As they give their natural connection free rein, The Roughest Draft truly sparkles.