Emma Grace: Dante’s obsession

A mix of romance, fiction and drama in Rebecca J. Cole first novel

Emma Grace: Dante’s Obsession, OK Sisters, 2023.

Emma Grace has not an easy life. She is applying the finishing touching in front of a mirror, before leaving her house for a job interview, and she is doing her best to cover up the bruises her stepfather left on her skin the previous night. She applied for a waitress position in a diner downtown Harmony, and Nora, the owner, after asking a few, targeted questions, hires her on the spot.

Emma Grace finds the job not too difficult, having some experience helps her to get accustomed to new place easily, a bit of money means she can afford groceries and the odd extra for herself, even if her stepfather still drains the most of her paycheque and keeps selling her around his new ‘friends’, a copy of the ones of the city they lived before, just with different names. You give, you get, is the mantra that Emma Grace repeats to herself to get out of bed one more day. One of her colleagues, Denise, notices what’s going on and offers the girl to crash at her place for a while, but Emma Grace refuses, saying she can take care of herself.

In the meanwhile, in a different part of the country, Dante is talking details with his father. He is going to be sent to Harmony to expand his fathers’ business.

“I thought Dominic was claiming Harmony.”

Giovanni scoffed. “Dominic is a power hungry low-life. He’s already made too many enemies by breaking off with Schiavoni. His days are numbered. I’m surprised he’s still alive after what he did to Vittorio’s daughter.”

Dante takes two of his most faithful men with him, Carlo and Marco, and they leave for Harmony. At first, they drive around to get accustomed to the city and its layout, and then they stop for lunch in a diner downtown, the same where Emma Grace works. She draws Dante’s attention immediately, but so does he, because Emma Grace co-workers are head over heels for him, while she barely seems to notice his magnetic charm.

“He’s scary. His eyes give me the creeps.”

This is Emma Grace opinion of him.

It will take Dante several weeks before talking to her about something more than his lunch order. But the waiting time will pay off: slowly, the conversation deepens enough to have personal exchanges and trade jokes. One day Emma Grace is sticking a poster to the front door: a funfair is in town. Dante arrives at the cafe while she is sticking the last corner, and after reading what it advertises, he asks her if she’ll go. At first she says no, but when Dante pressures her a bit more, he finds out that the reason why she won’t go is because she’s never been to a fair before and she wouldn’t know what to expect or how to behave.

“It’s a date”, he said.

Dante is not the type of person who will take a no for an answer, and Emma Grace feels safe with him, not pressure.

They agree to go on her day off, and while he is behaving like a caring and protective gentleman all along, holding her hand almost all the time, he is also taken aback by her pure reactions in front of things that, for any other 23 years old person, were considered childish pastimes. That evening he sends a bunch of flowers to Emma Grace’s home, as a tank you for the beautiful day, but when her stepfather finds out, he beats her up black and blue. She turns up to work the next morning barely able to cover for any of them, the bruises so bad that she doesn’t want to serve Dante’s table. He understands that something’s wrong and it doesn’t take him long to put two and two together. As soon as he leaves the diner, he goes to her house and Emma grace’s stepfather is the one being beaten black and blue this time. The message seems to go through this time, because all of a sudden Frank loses all interest in her.

Emma Grace, though, is not safe yet. One day the bell rings and she opens the door to face a man she only knows as one of Frank’s friends. He says that Franks owns him money, and when Emma Grace tells him that Frank is not home and she has no money, he replies that maybe she can come out with other, creative ways to compensate him. She tries all she can to persuade him not too, she even attempt to run away, but unfortunately Emma Grace receives a soundly beating, before Dante can intervene. She ends up in hospital, where she is told she suffered a miscarriage. At this point the truth about Frank abuses has to come out and it’s not an easy pill to swallow for Dante. He gets his revenge, though, getting rid of Frank and his friend. Emma Grace is finally free.

The two of them start to date regularly – dinners, Christmas, Valentine’s day – Emma Grace is introduced to his family, but all this without knowing Dante and his family are mobsters. Eventually, she will find out, but not in the best way. Since she is, officially or not, Dante’s girlfriend, they are targeting her to get to him, and Dante is forced to open up and tell her the truth to protect her. Will their relationship survive this test?

When I was presented with the book, I was expecting a romance, pure and simple. Instead it mixes different styles – romance, fiction, drama – but it manages to keep the rules of all of them superficial, creating its unique mix. It appeals to many categories, but it also misses the prerogatives typical of each one: there is no explicit sex involved, there is no internal struggle of the characters, Dante’s point of view appear rarely, leaving him in the dark, the two main characters, who will eventual fall in love, don’t struggle in the pursue of their object of affection, because they are already dating before chapter 4, the domestic violence theme is discussed, but with few brushes instead of in emotional details, the same is to be said for the struggles Emma Graces goes through (violence, rape, a miscarriage), leaving the book in a sort of limbo. There are some good dialogues, though, which are one of the most difficult parts of writing, and the narrative is pleasant, but the book needs plot and narration refinements. It’s not bad as a first effort, especially because it tries to mix different genres, each with its own, strict, specific set of rules, and we hope to read more from Rebecca in the future, when she will perfect her style.

Find out more about Rebecca and her books on her website and social media (Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads).

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