Meant to be More by Amelia Foster

From a marriage of necessity to friends-to-lovers, this book checks so many boxes when it comes to my favorite romance novel tropes.

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My best friend has spent the past several years traveling the world with Doctors Without Borders. It’s been her life’s dream and something I’ve always admired about her. But somehow, after twenty years of friendship, our last goodbye brought about the realization of a truth I hadn’t yet recognized. I don’t just respect Jillian, I am in love with her, and it’s time she knows.

But upon her return home, she manages to lay her own shocking news on me before I can even form the words to tell her how I feel. It seems she needs access to the fortune her grandfather left her in his will. But there’s one problem.

The caveat being an antiquated, but ironclad stipulation that she can’t receive the funds unless she gets married and stays that way for eighteen months. Naturally, I’m the only person she can trust with such a delicate arrangement. And I’m also hopelessly in love with her, so I’ll greedily take the chance to fake-marry my best friend. This way, I can prove to her that we are meant to be more than just friends.

First Impressions

Nope, nada, no way!! I refuse to accept the fact that this is the final book in the Meant to Be series. I’m going to choose to live in total denial, and dream that a long-lost brother nobody ever knew existed in this family will come forward to become the focus of a future novel. This is one of those series that you can’t help but fall in love with. I didn’t want it to end, just like I didn’t want this particular book in the series to end either. I found myself caught in a vicious cycle where every time I picked it up it was so hard to put down, yet at the same time I wanted to take my time to savor it for as long as possible.

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We are once again presented with the most delightfully lovable characters, and a male lead I want to steal for myself. A common feature throughout every book is the use of flashbacks to tell the story of our characters, and reveal the deep emotional connection they’ve forged over time. The author once again does a fantastic job of balancing our time in both the past and the present, and everything comes together to reveal a beautiful tale of friendship and love in a way that still manages to be unique from every book that came before.

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Friends For Life to Man and Wife

This fourth and final book tells the story of Jillian and Dean who have been close friends since they were just kids. Normally the flashbacks in these novels are used to reveal the meet cute of our two characters, as well as ultimately build up to a moment when their relationship falters to near collapse. The story here plays out a bit differently in that while we do see how these two kids formed an unlikely friendship, the flashbacks reveal how both Jillian and Dean have felt something deeper than mere friendship for quite some time, yet they’re constantly pushing those feelings aside so as not to risk their special connection. They’ve stayed close throughout the years, and in our present day scenes Dean finally feels like he’s ready to admit how much he loves his best friend. After a return from her most recent stint abroad with Doctors Without Borders though, Jillian throws Dean for a loop by proposing marriage.

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It turns out her father has gambled away a large portion of their family fortune, and in order to access an inheritance from her grandfather Jillian must get married. It might not be the way Dean pictured tying the knot with the love of his life, but he’s decided to take full advantage of this opportunity to show Jillian how perfect married life with him can truly be. These two may have been the most adorable couple of the whole series, simply because their connection as friends was naturally sweet, yet also teasing in the most fabulous way. I was a bit surprised that when they ultimately decided to enter into a physical relationship as “friends with benefits” in their marriage that there wasn’t a single moment of awkwardness between them. They weren’t afraid to tear each other’s clothes off, and I think the reason for it speaks to their mutually secret desire to take things further between them for a long time. The question remains though if either of them will be willing to admit how much they truly love each other, and that their newest desire in life is to make this marriage last beyond the designated timeline needed for Jillian to claim her inheritance.

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Two Families

The Carlisle brothers have been the focus of this series since book one. We’ve come to know each and every one of them, and discovered that every son is as delectable and good-hearted as the one who came before. Their family is loving, supportive, and couldn’t be more different than Jillian’s own upbringing. Although both families are wealthy, Dean’s family is seen as “new money”, and therefore unworthy of the respect of Jillian’s mother and father. She grew up amidst the unloving disregard of her selfish parents. One day when she was little, Jillian happened upon one of her neighbors, the youngest son of the Carlisle clan, and from that day on she was enveloped in their warmth. It was because of this other family that she knew what it meant to be loved, and realized that she wanted to do something with her life that meant more than money.

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If I had to identify one area of the story that left me feeling somewhat wanting it would be in regards to Jillian’s relationship with her mother. There has been a long-standing tension and lack of emotion between them for as long as Jillian can remember, and she’s essentially devoted her entire life to ensuring she was nothing like her stoically cold and distant mother. And yet, in the end we see that this tension is resolved fairly quickly following an argumentative outburst from Jillian in one scene, and a secret conversation involving Dean and her father in another scene. Now, all of our questions are answered as it relates to why Jillian’s mother was so cold throughout her childhood, but I would have appreciated one more emotional moment where they could talk out some of their previous issues just as mother and daughter.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Meant to Be, book 4. Of the entire series, this one probably had the least amount of tension between our characters, which I found to be unbelievably refreshing. There were moments in this series where I would anxiously hold my breath wondering how our lovebirds could ever find their way out of a difficult situation and back into each other’s arms. Throughout this read though, I was always confident that Jillian and Dean were constantly headed towards a happily ever after.

Final Impressions: Get the series, read the series, love the series!

Smut Level: I appreciated that Jillian and Dean didn’t immediately fall into bed with each other. We have to wait through a good half of the book before these two friends decide to take things to the next level, but rest assured that once they do it’ll be everything you were waiting for!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 216 Pages.

Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen

Who knew palindromes could be such a sexy turn-on?

What’s it About? 

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You’d think a billion dollars, a professional hockey team and a six-bedroom mansion on the Promenade would satisfy a guy. You’d be wrong. For seven years Rebecca has brightened my office with her wit and her smile. She manages both my hockey team and my sanity. I don’t know when I started waking in the night, craving her. All I know is that one whiff of her perfume ruins my concentration. And her laugh makes me hard.

When Rebecca gets hurt, I step in to help. It’s what friends do. But what friends don’t do is rip off each others’ clothes for a single, wild night together. Now she’s avoiding me. She says we’re too different, and it can never happen again. So why can’t we keep our hands off each other?

First Impressions

I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how much I loved this book! I went in with low-to-no expectations, yet practically every time I listened to a little snippet of it before work I’d find myself with a smile almost permanently plastered on my face. It’s simply the epitome of the perfect beach read. Fun, romantic, silly, light-hearted, and you can really just relax and enjoy it as the sun shines and the waves crash along the sandy beach. Nate and Rebecca have been co-workers for years, but more importantly they’ve developed a beloved friendship on top of their professional relationship. It’s only when Rebecca sustains an injury which literally throws her off-balance that we see she and Nate develop a level of closeness they’ve never experienced before.

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What’s Standing in the Way? 

It’s only when Rebecca gets a concussion following a little slip on the ice that Nate starts to realize how much his beautiful employee means to him. We don’t just have a friends-to-lovers romance going on, but also the complexities of an office romance mixed in there as well. I was quite surprised, and happily so, that Nate’s immense wealth (simply the fact that he had money) was never really a point of contention between them. Sure, sometimes he used his money in a way to support Rebecca without consulting her ahead of time, and the ensuing arguments caused some pointed grumbling. However, we see other factors were significantly more influential in causing Nate and Rebecca to hesitate in pursuing the romantic relationship they both desired.

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First, there’s the fact that they’re also in an employer/employee dynamic. While they’ve had a friendly relationship throughout the years, they’ve always maintained a level of professionalism in the work place, and it’s a line they’re not quite willing to risk crossing. A second hurdle that Rebecca personally had to jump over was her own sense of intellectual inferiority when compared to Nate. He didn’t just happen upon his wealth, but rather he earned it by putting his smarts to good use in the tech industry. His level of genius intimidates her, and often makes her feel as though he deserves better. It’s only through a multitude of flashbacks depicting the progression of their relationship, and through their current interactions of Nate caring for Rebecca that we see how comfortable and at ease these two can be with each other. In a way, this proves to be more important than the sexual chemistry they both share.

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Series: Brooklyn, book 1. I’m gonna continue on with this series.

Final Impressions: This is such a fun read, and the perfect book to bring along on your next beach vacation. Personally, I would recommend listening to this one as an audio book, primarily for the AI character, Bingsley, who proves to be a source of comedic relief with his uptight British accent in the midst of this modern New York City burrough. Nate and Rebecca are two delightful characters who you can’t help but love, and their connection feels so real it’ll put a smile on your face.

Smut Level: These two get surprisingly creative with a rubber pool float.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Rennie Road Books. 298 Pages.

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Sweet Victory by Gina L. Maxwell

A dash of MMA mixed with a pinch of a fake marriage is the perfect recipe for the sweetest of romances.

What’s it About? 

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Sophie Caldwell might not like asking for help, but help is what she needs if she’s going to save her family business from her uncle. Her grandma left one rule for Sophie if she wants to gain sole ownership before she’s thirty–get married. Yeah, fat chance of that happening since she hasn’t had a boyfriend in years, and now she can’t get her uncle off her ass.

British-born MMA fighter Xander James has never lost a fight, and he’s not about to start now. He’s on the brink of a comeback that could make him a UFC champion, but his landlord wants to take away his last chance by shutting down his gym. Hell, no. Fortunately, his landlord’s niece has a problem of her own. Time for a proposal she can’t refuse.

First Impressions

Of all the novels in the Fighting for Love series, this fourth installment has definitely been my favorite. It’s not just because I have an affinity for accents, and our male lead happens to have a delightful British lilt. It’s also not because our female lead owns a bakery, and I have a penchant for baking pies and cakes of my own. Although…those things certainly didn’t hurt! No, the reason this book was a cut above the rest was because Xander and Sophie had a natural and easygoing chemistry that felt completely legitimate and all-consuming.

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In order to save her bakery and his gym, the two enter into a fake marriage which must last for at least six months so that her dubious uncle doesn’t lay claim to the city block where their properties are located. What starts off as a temporary marriage of convenience quickly turns into one full of emotion. The fact Xander and Sophie also happen to have off-the-charts sexual attraction certainly helped. While it’s never clearly explained why they didn’t pursue a relationship prior to the need for a temporary marriage considering their longtime flirtatious friendship, you can’t help but be captivated by their intimate connection. We root for their marriage to last beyond the six-month timeline, even though we know there’s someone who will do anything to tear them apart.

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The Family Connection

Sophie’s uncle is our villain who is trying his damnedest to prove that Xander and Sophie’s relationship is a sham. He has his sights set on selling this city block to a developer for a rather large sum of money, but Xander and Sophie are the only holdouts unwilling to play ball. For Xander, the current location of his gym is a matter of convenience, and with him training for an important upcoming MMA fight, the last thing he has time for is to go searching for a new property. As for Sophie, she took over her bakery from her grandmother, and giving it up is something she could never imagine, as it would be like losing a piece of her family. While Xander and Sophie’s relationship smoothly progresses, we know it’s just a matter of time before her uncle weasels his way into the situation to spoil things.

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Sophie’s grandmother and uncle prove to be very important supporting characters to her relationship with Xander. The scenes involving her grandmother were particularly poignant and deeply moving. It’s in these moments that we see a soft and caring side to Xander’s tough fighter’s exterior, and it clearly demonstrates to Sophie that he’s a genuinely good guy worth loving. As for her uncle, it was rather predictable how his meddling would present a hurdle for Sophie and Xander to jump over, but there was another aspect to his presence that I wish could have been tweaked. Essentially, the only primary interactions we see involving Sophie’s uncle involve him dealing with Xander. I think it really could have added an additional layer of struggle if we’d seen at least one more scene where Sophie had confronted her uncle directly. Perhaps a heart-to-heart where he admits his motivations for wanting to sell his mother’s bakery, and Sophie simultaneously acknowledging why it’s so hard for her to let it go. They are family after all, and it was somewhat disappointing for all of his interactions to be limited to dealing with Xander rather than Sophie.

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Series: Fighting For Love, book 4. My favorite book of the series!

Final Impressions: This was such a fun read. Xander and Sophie’s connection felt so real, not only in terms of their affection, but also their sexual chemistry and ability to bicker and tease like an actual couple. Sure, the ending was fairly cheesy and predictable, but the journey to get there was delightful. I loved every scene where we saw Xander and Sophie interacting with her grandmother, as it lent an emotional depth to the story that I wasn’t expecting. I think I would have preferred a bit more confrontation between Sophie and her uncle, although it was great to see Xander stand up for her in the face of this intimidating family member.

Smut Level: When you have a bakery owner as one of your main characters, you just know frosting is gonna come into play with sexy fun times.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Brazen. 260 Pages.

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts

Parker is a straight-laced woman who demands order in every aspect of her life. But when sexy bad-boy Malcolm comes along offering her a ride on his motorcycle, she can’t possibly say no.

What’s it About? 

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As the public face of Vows wedding planning company, Parker Brown has an uncanny knack for fulfilling every bride’s vision. She just can’t see where her own life is headed. Mechanic Malcom Kavanaugh loves figuring out how things work, and Parker Brown—with her endless legs—is no exception. But as a good friend of Parker’s brother, he knows that moving from minor flirtation to major hook-up is a serious step.

No man has rattled Parker in a long time, but the motorcycle-riding, raven-haired Mal seems to have a knack for it. His passionate kisses always catch her off guard, much like her growing feelings for him. Parker’s business risks have always paid off, but now she’ll have to take the chance of a lifetime with her heart…

First Impressions

Parker is a planner in every sense of the word. Not only does she handle the fundamental management of her wedding business, Vows, with her group of besties, she’s also meticulously organized when it comes to her personal life. She may not have time for romance, but when it does happen she has the basic idea of what the love of her life will look like, act like, and how he’ll eventually propose. Let’s just say that when sexy grease monkey Malcolm comes along, he completely throws her perfectly planned schedule off its tracks.

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“What’s happening with Malcolm is completely off script”

We’re meant to believe that these two are polar opposites who can’t help but be physically attracted to each other. However, once we dive deeper beyond the surface level details of their occupations, not to mention the fact they grew up on different sides of the track, we find that they actually have more in common than we or they were led to believe. First off, they’re both business people. They weren’t afraid to grow something from the ground up into the successes they both have today, and that prowess is an aphrodisiac unlike any other. Second, and most importantly, they’d do anything for family. Whether it’s his mother, or her best friends who have essentially become sisters, these two are caring and affectionate behind the tough facades they like to wear for the outside world. When they both catch glimpses of this in each other, they can’t help but fall deeper in love.

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A Hectic Compromise

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the key to any relationship’s success in Romancelandia is compromise. Malcolm and Parker both excel, yet also flounder when it comes to this concept. On the one hand, these two lovebirds are excessively busy business people, which means that they oftentimes have to balance their time together when the harsh realities of running a business come knocking. Parker especially is wont to answer her constantly ringing phone to placate and soothe a nervous bride-to-be. I think one of the reasons Parker knew Malcolm was different than all the other men who came before was that he never chastised her for being busy, and even encouraged her to answer her phone during a date.

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This is something that obviously wouldn’t work for everyone, but for these two it made sense. Malcolm knew she’d constantly be worrying about who was on the other line if she didn’t pick up, and he could also appreciate that her business was her baby. Vows was part of the package when it came to dating Parker, and he was more than willing to compromise a few minutes on their date if it meant it would set her mind at ease for the rest of the evening…and into the next morning if you catch my meaning.

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The Past Can Hurt

One area where I feel these two struggled to compromise was in communicating openly about their respective pasts. Malcolm has obviously suffered on multiple accounts throughout his past, including the loss of his father, abuse at the hands of an uncle, and a car accident which left him scarred beyond just the physical sense. All of these experiences have influenced the man he is today, and he’s hesitant to open up about the details of his past. When the going gets tough, he prefers to push it aside rather than talk out with Parker what’s bothering him. After a while, Parker becomes fed up with the fact he won’t be more open with her, and it results in an argument that threatens to break their relationship.

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Now…I get why she was frustrated. She could always tell when something was impacting Malcolm, and while she knew some of the basic details of the difficulties he’d previously experienced, he never confided in how he felt about those things. However, we don’t exactly see her throwing all of her emotional cards on the table to discuss how she felt in the aftermath of her own parent’s deaths years before. I feel like if she had shared a little bit about her own past tragedies in those moments when she wanted to learn more about him, perhaps Malcolm would have been more willing to bare his soul. As it stands she would just yell and storm out in anger. Not very productive.

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Series: Bride Quartet, book 4. The sun has finally set on this romance quartet.

Final Impressions: Overall this was a fun, cute series with a group of gals and guys you’d love to hang out with and drink some wine. The author does a good job of inviting us into their world, and making it feel as though we’re witnessing the love stories of our actual friends. The series as a whole is kind of lacking in drama, with just a few minor arguments sprinkled throughout. At times I’ll admit things did kind of straddle the line into boring when too many wedding planning details were being discussed, or our couples contemplated whether or not to admit how much they cared for each other. Books two and four were probably my favorite, but as a whole it was a nice, cohesive series.

Smut Level: Of all the books in this quartet, this last one is probably the steamiest of them all. Malcolm might not be what Parker was expecting, but she’s more than willing to go for a tumble between the sheets with him. Or even in a supply closet!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 369 Pages.

Playing for Keeps by Ashlie Knapp

A man with six-pack abs who loves watching the Food Network and cooking Bobby Flay recipes? Oh yeah, I can get behind that!

What’s it About?

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To her friends and family, Aria Cook is a sassy, foul-mouthed, not-a-care-in-the-world woman. She dances for the Oklahoma City Thunder and tends bar at her father’s trendy downtown bar, A Shot of Whiskey. What her friends and family don’t know, however, is Aria’s running from a past she can’t escape no matter how hard she tries.

Trevin Anderson is a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. He knows most women only want the fame associated with dating an NBA athlete. He doesn’t get attached. He has a job he loves, a sister and mother he adores and friends who have his back. He doesn’t need anything else.

After a failed first date, Trevin can’t walk away. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase; perhaps it’s something more. She calls him her stalker. He calls her his girlfriend. Which one will be right in the end?

First Impressions

Aria and Trevin both put on an air of something they’re not. Her more-so than him, but essentially they’re both hiding the sensitive side of their nature from the rest of the world. He has the reputation as the ultimate man whore of the Thunder basketball team, always with a different woman on his arm, and never making promises about forever. However, when it comes to his time with Aria he becomes 100% dedicated to her. He’s not afraid to be sweet and affectionate with her, whether it’s renting out an entire animal park to give her an amazing experience with the animals, or constantly asking if he can change his relationship status on Facebook so everyone knows they’re dating.

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Trevin is smitten like a kitten, and he doesn’t care who knows it. As for Aria, she puts on a front of being a sassy, carefree chica who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and doesn’t let anything phase her. In reality, she’s experienced an intense trauma in her past that she keeps hidden from those closest to her. She doesn’t want others to know her weakness, so she’s essentially overcompensating in an attempt to show strength. Most people accept her facade as truth, but Trevin is the only one who recognizes she’s putting on a mask, and he’s determined to dig deeper than anyone else in an attempt to uncover who the real Aria is. She’s terrified her past will cause him to leave, no matter how much he declares he’s in it for the long haul. You can’t help but fall in love with his determination in the face of her hesitancy.

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“She put on a brave, smartass and carefree facade, but the closer he’d gotten to her the more he’d seen her vulnerability.”

A Long Wait

The development of Trevin and Aria’s relationship is a comedic delight to watch, while also interspersed with moments of emotional connection between the two of them. Throughout it all, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop that will ultimately test the foundation of their relationship. It’s an inevitability we know is bound to happen! Most of the book involves Trevin convincing Aria to let down her guard, and to trust in them as a couple. Once she finally does, and admits how much she loves him, things are almost going too well for them. Especially after they meet each other’s parents and aren’t fully scared off. We constantly wonder what will cause their perfect bubble to pop.

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Will Aria get scared off by his intimate affections and desire to take their relationship to the next level? Will Trevin’s man-whore reputation come back to bite him in the bum? We’re waiting, and waiting….and waiting. It’s not until about the last 10% of the book that we finally witness the drama that threatens to break up their relationship, and I must say I did not see it coming! Definitely a surprise, although it took a bit too long for us to finally get to this climactic moment, and then it was resolved fairly quickly. It was an interesting twist for sure, but it probably could have been fleshed out more fully to take the conclusion to a whole other level.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Playing, book 3. This was probably my favorite book in the series, if not a close tie with book one.

Final Impressions: This was a fantastic addition to the series. Overall it was a funny and cute read with some adorably likable characters. From Tristan’s mother who fully encourages him and Aria to have sex even if she’s staying just down the hall, to the whole cast of female characters from the previous two books. Aria and Tristan both had depth to their personalities that they didn’t always choose to share with others, yet as their love for each other grows they let their shields drop to reveal the softer side hiding just below the surface. The final drama at the end did seem a bit rushed, and could have been incorporated more fully into Aria and Tristan’s story, but nevertheless it was a fun read.

Smut Level: Some intimate make-out sessions, touches and caresses, but normally the sex scenes themselves were ones which faded to black before we witnessed anything too sensual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 280 Pages.

All of Me by Rose Grey

Charlotte and Jock never thought love was in the cards for them. But when they’re thrown together amidst life-changing surprises, they come to realize that love just might be right in front of them.

What’s it About?

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Jock Durrell hopes the surprise baby his ex-girlfriend left behind at his office isn’t his. Still, someone has to care for it. So while he waits for DNA test results, he advertises for temporary help. Preferably Mary Poppins. By the time Charlotte Aubin arrives to interview, Jock’s too tired to be choosy. True, Charlotte dresses like a Goth and throws things when she loses her temper. On the other hand, as far as he knows, she’s not an ax murderer. So he gives her a chance. Because at this point he would sell his soul for just one night of unbroken sleep. But Jock isn’t the only one with a complicated life. Charlotte’s past is closing in fast. When danger looms, Jock will have to choose between protecting the safe life he has crafted or risking it all for a woman who has stolen his heart.

First Impressions

When our novel opens I wasn’t even sure if Charlotte and Jock were meant to be the romantic focus of the book. The authors does a great job of presenting us with two people who aren’t looking for love. They’re both so focused on treading their way through life that upon first meeting they seem more determined to be annoyed with each other than to see the possibility of romance. However, it would seem fate had more in store for these two after their initial meet cute, and no matter how much they tried to steer clear of each other, they both eventually acknowledged that they could help one another by sticking together.

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The set up of this story was everything. Charlotte and Jock are both dealing with their own problems in life, and yet somehow these distinct issues they’re both confronting prove to be the impetus in bringing them together. Jock is struggling with the fact his ex-girlfriend just dropped off a baby on his doorstep, claiming he’s the father. Charlotte has her own problems in life, from unloving parents to a somewhat sadistic step brother who seems determined to see her fall apart. They were both such independent, selfless characters who never really had the opportunity to enjoy life for themselves. They were always living one day to the next, and yet after fate throws them together both Charlotte and Jock are finally able to live in the moment, and learn how to laugh with each other.

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From Baby Jane to Brother Dearest

Jock has always pushed aside his own wants and desires in order to care for his brothers following the death of their parents. No woman has ever really tempted him to put his own wishes first, until he meets Charlotte of course. While his younger brother, Ronan, proves to be a source of humor at certain moments throughout the novel, I would have liked to see his brothers play a larger role in the overall story. We really don’t see much from them in terms of helping him cope with the emotional impact of suddenly having a daughter, and his brother from book one is almost absent entirely.

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“He had spent ten years creating a stable environment for his brothers. Ignoring his own desires had been a crucial part of that and a measure of his self discipline. But he couldn’t seem to summon the same vigor now.”

The drama that Charlotte experienced throughout the book in terms of her unloving parents and creepy step-brother was definitely the most compelling aspect of the story. Her troubled relationship with her family meant she never had a reason to trust others, especially considering those who were meant to love her most in this world continually brushed her aside. Charlotte has never deigned to try loving someone. Jock is the first one to cause her to hope for something better. While her relationship with her step-brother was a fascinating element that held your interest, and overall was carried out very well, I felt it could have been pushed one step further. The ending was fantastic in that it allowed for Charlotte to finally stand up for herself, but I wanted us to see more about the motives and thoughts behind her family in order to more fully understand their actions. This would have provided one more additional push to the book that would have been near perfect in execution.

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“She hadn’t ever fought for what she wanted…What if the reason she didn’t fight for what she loved was because she was afraid of what losing might do to her? She didn’t like thinking of herself as a coward, but it seemed the inescapable conclusion.”

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Our love story ultimately culminates with some rather big misunderstandings that result in Charlotte running away from her feelings. Both she and Jock were hesitant to voice how they truly felt about each other throughout the entirety of the novel. We see that it wasn’t just their employer/employee relationship that caused them to pause, but also their inability to believe they could devote themselves to someone wholeheartedly. I’ll admit it was kind of frustrating to see them both internalize their anger towards the other for closing themselves off from love, while simultaneously acknowledging their own inability to dive deep into the relationship.

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I was pretty worried this inability to confess their feelings would negatively impact my appreciation for the book up until that point. However, I’m happy to say we do eventually see redemption with how they both are willing to fight and stand up for what they want in life, and their refusal to have others walk all over them. It’s almost as though they both reach a breaking point where they’re fed up with being alone, and even though they’re terrified of being rejected, they’d rather face the music than risk not knowing how the other person feels.

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“…one way or the other, she was done running.”

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Book 2. I may have liked this second book even more than the first book in the series!

Final Impressions: It was interesting to see two such independent characters learn how to finally allow someone else into their lives. It’s a difficult journey full of ups and downs, but they eventually realize that the mere presence of the other person brings joy to their day. Charlotte and Jock have a relationship that isn’t built upon lust or sex, but instead almost a mutual respect for how hardworking and selfless the other is. Incorporating more depth to Jock’s relationship with his brothers, as well as Charlotte’s background with her parents and step-brother could have elevated the emotional side of the plot, but overall it was a compelling read.

Smut Level: We never see anything too sensual in description, but you’ve gotta love the circumstance of being trapped together in a house during a snow storm. I can certainly think of a few ways for them to keep warm.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Simply Romance Press. 272 Pages.

Out Too Far by Andrea K. Stein & Sawyer Stone

An exciting and humorous conclusion to the Love Overboard series!

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Rania Elsaeid is the brilliant engineer aboard the 115-foot yacht, the Bonnie Blue. She’s also a deadly, well-trained security guard. She keeps her cool when everything around her heats up. Morris “Moj” Johnston, internationally famous music producer, is on a much-needed vacation cruise through the islands of the Indian Ocean. He’s not looking for love but trying to heal a broken heart. When Moj meets Rania, everything changes. Suddenly, they find themselves on the run from pirates, lost on a deserted island, and dangerously close to going…OUT TOO FAR!

First Impressions

It’s always sad to see the end of a series, but this final installment in the Love Overboard trilogy manages to keep you giggling as Rania and Moj navigate their love in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Both characters are dealing with the stresses of life. She’s lying low, trying to keep off the radar so her crazy ex doesn’t find her. As for Moj, he’s keeping busy as a famous music producer, trying to keep his mind off the recent and untimely death of his wife. Neither is looking for love, but once their eyes lock during a crowded music festival, there’s no going back. The connection between them is immediate. While they’re initially hesitant to explore anything physical between them seeing as she’s working on the yacht he’s chartered, it’s not long before fate pushes them to take things to the next level.

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Funnily enough, the moment when they decide to finally give into the desire which has enveloped them since they first met is not the moment I would have guessed would be the most opportune for sexy fun times. Moj and Rania find themselves stranded on a seemingly deserted island with kidnappers, albeit hilariously incompetent ones, hot on their tail. This is the moment where I’d be freaking out, convinced that starvation and dehydration would soon portend the end of it all. However, Moj and Rania take an entirely different approach, seeing this deserted island as an opportunity to finally get some privacy from all of Moj’s fame. Sure, they need to explore the island for water, food, discover whether or not it actually is deserted, but they first choose to look at the silver lining of the situation. Beautiful beach, just survived an adrenaline inducing escape from kidnappers…seems like the perfect time to get naked, no? Priorities people!

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“There is maybe one chance in hell we’re going to survive this ordeal. I say we make the most of the time we have left…”

The Need to Stand Aside

Something I really loved about this read, and the series as a whole for that matter, was that we were presented with a strong female lead character. Oftentimes throughout the books we find it is the ladies who are stepping up to protect the gents, or help them out of a sticky situation. This holds true in the character of Rania, a strong woman who can take care of herself, and has been trained by the very best to do so. Moj on the other hand, is a man who was determined to take care of his first wife who died from cancer. Caring wholeheartedly for others is part of his very nature, and the concept of stepping aside to let Rania take care of herself is one he’s struggling with. Where his first wife needed him, Rania doesn’t really need him at all. Even though their time together has been brief, it’s not long before Moj can’t imagine what life would be like to have Rania pulled away from him so suddenly.

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By the end of the novel, Moj finally accepts that when it comes to attempted kidnappers and matters of international espionage, his interference would probably cause more harm than good. He succeeds in stepping aside to allow Rania to shine in all her bad-assery. The final scene is quite funny even though it’s the climax of everything coming together, and it’s described in such perfect detail I could practically see it playing out in my head like a movie. Moj still worries for Rania’s safety, that’s something that will never go away completely, but he can learn to let her take care of herself when necessary. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t need him at all. She needs his presence in her life, she needs his love and support, but she doesn’t need him to treat her as a damsel in distress. If anything, Moj is the one who needs her protection and strength in certain moments. There are many times where they learn to place their full trust in the other person in order to make it out of a sticky situation, and acknowledge that there are some things they can’t do all by themselves. Sometimes they need a shoulder to lean on.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Love Overboard, book 3. It’s always fun to see the earlier characters from the series come back in the end, although it was kind of disappointing that the couple from book 2 never made a surprise guest appearance.

Final Impressions: This was a sexy, funny read, and a great conclusion to the series. Some scenes were a bit over the top, and other areas could have been explained more fully, such as Rania’s past with her ex. However, it’s still a fun and silly read that’ll have you giggling along. Aside from the delight of having a strong female lead character, my other favorite part would have to be our would-be kidnappers. At the start you worry about how they might cause trouble for Moj and Rania, but as the story progresses you see they are hilariously inept at being criminals, and I was shocked to find myself liking them more and more with each new scene.

Smut Level: The first time Moj and Rania do the deed it’s on the beach of a deserted island they’ve been stranded on. I can’t imagine how much sand must have gotten into some extremely uncomfortable places.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Muirgen Publishing, LLC. 211 Pages.

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Delectable by R.L. Mathewson

When Kasey first sets her sights on Reese Bradford, one perfect nickname comes to mind. Yummy. Sooooo yummy.

What’s it About? 

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Reese Bradford is a typical Bradford, he enjoys his food, is easy on the eyes, and has a killer smile, but there’s one thing about him that he doesn’t want anyone to know about, which of course is the first thing that his ex-fiance makes sure that everyone finds out about after she leaves him for his best friend. Out of options, he reluctantly heads out of town to spend the summer in the cottage that he’d rented for his honeymoon only to find himself tormented by a woman that never should have crossed his mind twice.

More intrigued than he’d ever thought possible, he can’t help but wonder about the woman that made him smile.

First Impressions

This is another classic addition to the Neighbor From Hell series. It’ll put a smile on your face, make you giggle in delight, and even blush a time or two with the sexual escapades of our lead couple. There usually isn’t a ton of drama to a book in this series, but there are some lovable themes which connect them all. First and foremost is the infamous Bradford stomach. An endless gut that doesn’t seem to get full no matter how much food is consumed. The fact that this novel features a Bradford male falling for a woman who runs a cooking website? Stand back ladies and gentlemen, you’re about to see something reaaaaally special.

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Another feature that each novel in this series shares is also something which sets them all apart. Distinct lead characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. R.L. Mathewson isn’t afraid to provide us with delightful characters who break the mold when it comes to typical romance novel leads. Throughout this series we’ve seen full-figured female leads, adorable nerds, and even virgins. The leads of this ninth novel pull our hearts in once again, and include a single mother who had her daughter when she was just a teenager, as well as a sexy male virgin police officer. That’s right folks, we have a 29-year-old male virgin here. That’s the ultimate white whale, the sparkliest of unicorns, the needle in the haystack of Romancelandia.

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Bedding the Virgin

Kasey and Reese are both hesitant to take their physical relationship to the next level, and for good reason. She hasn’t been with anyone since the death of her husband over seven years ago. The few times she’s dated since his untimely death from cancer have left her feeling guilty, as though she’s betraying his memory. She simply feels she’s not ready to take that next step yet, but Reese is the first man to make her consider the notion. As for Reese, he’s a 29 year old virgin. He’s never wanted to take that next step with a woman unless he was convinced he could take care of her in every way possible. The fact that Reese is still trying to navigate his own life, and figure out what he truly wants to do, means he’s never felt like he was in the right place to take care of someone else wholeheartedly. I must say, while I completely understand why they were both hesitant to become physically intimate with each other, I was quite disappointed at Kasey’s initial reaction to his admission of virginity.

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Simply put, she doesn’t believe him. Now, I get it’s a concept which seems completely foreign in today’s day and age. Here we have a gorgeously sexy and caring police officer who’s also handy with a tool belt. How could a man so flirtatious and good looking possibly be a virgin?! However, he’s also never given her a reason to think that he’d make something like that up. She’s convinced he’s lying in order to show her his sensitive side, and trick her into going to bed with him. Perhaps if he had been pushing her repeatedly to jump into bed with him before this moment, I may have understood her point of view. The thing is, he’s always taken things slow with her. When he discovered her hesitancy to go out on a date with him due to the grief she still feels over the death of her husband, he didn’t goad or pressure her into moving on. He chose to keep things friendly between them. So why would he be going to such lengths now to get her into bed by creating a false back story of virginity? It just seemed like an insensitive assumption, not to mention it would have been a complete break with the caring personality which Reese had shown her up until this point.

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Series: A Neighbor From Hell, book 9. One of my favorite romance series of all time.

Final Impressions: While this definitely wasn’t the strongest addition to the Neighbor From Hell series, it’s still a fun, cute read. You can’t help but fall in love with all of the characters, and feel as though we’ve been granted permission to enter their world. There were certain aspects of the story which didn’t come full circle for me, and could have been fleshed out in more detail. While the reasons for Reese’s virginity are discussed quite clearly between him and Kasey, as well as the breakdown of his most recent relationship, something I felt we didn’t receive as much information about was Kasey’s background with her former husband and his family. Overall though, it’s still a great beach read that you won’t want to put down.

Smut Level: Our male lead is an officer of the law. You just know handcuffs are mandatory at some point.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Rerum Industries, Inc. 315 Pages.

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Off the Market by Audrey Wick

Opposites attract in this sweet Texas romance that will leave you smiling, and craving BBQ too! Good thing we get some delightful comfort food recipes to try out at the end of the novel.

What’s it About? 

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Quinn LaFayette is in her inaugural year as library special programs director of Last Stand, but when the kickoff performance for the children’s summer program goes terribly wrong, she has to save face as well as her job. She has a surprise advocate in Cole, whom she did her best to ignore in school. Seven years has only made Cole more appealing, but Quinn is determined to resist the sparks that fly between them because they are too different.

Restaurant owner Cole Hutchinson is no bookworm, but thanks to his fast-thinking antics, he ends up saving the day at the library and earning Quinn’s praise in the process. He’s tempted to seek more, but he’s juggling plenty of female attention from gracing the June edition of Modern Texas magazine featuring barbeque. Cole’s not interested in revisiting a woman from his past, but there’s something about Quinn that he can’t quite ignore.

Can Cole prove that opposites really do attract?

First Impressions

“The jock. The bookworm. Opposite interests. Opposite personalities. Opposite means of interacting.” Quinn’s memories of Cole from high school aren’t necessarily negative, but rather of a man who simply ran in different circles. While she could certainly appreciate his charm and good looks, she acknowledged the two would never have anything in common. When their paths cross again years later, Quinn is shocked to see the former jock run to her rescue in her moment of need. As the summer progresses these two former acquaintances grow closer than either ever thought possible, and Quinn discovers that Cole Hutchinson has matured into a caring man who no longer craves the spotlight of fleeting attention.

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Cole too realizes that this woman is making him want things he’s never desired before, and as she starts to share herself and her love of books with him, he admits to himself that Quinn is a woman he can’t let get away. It was enchanting to see these two nurture their feelings for each other, and especially to see how Quinn’s initial surface-level opinions of this man from high school could change so vastly. Something we don’t really explore though is what Cole thought of Quinn back in the day. He’s certainly smitten with this somewhat shy librarian now, but what about back then? Did he see her as a quiet bookworm? Someone cute, but perhaps beyond his league intellectually? Did he even notice her at all? Even though I loved their tale of romance from start to finish, a further exploration of their history could have been an interesting addition!

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Taking a Stand

The first book in this series really highlighted the tense, yet lovable relationship between the Hutchinson brothers, both of whom are fighting to make their family BBQ joint a success. While this sequel certainly continues on with that theme, we also see the town of Last Stand come to the forefront as a character in its own right. The delightful townsfolk gather together to support and protect their own, yet in this second book we also see the flip side of that small town atmosphere in the shape of city council members who are rooting for Quinn to fail. They see the local library as a non-revenue generating entity that isn’t worth sinking money into. As Quinn encounters a few hurdles at the start of the summer with her reading program aimed at the children of Last Stand, we see Cole come to her aid in more ways than one as their feelings for each other start to deepen.

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When Quinn has to make her case in front of city council for their support of her position, you can’t help but feel a hint of Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, standing up for what’s right in her small town. This of course means we must also encounter a villain in the shape of a city planner whose advances Quinn once rebuked, and therefore he’s out for revenge against her. As the story progresses we see Quinn start to become increasingly concerned about all the obstacles and malice being thrown her way by the city council, and wonders if there will be a place for her much longer in this small Texas town. While our concern for Quinn continues to grow, and we hold our breath in anticipation wondering if she’ll end the summer on a high note, this intriguing story line does sort of fizzle out a bit by the end. There are some questions which aren’t fully answered, and the character who has grown into our villain exits the story rather abruptly. A more fleshed out culmination of these events would have resulted in a smashing success of a read!

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Southern Comfort

If you were to seek out any of my friends and ask them what two things I’m addicted to most in this world they would most likely tell you the following: romance novels and cookbooks. My Kindle has over 1000 romance novel titles, and my bookshelf is literally buckling under the strain of cookbooks featuring practically every cuisine imaginable. Therefore, the fact that this series combines adorable tales of romance with a sampling of comfort food BBQ recipes at the end of each novel means I’m in a swirl of romance-culinary heaven. Check out some of the scrumptious delights this series has provided below!

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Bubba Hutchinson’s Country Biscuits

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The LaFayette Family BBQ Muffins (best thing ever!!)

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Cole Hutchinson’s Corn Casserole

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Wanda Hutchinson’s Peach Cobbler

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: The Texas BBQ Brothers, book 2. There are only two Hutchinson brothers at this barbecue joint, and we’ve seen both of their tales of romance. Can they discover an illegitimate or long-lost brother of some kind so this series doesn’t have to end?!

Final Impressions: This is a cute, fun, quick read that will have you rooting for our main characters on multiple fronts. From Quinn’s struggles making the summer reading program a success, to Cole and his brother seeking to keep their family’s BBQ restaurant a local success story. Interspersed throughout is the natural development of their relationship which is also reminiscent of the romance from book one. These characters feel like your friends, and their affection comes across as completely real. There was the introduction of some contrived drama between Quinn and Cole towards the very end which seemed somewhat unnecessary, and while I was slightly disappointed that the development of our local villain didn’t entirely come full circle, overall it’s a delightful sequel that’s perfect for the beach.

Smut Level: This story is much more focused on Cole and Quinn developing their attraction into affection rather than lust. It’s a sweet read devoid of sex, with a few intimate kisses here and there.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing.

Nailed Down by Chelle Bliss

Kane is a rather intimidating hunk of a man who likes to refer to himself as the “Storm”. Sometimes he even has to threaten to give people a weather lesson should they annoy him too much. Oooooookay then.

What’s it About? 

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He’s the hottest handyman on TV, but he only has eyes for his best friend.

Kit Carlyle isn’t just some woman. Beautiful? Yep. Seductive? Damn straight. She’s also my best friend and my co-worker. But, hell, I’m a guy with a pulse. Every once in a while, I look at her and think filthy things.

But when her cousin dies and leaves her with a long as hell and sexy bucket list, Kit turns to me for a helping hand. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a woman in need. Besides, I’m not about to let another man steal away my girl, occupy her bed, or fill my shoes.

But as the stakes get higher and the items become hotter, I’ll have to face the toughest challenge of all: admitting I want more than Kit’s friendship. I want to make her mine.

First Impressions

A sexy bucket list? Yes please. A friends to lovers romance? Sign me up! The synopsis of this book has everything, and definitely seemed like it’d be right up my alley. It’s definitely a cute read, with some highlight moments, but I must say they summary of what we’d be in store for did ultimately leave me wanting. Particularly when we take a look at that bucket list which is described as being “long and sexy”, and increasing in heat as Kane and Kit start to cross things off that list. My mind definitely ran wild with erotic possibilities. Perhaps some elevator sex? Toys? Alas, in the end the list came across as rather tame in terms of sexiness. Adventurous, or adrenaline inducing may have been a more apt descriptor. Below is a slightly abbreviated version of the 10 items Kit’s cousin designated for the list.

  1. Go zip-lining
  2. Buy something frivolous
  3. Go whale watching
  4. Find someone to give you a mind-numbing, toe-curling, can’t breathe, moan-worthy kiss that ruins you for all other men
  5. Run a half marathon
  6. Shake hands with the president
  7. Camp out in the mountains
  8. Sing in front of a crowd of more than twenty people
  9. Have sex with someone other than yourself
  10. Fall in love

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See what I mean? Not quite the sauciest of lists. While Kane agrees to assist Kit in crossing as many items off the list as possible, only three of them would directly have an impact on their friendship crossing over into something more intimate. We soon discover that while these two have been friends for years, there’s also been an underlying yearning that neither has wanted to act upon. Until now of course. Both are hesitant to act on their desires for the fear that it might interfere with their friendship. However, with the first touch of their lips, the sizzling electricity which ignites between them ensures there’s no going back to mere friendship.

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The Games We Play

As Kit and Kane continue to check items off her bucket list, they soon come to the conclusion that there are deeper emotions developing between them. While they can both admit to themselves that they’re in love, they simply can’t voice it to each other. It’s even evident to their close friends and colleagues what’s going on. Towards the end even our lovebirds themselves can sense that something bordering on love is building in the other person, yet they both remain tight lipped about how they feel! Therefore, in order to try and nudge him into making a move, Kit tries to make Kane jealous by flirting with another man she knows is a sleazy playboy. Kit admits to feeling like a juvenile brat for playing games with Kane, but that still doesn’t prevent her from playing said games.

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Juvenile is correct. She’s so insistent on setting up this scenario to get him to declare how he feels, that you can’t help but question why she felt the need for him to act first. Seems to me like it would have saved them both a lot of time and energy, not to mention sped up their physical escapades, if she’d been the first to simply voice what she was feeling. At one point Kit even declares that Kane was “emotionally stunted” for not being able to admit how he felt and needed to “man up”. I’d have to counter and ask why she doesn’t “woman up”? Hell, I’m not even asking for her to say she’s fallen deeply in love with him. Merely admitting she’s starting to feel something more than friendship would have been enough to at least test the waters.

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Series: Nailed Down, book 1. I think I’ll continue on with book 2 which features Kane’s brother.

Final Impressions: There are definitely some sweet moments between Kane and Kit, but I felt like there were some important areas which only received a surface-level kind of introduction. It was as though there was a missing layer of depth which could have contributed to a fully fleshed out story. For example, we never learn how Kit’s cousin died. We were also never given the chance to see how Kit and Kane interacted as friends before the death of her cousin. Our book opens with Kit’s return from the funeral, and the introduction of the bucket list. We just sort of dove right into these feelings of lust simmering between them, without ever seeing their previous normal, everyday interactions as buddies. This contrast of a before and after could have helped us connect even more with our characters to see how things have truly changed between them.

Smut Level: Kane is described as a generous, but not a gentle lover. The first time Kit and Kane ever fool around beyond just a kiss is in his truck. Then the first time they actually do the deed is up against a wall. They certainly like to take things up a notch, even if their ultimate consummation doesn’t happen for quite some time.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE Kindle Price. Bliss Ink LLC. 250 Pages