I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
*Wheezes Good Lord* but does Tessa Bailey know how to write a romance that will all but slap you in the face with pheromones. I should be used to this effect considering how many books of hers I’ve read, but she still never fails to surprise, and I love it.
Love Her or Lose Her releases January 2020, and in addition to the all of the other Bailey signatures I figured I’d see—sexual magnetism, uber devotion between leads, drama and heart—I also knew that I’d encounter a trope that I don’t see too often, particularly in my contemporary romance reading: a husband and wife whose marriage is struggling.
In LHoLH, high school sweethearts Dominic (*mouth fills with saliva) and Rosie have been married for close to a decade. For a few years Dominic was in the military, and then he returned seemingly a different person. The last five years, Dominic and Rosie have increasingly lived in their home like strangers, only reconnecting one night a week when the pulsating attraction between them explodes like water gushing from a severely tested dam. (Lots of questionable metaphors in this review, huh?)
One night Rosie’s finally had enough, and she ultimately gives Dominic an ultimatum: go to therapy—the most unconventional kind she can find, because spite—or their marriage is over.
I’m going to be totally honest here: I’m more than a little in love with Dominic. It’s easy to see how and why Rosie’s saddened and frustrated by the state of things between them, but Bailey also writes Dominic sympathetically and hotly (?), and there’s so much good about him that you kind of want to hug him (kiss him?) even as you want to shake him into actually talking to Rosie. If you’re a fan of Bailey’s heroes, Dominic is likely everything you love condensed into one.
And Rosie sparkles as she makes a new life for herself, one in which she isn’t willing to settle for anything, and she’s determined to chase the dreams that she’s let slide over the last decade.
The state of their marriage is painful and raw at times, but it’s also obvious that they still love each other, and I thank Bailey for being fairly gentle with my heart. She skillfully portrays the dynamic between them, and thanks to the idea of love languages, I could understand how things got skewed despite their obvious feeling & attraction for each other. I did feel like 5 years of marital difficulty/strain seemed like an excessively long time plot-wise—and I also wanted some more overt discussion between Dominic and Rosie about what his military life was like—but both of those things are pretty easy for me to get past, all things considered.
Because this couple belongs together, and you can see that even through the pathos of the opening scenes.
A big part of the reason—at least in the beginning of the book—is sex, and spoiler alert, it’s as athletic and consuming as ever in a Bailey book. The sexual pacing and tension between the characters is *chef’s kiss, and in addition to being titillating, it also keeps the story from veering into too dark territory. Honorable mentions in the Thank You for Not Ripping my Heart Out category go to the hilarious therapist Rosie hires, the banter between Travis and Stephen, and the sense of community and fierce support of the Just Us League.
For me, LHorLH is second chance romance done right: some angst and pain but constant indirect assurance that the couple belongs together—and will find their way back to each other—so don’t you worry too much.
Thanks to Netgalley for my complimentary ARC of this book which I used for my review & to Kensington Publishing for my complimentary hard-copy; all opinions provided are my own.
Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering is unapologetically modern but oh my gosh, if it doesn’t give me some of those 90s Meg Ryan movie vibes (read: peak cinematic rom com period as far as I’m concerned). See the checklist below:
⭐️A quirky heroine who’s confronted with the where-do-I-go-now-when-the-artistic-space-I’ve-created-for-myself-is-threatened question. (spoiler alert: have no fear! She’ll figure it out!)
⭐️A corporate hero (in Clayborn's case--and in a lot of rom com cases--hero maybe doesn’t always take the time to stop and appreciate what’s around him…literally).
⭐️A big city, where fresh things and old things sit side by side on crowded streets, and it’s all chaotic and beautiful and alive (note: it might require the right person to show you how to see it).
There’s so much goodness in Love Lettering, from its sunshine-y heroine and reserved hero with a “double-take face” to its treatment of female friendship (necessary! Also complicated! Also salvageable, changeable, and forgiving); from its premise to its Epilogue, which is put-a-smile-upon-your-face delightful.
But let’s start with the plot.
Meg Mackworth has made a name for herself as a designer of largely “whimsical” wedding invitations, planners, etc. But she’s got a little problem: sometimes she puts hidden messages in her work, and it comes back to bite her when one of her previous clients, a Wall Street type named Reid Sutherland, confronts her about his wedding invitation which she created almost one year before.
Reid’s confrontation comes at a moment when Meg’s experiencing a crisis of faith about her abilities, inspiration, and overall career, and after an awkward reunion—where it’s clear that they’re both at a crossroads of sorts—they make an arrangement to walk around NYC together, looking at the hand-lettered “signs” (literal and metaphorical) that surround them.
When I describe Clayborn’s books, I feel like I constantly rely on adjectives like “lovely” but that’s because they are. They’re emotionally sensitive and astute, and the moments when the characters reveal the tender, secret parts of themselves are so beautifully done that you feel it in every word. In a lot of ways, Clayborn’s books themselves feel full of “signs”—they’re full of little details that make them special, that can be savored again and again.
Here, she writes a heroine who’s passionate and emotional and utterly distinctive, and a hero who will capture your heart with his sensitivity and willingness to be vulnerable. (Don’t let the suit fool you.) But despite their general amazingness, neither character is capable of fully fixing every problem facing them by the novel’s conclusion, and that’s part of what makes this love story extra admirable and sweet. Because you know, life isn’t really like that; all problems aren't magically solved by falling in love.
Love Lettering doesn’t feel flashy to me. In fact, there were times when the book felt understated in a way that I mostly enjoyed but that occasionally mildly disconcerted. (I blame the string of romantic suspense books I've been reading lately for this response.)
But maybe the best part of my reading experience (and a sign of a great book)? I’m confident that—as much as I enjoyed it this time around—and did I ever—this feels like one that’ll only become richer with re-reads, when I’ll pick up on those “signs” I missed the first time around, and when I can luxuriate again in the world—the love story—that Clayborn puts on the page.
Thanks to Netgalley for my complimentary ARC of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
The stars aligned earlier this week and I was gifted a copy of Kelly Bowen’s novella Night of the Scoundrel when I needed it most. Featuring her long-mysterious character King as lead, Scoundrel starts with a rush as he watches a beautiful woman expertly take down her foes with a rapier and a knife in an alleyway. The woman is known as Adrestia (real name: Adeline), and she’s come to achieve justice for one of her clients. That’s what she does.
Shortly thereafter King is confronted with the worst part of his awful past and he hires Adeline to get justice for him. Easy enough, right?, especially since he knows who deserves the justice coming for him and where the man is. But to King’s dismay/discomfort/fear, though he’s done everything he can to bury his past none of those skeletons want to stay buried when Adeline starts her investigation. Suddenly the hard-won control he has over his life seems threatened from every angle.
This novella is just wonderful. Scoundrel gave me all the warm fuzzies on a day when I really needed them, and as I followed the magnetic story of King and Adeline I was reminded again of how lovely a writer Kelly Bowen is. Both King and Adeline are impenetrable, unfathomable forces of nature to others, and the most exquisite moments of Scoundrel are when they let down their guard for one another. The passion that circuits between them is so well done, but even more hit-you-in-the-heart is a beautiful moment when King holds her while they sleep. Do you see the potential for loveliness, here?
Scoundrel had that enviable balance of strength and sweetness—the skirmishes and the kisses—the pain and the hope—that I adore in a story working its way to a HEA, and I loved it.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I can’t say that I remember reading any books set in Antarctica before, much less a searing romance that features one of my favorite combinations: a grumpy, taciturn hero and a “sunshine” heroine who’s friends with everyone…but the hero.
The fact is that despite my extreme aversion to the cold—I usually try to walk around in head to toe fleece in the winter—Adriana Anders’s Pole romance Whiteout has everything that I want: the fantastic tension of that aforementioned grumpy/sunshine dynamic; a keen sense of bated-breath suspense, given that the stakes are life and death and the latter seems all too easy to imagine with an Antarctica survival story; and a distinctive writing style that makes even something like the endless white and sometimes gray/sometimes blue expanse of Antarctica—the ice and the rush and the despair, the way such an inhospitable environment can bring a grumpy hero and a sunshine heroine together—feel fresh and new, even as said hero and heroine spend day after day trekking across it.
Simply put, this book is amazing, and I loved every minute of it.
Cook Angel Smith accepted a position at the Burke-Ruhe Research Station in the South Pole after her life fell apart. She’s drawn to the grumpiest person in the camp, researcher Dr. Ford Cooper, whom she’s privately christened Ice Man. Despite her attraction (which grumpy hero Ford secretly reciprocates but will never act upon), Angel has every intention on saying goodbye to the station and heading back home, only she misses the plane out and witnesses a murder instead.
Suddenly, she and Ford are allies, the only people left at the station who can possibly prevent the villains in the story from a nefarious plot involving something-which-will-not-be-named-because-spoilers. In their desperation they set out across the landscape, knowing that with every step they’re probably walking closer, and not farther away, from death.
Whiteout’s full of twists and turns, it’s intense and even stressful at times, and all of it’s blissfully rewarding for the reader. It’s also full of passion and sweetness, the latter of which is particularly powerful because Ford doesn’t really have those soft/protective instincts for anyone but Angel, and he’s all too willing to do whatever it takes to keep her safe. He’s the ice-bound bodyguard she's (you’ve) always wanted.
Whiteout was a complete surprise for me, and I. can’t. wait. to. read. more. (Seriously, when can I read more?)
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
INT: Jessica C.’s house, a white ranch set off the road. Picture a house that looks well-lived in and loved and also cluttered with discarded kid-related things/suffering from some unfortunate design decisions made in the 90s.
The darkened house is lit by the glow of a Christmas tree. A bowl of milk speckled with Cap’n Crunch crumbs at her side, heavily pregnant Jessica C. contemplates going back to sleep, the errands she should run today, and whether her own love story (of repeatedly forcing a borderline antisocial man to talk to her until he gave up the fight and acquiesced to be her partner) is a meet-cute. (She knows it is not.) But she’s feeling particularly proud to be part of the human race this morning, and besides that, she’s still feeling the glow of the lovely Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters, which had an ending that could only be called adorable.
Noise in the background. Someone’s yelled. Jessica’s head springs up alarmingly fast from its focus on the computer.
Jessica: Oh shit. Baby’s waking.
I’m a hugeeeeee fan of the rom-com. And I’m not even that particular. Basically give me any movie with a vaguely romantic storyline and I’m happy. Woman fakes that she’s the fiancée of a man she’s never talked to who’s also in a coma? Two thumbs up! Female FBI agent has to get a makeover before the hot-kinda-asshole-ish coworker notices her in a positive way? Okayyyyy! Just make sure you give her some good music to walk out to post-makeover and end the scene with a funny reminder that deep down, she hasn’t changed. She’s beautiful and awkward!
So Rachel Winters’s Would Like to Meet is a kind of catnip for me. An astute, hilarious rom-com with an irrepressible heroine who has her own distinct style? Sign me up.
Evie Summers is an assistant agent who aspires to be an agent and secretly aspires to be a screenwriter. But she gave up her dreams after receiving some devastating criticism years before, and now she plugs away helping her boss with his clients. Said boss is super lazy and also incompetent (among other things), but hints that she’ll be up for a promotion if she can get their prize client—an Oscar-winning screenwriter—to finish the rom-com he’s already been paid to write.
Ezra is the Oscar-winning screenwriter. He’s a jerk. But he might have hidden depths. But he’s also a jerk.
Evie and Ezra make an arrangement: she’ll reenact a series of meet-cutes from famous rom-coms to see if it’s really possible to meet your one and only in one of those ways, and after each one, she’ll send Ezra a report of what happened. He’ll work on his rom-com script and indirectly ensure that not only does the place where Evie works stay afloat, but she’ll get a promotion.
Along the way, Evie’s helped by widower, single dad, and talented former photographer Ben, who makes it obvious that he looks down on her meet-cute project.
I should say that usually love triangle plots don’t work for me. But it’s pretty well done here. The pacing of both relationships, the way that Evie’s writing renaissance is linked to her meet-cute mission, and the way that her meet-cute mission is linked to her ability to keep her job, make it successful. Throughout the book there are times when I get vaguely annoyed/frustrated with Evie—sometimes I wanted her to throw a drink in a certain someone’s face/go a little farther in discouraging the person—but I could deal because of the aforementioned reasons.
Also, because this book is freaking funny. Evie gets herself into some really embarrassing situations but she’s resilient, positive (but not in an annoying way), and resourceful, and she lights the book up. Her friends are equally amazing. The friendship quartet that Winters creates is fantastic; it’s a no holds barred kind of friendship with LOL-moments and cringe-worthy moments; the friends are sometimes selfish and self-absorbed but also loving and hilarious and generous and all too human. In its capacity to let people be people, Would Like to Meet feels Bridget Jones-esque in some ways.
Though one aspect of this plot seems kind of obvious to me throughout the book, and there was at least one scene when I thought, Evie, are you kidding me?! (and not in a good way), most of it’s a delight, from the chapter openings—which look like they’re taken from a script, to any scene with Ben’s daughter Anette. Would Like to Meet is fizzy and sparkly and joyful, but it’s also substantive. These are people with some real struggles, even if they’re often in some ridiculous situations. And the ending is pure loveliness. I’m sure I had the biggest smile on my face, but really, read the book and tell me if you blame me.
In Would Like to Meet, Evie stands up for herself and is reminded of what makes her happy. She also finds her HEA…and luckily for us, not in the way she expected.
This is kind of a hard one to rate, but I'm ultimately going with 4.5 ⭐️ because what's good here is so good, and reading this book was a happiness-inducing experience.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
In American Love Story Adriana Herrera takes two lovers and writes them into a world that wrestles with the questions that feel all too-familiar in our IRL life: what does “driving as a black man” mean and necessitate? What is the experience of living in the United States as a black man? And what does that kind of hyper-vigilance, strategizing, and of course, the anger, resentment, frustration, sadness, etc. engendered by both, do to a relationship between a black man and a white man of privilege?
Patrice is a Haitian refugee who’s lived in the US since the age of 6. Now a college professor at Cornell, he’s also known for his activism and is a well-known contributor to Black Twitter.
Easton is an ADA who chose the difficult life of a prosecutor, despite the fact that he comes from a very wealthy background. He cares about the issues that Patrice cares about, but he’s also mindful of his role as an ADA who doesn’t/can’t speak for his whole department and he’s self-conscious of his own uncertainty regarding what to do and say.
One year ago, they set the sheets on fire. Now, after Patrice has moved to Ithaca, he and Easton must face not only their baggage, but also the critical issues within the community that could very well divide them. Key among them is driving while black. Members of the local police department are stopping men of color for slight speeding incidents and then harassing and treating them offensively, and Patrice, Easton, and others don’t doubt that the events are racially motivated.
American Love Story is a romance that we need. It’s a story that really hits me, as I’ve tried to understand my own white privilege more and how my armchair outrage isn’t enough at the best of times, much less the worst. Easton means well, but he’s reminded (as I was) that that doesn’t really mean anything, not when people within a community are (and feel) targeted, threatened, and oppressed based on how others perceive their skin complexion—or on the basis of anything at all. As he learns, action is required.
Herrera offers so much wisdom within this romance, like this line: “A black man had to always think about the space he was in,” which smacked me right in the gut. She also tackles the topic of emotional pain itself in a stunning way, and none of those powerful words and ideas detract from the passionate and exciting relationship between Patrice and Easton, which moves forward with wonderful steam even in the midst of the turbulent events they’re trying to navigate.
4.25 ⭐️ out of 5.
Check out how gorgeous the cover of Kate Bateman's This Earl of Mine is! The good news is that if you enter the Rafflecopter below, one of you will have the chance to receive your very own hard-copy (giveaway rules outlined below). Read on for a blurb and my review, and then enter that GIVEAWAY!
Introducing the Bow Street Bachelors—men who work undercover for London’s first official police force—and the women they serve to protect. . .and wed?
Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?
Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him—and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together…until actual death do they part?
Not many historical novels I’ve read include a scene in that most notorious of institutions—Newgate Prison—let alone begin with them. I was so excited to see where a book could go when it opens with a heroine propositioning a secret-Bow-Street-Runner (and Earl’s brother!) for marriage, believing him instead to be a convict destined for exile.
It turns out that this crafty, entertaining read is willing to go a lot of places, all in the ultimate goal of bringing our heroine and hero together, of course.
While I was initially attracted to the premise of This Earl of Mine, it turns out to be something that execution-wise, I just couldn't quite buy. I appreciate adventurous historical romance plots and distinctive stories and voices, but in this case, I wanted more explanation for Benedict’s decision to accept the marriage and the financial agreement thrust upon him. As he notes, he obviously doesn’t have a lot of options, but marriage to a stranger while you’re a fake prison inmate (and about to be free) seems like a pretty big deal.
And while Georgie’s motivation to protect herself and her family from her cousin Josiah and like-minded fortune hunters is pretty understandable (even if she is securing marriage through somewhat less than honorable means), I did wonder at her failure to ask why Benedict—the bribed prison guard’s Plan B—had been imprisoned.
The arrangement between Georgie and Benedict becomes even more complicated when they decide to publicly court one another (without, of course, revealing that they’re actually already married), but I can forgive that because it seems to be the easiest way for them to be together later and also—chemistry and oh yeah, they’re keeping a secret and that’s fun and sexy.
What also works for me? The stirring sensuality between Georgie and Benedict and how it’s part of a relationship that’s based on genuine respect. Thanks to their unique circumstances—that of a shipping and trade heiress who actually works the business and a former rogue turned member of the Rifles willing to go to any lengths for the job—Georgie and Benedict are often overlooked/misunderstood/gossiped about unfairly.
Those misconceptions don’t last long between the two of them, and it’s sweet to watch.
Equally sweet (and also powerful and cool) is when Georgie issues a fantastic speech to Benedict basically illuminating his (and maybe the reader’s too) double standards when it comes to financial discrepancies between partners, especially when it's the hero living paycheck to paycheck.*
In the end, while I didn’t connect to the characters or story in This Earl of Mine quite as much as I would have liked, I did walk away feeling like I’d read something adorable and unique. Kate Bateman’s a bold writer who’s not afraid to take risks, and that comes across from start to finish in this historical.
3.5 stars out of 5.
*I've seen this motif pop up a lot in reviews of Angelina M. Lopez's contemporary Lush Money. Pick it up if that interests you!
To enter the giveaway, answer the question below. One winner (US-only, sorry!) will receive a finished copy of Kate Bateman's This Earl of Mine directly from the publisher.
Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for my complimentary ARC of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Life update: a haunted house company moved in basically across the road from us, and sometimes I think I can hear people screaming from there at night.
This is the stuff that Halloween dreams are made of.
Also Lecia Cornwall’s book The Lady and the Highlander, a dark, seductive fairy tale with spooky, shivery imagery and a heroine who puts all the letters into “intrepid.”
When the book opens, Laire MacLeod’s beloved and fierce father is marrying a beautiful and mysterious woman named Bibiana. Soon after, her father, sisters, and clan-members are swept away in a bacchanal that shows no sign of ending, and the only people who seem unaffected are Laire—who doesn’t drink spirits—and Bibiana and her unsettling entourage, including her Sealgair, or hunter.
The hunter’s actually Iain Lindsay, a leader of his own clan who’s under self-imposed exile after a tragedy involving his late wife. For the last several years he’s been under obligation to serve Bibiana, a woman whose beauty helps disguise how deadly she is, and every day is a struggle between his lingering vestiges of honor and the guilt that’s poisoning him.
But when Laire starts to learn the deadly truth about Bibana and her entourage, she and Iain are forced to decide which parts of themselves they’ll listen to. Will Laire be brave and canny enough to save her family? And will Iain follow his better nature and aid Laire in her quest, or his worst?
The Lady and the Highlander’s a rich treat. It’s passionate and vivid, with provocative imagery that made me lost in the story even as I had a very visceral response to what the author describes. The Snow White vibes give the story a timeless feel to savor, but even more impressive is how much agency Laire has and how determined she is to save her family though she’s been sheltered her entire life. And though Iain’s initial lack of sympathy toward Bibiana’s victims made it hard for me to connect with him, his subsequent musings and actions make his good heart and overall integrity apparent.
That undeniable pull between Laire and Iain is delectable, especially once Bibiana pits them as enemies of the other. It’s pretty delicious seeing how much they want the other (and how much Iain respects Laire) even as he’s sent to kill her and she must defend herself against him. Ultimately, there’s a thrilling pay-off that gives me all the romance feels.
While I was all-in for most of Laire’s quest, the ending of this novel leaves me a bit disappointed. The reservations that both characters had maintained are summarily dismissed, and it lacks the more substantive emotional response that I had anticipated.
But for most of the book, from that first critical meeting of Laire and Bibiana throughout Laire’s bruised, stumbling quest from the only home she’s ever known, I was entranced, appreciating Lecia Cornwall’s distinctive voice and story.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
There’s a special kind of magic in Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series. Earlier this year I fell in love with Lady Derring Takes a Lover—honestly one of the best romances I’ve ever read—and I only fell deeper with Long’s upcoming release, Angel in a Devil’s Arms.
With this book we’re welcomed back to The Grand Palace on the Thames, only the most wonderful place to stay in the world. Half-proprietor of the TGPotT, Angelique Breedlove wants nothing more than to continue living as she currently is: in safety and comfort, working hard with Delilah Hardy to make their business a success. (Pretty much as far from her previous life—at the mercy of men, including Delilah’s former husband—as possible.)
It seems like she might be able to do that until the arrival of Lucien Durand, a scandalous viscount presumed dead ten years ago. When he arrives at TGPotT, hell-bent on attaining the revenge against those who’ve wronged him & looking as gorgeous & dangerous as a snow leopard/Ian Somerhalder in any season of The Vampire Diaries, everything starts falling apart/coming together in the most glorious way.
The first thing that really needs to be said is that Julie Anne Long is an exquisite writer. This series has the feel of a classic in terms of how it’s written: the turns of phrase, the deliberation of the words, the precision, and yet, it’s modern, too. It’s beautiful and warm and beautiful in its warmth; Angel in a Devil’s Arms is unapologetically about love and kindness, acceptance, and I loved it. The lack of hypocrisy in the book’s leads, even at the lowest moment in the plot, is something to stand up and cheer about.
Then there’s the witty repartee, which is done so well that it comes across as aspirational and approachable. Angelique & Lucien's maneuvering with each other—by turns challenging and kind—takes place in the environs of TGPotT, one of the loveliest renderings of a place and community that I’ve read. Julie Anne Long writes fantastic romance, but she writes a fantastic ensemble, too. I think that I want boarder Delacorte to find someone as much as he does, and the sword scene in this romance is so sublime that I had to restrain my smile to less awkward proportions.
Lady Derring’s still my favorite (why do I feel the need to be so loyal to my favorite books by unnecessarily claiming them over and over again??) but this one only cements the initial impressions of the series for me. I could end with a string of adjectives that help describe my response to Angel in a Devil’s Arms, or I could just say: pick up this book, it will move you and you’ll be better all around for it.
I received a complimentary copy of the ARC--as well as these promotional materials--from Give Me Books Promotions, but all thoughts provided in my review below are my own. Thanks to Give Me Books Promotions for including me in the Release Day Blitz!
In my defense, I didn’t know she was his sister…
"Sexy and fun with a delicious hockey hero, DIRTY SECRET is great for fans of Elle Kennedy, Toni Aleo, and Sawyer Bennett. I devoured this book!" -NYTimes Bestseller Lexi Ryan
This team hates me. Something about my chronic case of resting prick face and that thing with the captain when the season started.
My fist, his jaw. Yeah, we go back and not in a good way.
Coach says no more “confrontational BS” or I don’t play at all. And that’s a hit my career in the NHL can’t take.
So the plan is simple. Keep my head down and finish out my contract with my fists checked.
There’s just one problem.
Allie. The girl from Vancouver eight months ago. The one with the sexy, shy, and sinfully bold smile and the sweetest, wettest mouth I ever tasted. The girl who blew my mind and then blew out of my life without giving me her number.
Turns out she’s the captain’s little sister.
And even though my career depends on it... I can’t stay away from her.
If you’ve been waiting for a new secret cinnamon roll hero to fall in love with, meet Vaughn Vassar. The possessor of Resting Prick Face and a bad rep, he’s also a Slayers hockey player who does nice things when no one’s watching. Another thing he’s hiding? His huge crush on Allie, the mysterious woman he had a one-night stand with almost a year ago who vanished before he could find out more.
Natalie “Allie” Baxter actually knew quite a lot about Vaughn, starting with the fact that Vaughn’s been her big brother Greg’s hockey archrival for years. Oof. But Natalie was drawn to him after years of casually watching him around the rink, and it was enough to wear down her shouldas for the night.
Eight months later they unexpectedly meet again at a bar in Chicago, and despite everything—his bad rep & plans to move to an Oregon team, his feud with her brother, her plans to have her own life outside of the NHL and its players—they want more. And more again.
I’ve said before that Mira Lyn Kelly is one of my fave contemporary romance writers and it’s because of books like Dirty Secret. While her books are on the lighter side of the angst spectrum, the characters still wrestle with topics—in this case, the pressure of parental expectations and feeling inferior to someone else—that a lot of people will relate to.
Kelly's love stories are magnetic and straightforward, and I just want to luxuriate in them even as I’m feverishly flipping the pages. And Dirty Secret’s also sweeter than most, with a hero & heroine who have often been ignored and misunderstood but who pay attention to each other *swoons and wonders if there’s anything sexier than actually seeing someone.*
There are a few moments in Dirty Secret when the transition feels a bit abrupt to me—and I’ll be honest, Allie’s big brother Greg, star of an earlier book in the series, Dirty Player, is so immature in this book at times that he kinda gets on my nerves (hey guy, don’t you get you’re messing with people’s lives here?!)—but overall, this book’s just as delectable as a…cinnamon roll.
4.25 stars out of 5.
When I get home, I kick my Chucks into the corner by the closet and look around my empty apartment feeling at loose ends. I don’t trust myself with the replay of the game I just watched. I can’t handle seeing Vaughn Vassar looking at me like that again tonight. Not without risking things neither of us ought to risk.
Closing my eyes, I slowly lower myself to sit at the stepdown to the living area and try to focus on all the reasons leaving the bar was the right thing to do. Telling myself that kiss from this afternoon was a mistake, no matter how good it felt.
I could be back at the bar in--
Knock, knock, knock.
Sucking in a startled breath, I push to my feet. My heart speeds as that restless feeling in my belly turns into a kind of instinctual pull that draws me to the door.
I don’t have to check to know this isn’t my brother.
It’s not George looking to chat, or Helene showing up with snacks and office gossip.
My fingers tingle as I reach for the knob, my heart races, and my mind empties of all the reasons this is a mistake. Of everything except the relief surging through my veins as I swing the door open. Vaughn is braced against the frame again. He’s lost the suit jacket, and his big arms are flexed and straining as he barely holds himself back.
“I shouldn’t be here,” he says, the words gravel rough and rubbing against me in ways that only make me want to hear more. “I don’t even have a fucking excuse to check on you.”
“But you came anyway,” I whisper, drinking him in.
“I came anyway.”
The muscle in his jaw jumps over and again as his silver eyes swirl with an intensity that matches the energy coming off him in waves. I shouldn’t be reaching for him, but I don’t think I could stop if I tried. I want this. I want him. My fingers curl into the gap between the buttons of his dress shirt and I tug.
There’s a beat of resistance when he pulls back and our eyes connect—and then he’s launching forward on a growl so savagely possessive, I feel it through the deepest part of me. That big arm I couldn't stop staring at sweeps around me as his mouth crashes against mine in a feral kiss. This isn’t tender or tentative. It’s desperate and hungry and has me half climbing his body before my shoulders hit the door he just swung shut with his foot.
Hands roaming over my thighs and ass, he alternates between gentle and desperate, stroking one second and gripping the next. Making me groan around the thrust of his tongue. Making me rock into that thick, steely ridge lodged between us.
“Allie, tell me this isn’t a mistake.”
I need more of his mouth, more of his kiss. More of his huge chest pressing hot and hard against my own so I can’t feel anything but him. “It’s not a mistake.”
It’s critical. Necessary.
It’s my first full breath in weeks, months. “We just—we just need to get it out of our system. That’s all.”
His nostrils flare, and his eyes burn over me as his hand tightens in my hair. “I don’t think—” But instead of finishing whatever he was going to say, he blows out a harsh breath and gives me a single nod.
And then I have it, the crush of his kiss.
Hard core romantic, stress baker, and housekeeper non-extraordinaire. Mira Lyn Kelly is the USA TODAY bestselling author of more than a dozen sizzly love stories with over a million readers worldwide. Growing up in the Chicago area, she earned her degree in Fine Arts from Loyola University and met the love of her life while studying abroad in Rome, Italy… only to discover he’d been living right around the corner from her back home. Having spent her twenties working and playing in the Windy City, she’s now settled with her husband in Minnesota, where their four amazing children and two ridiculous dogs provide an excess of action and entertainment.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.