I will start this review with the promise that reading it will not affect your enjoyment of this book in any possible way. One of the most striking qualities of this story is the sheer number of unexpected emotional reactions it evokes in the reader, page after page, scene after scene, and nothing in this review will rob you of any of those skin-tingling moments. But it might just give you an idea of why this was the KA book for me.
Starting a new Kristen Ashley book is always an emotional experience for me, her stories forever touching my heart and making my wildest fantasises run rampant. Each new book by this author seems to set a new benchmark for all the books I read after that, but never has it happened before that a story won’t let me write its review for several weeks after I’ve finished reading it because every time the story crosses my mind, I am overwhelmed by ‘book nostalgia’, wishing stories like that never had to end. I have loved and lived every single Kristen Ashley book I have ever read, but this was the most epic one of them all for me, the one that completely took my breath away and the one that will always represent ‘vintage KA style’ in my eyes.
“She wanted me for you.”
We meet Josephine ‘Josie’ Malone at one of the most trying moments in her life – at her beloved grandmother’s funeral. Josie has just lost the only family she had left, the woman who saved her from an abusive childhood by giving her a loving home, a place to belong to, a safe harbour, and by exemplifying the kind of woman Josie had always strived to become. At this moment of complete emotional loss and vulnerability, a man and his children standing near her grandmother’s casket catch Josie’s eye, their identity unknown to her but the intense pain in their eyes acting as a beacon to her own broken heart. The following day, her grandmother’s will is read and Josie’s world is suddenly turned inside out, its startling content leaving Josie torn between wanting to please her grandmother one last time and perplexed by the nature of her wishes.
“My most precious possession, the thing I treasure above anything else in this world … I hereby bequeath to …”
By all accounts, Jake Spear is a complete stranger to Josie but someone her grandmother not only seemed to hold in the highest regard, as her will shows, but also cared for deeply. A local entrepreneur and business owner, Jake’s business ventures vary greatly from one another, but his every action demonstrates that he is willing to do whatever it takes to provide for the three most important people in his life – his children. A former boxing champion and three-time divorcee, Jake is the very opposite of the type of man Josie has been pining for over the last two decades, his small-town lifestyle standing in stark contrast to the jet setting one that Josie has become accustomed to in her career, but she is strangely drawn to him. Having left home in her early twenties, determined to escape the memory of her past and reinvent herself, she has spent the last twenty years distancing herself from her emotions and looking after someone else’s needs before her own. But one look at Jake and his family, coupled with her recent loss and newly acquired responsibilities, and Josie cannot help but start questioning her choices in life and finding new definitions for happiness.
“…although it feels lovely you wish for me to have all kinds of beauty, I’m perfectly happy without it.”
After suppressing her own dreams for so long, and quashing every inborn instinct she has ever had to form a family, Josie is confronted for the very first time with the very real possibility of having everything she has always wished for, if only she is brave enough to grab it by the horns and never let it go.
“I’m fine with being alone. I want it to be that way. Honestly, I do.”
These characters might be slightly older and hence dealing with very different issues from the younger ones we typically encounter in KA books, but the intensity of their connection, the chemistry, and the passion between them are just as off-the-charts as always. If anything, their need for each other and desire to connect on all levels feels even more urgent and eager. There are moments that will have your heart racing, there are others that will make you melt from glee, and there will be moments when you will struggle to catch your breath.
“Every inch of you, outside and any way you can get inside, baby, physically or emotionally, is mine.”
This is essentially a tale of second chances at love, or first chances at love when deprived of true happiness until later on in life, and it tells the story of two people whose lives have taught them to recognise beauty once it comes along and to allow themselves to hold onto it, regardless of how undeserving of it they believe themselves to be. Every element of a KA book is present – her inimitable prose, her intense dialogues, her unmatched character development and ability to make the reader feel such a wide spectrum of emotions – but this story went beyond that for me, the honesty with which it was told touching me on a very personal level, and making me connect with the characters like never before.
“I’d give him anything. I’d give him everything. If I had the power, I’d give him the world.”
By the time you reach the end of this book, you’ll realise what a wonderful ‘full circle’ the author has weaved for us, showing us that every story, even the most ‘real’ and close-to-home ones, can become breathtaking fairy-tales. KA books should really have a separate rating scale as they truly stand in a book universe of their own, but if I had to pick an absolute favourite among them all, this book would be that book for me. I promise you, this story will mark you in the best possible way and if you’re anything like me, you’ll never fully walk away from it. Six Stars of Excellence and then some.
“I wanted you before I even knew you… You’re everything I ever wanted, darling.”
We just got off the phone and I’m concerned about you. I know that sounds strange since our phone call was about how you were concerned about me.
Please don’t be. Please?
I’m happy, Gran. I truly am. Honestly.
When we were talking earlier, I wanted to say this but I didn’t know how to say it. Perhaps I couldn’t get my mouth to say the words because I didn’t want to admit it out loud or say it to you and upset you more.
But you should know—I’m fine with being alone. I want it to be that way. Honestly, I do.
You know I’m not alone most of the time regardless. But I do think you know what I mean.
My first memory is him and her in the kitchen, she was on the floor, you know how it was. I told you. And there were more memories after that that were even less pleasant. You know of those too.
And yes, the truth is, this affected me. Yes, it made me shy away from connections. And I know you don’t think this is healthy, but truly, it’s fine.
There are people who need people, sometimes a great many people. And I understand that what happened made me not that kind of person. But it means the connections I make are actually meaningful, not a collection of souls in order not to feel lonely. I don’t need that for I never feel lonely.
If I were to have a man, he would need to be very gentle and understanding, patient and kind, thoughtful, softhearted, and yes, maybe dashing and refined, definitely intelligent and successful.
All of these things and the last mostly because I would wish him to have his own diversions for I wouldn’t wish him to need to spend too much time with me. This is because I like being alone. I like my own company.
This isn’t to say I didn’t sometimes long for a gentle touch, a man’s eyes falling on me appreciatively, building a shared history where we might one day simply gaze at each other, understand and smile.
But I long ago gave up these yearnings. I meet many men and this man, this man that I would need to share my life with, he doesn’t exist, Gran. I’ve come to understand that and it’s settled in me. I’ve built a life I enjoy, one that keeps me busy, and I’m happy with that.
I find it remarkable, after all that you endured, that you’d still believe in love. In romance. In all that heady possibility. And I adore it that you want that for me.
What I wish you to understand in your heart is that, although it feels lovely you wish for me to have all kinds of beauty, I’m perfectly happy without it.
I have your love and that’s all I need.
And you have my love too.
Forever and completely.