It is truly rare to find a series that delivers so consistently and at such a remarkable level one book after another, each story unique, gripping, unforgettable, a series that never stops getting better and better. So it came as no surprise to me that this last (fingers crossed that it is not!) book would become my personal favourite of the lot. Reese and Ben’s story had all the magic of its ‘predecessors’—a strong, independent female lead; a charming, irresistible hero who changes his bad-boy ways for the woman he cannot stay away from; a whirlwind romance with all the right ups and downs to make us hopelessly addicted and clinging onto every single word. But this story had something more for me, an added pinch of angst that made me wholeheartedly invested in these characters’ ultimate happy ending. There is so much bittersweet emotion driving this story forward, so much hidden self-deprecation in these characters, all under the guise of fearlessness and over-confidence. Mesmerised by all the beautiful layers of this story, and once more, by this author’s inimitable trademark humour and flawless prose, I was in book heaven cover to cover.
“I was smart. Some may say I’m still smart. But I’ve made so many wrong turns along the way, I don’t know how many right ones it will take to course-correct.”
Reese MacKay has been a thorn in her social-climbing mother’s sight ever since adolescence, her rebellious, reckless shenanigans landing her in hot water time after time, and so we meet her in the middle of her latest trouble, at a police station, arrested for destruction of private property, her only hope of getting herself out of this situation being to call a man who raised her, but whom she hadn’t seen for nine long years, ever since he divorced her mother. But her ‘get out of jail free card’ comes with conditions—to come to work for him as a paralegal and start sorting herself out, away from the pain of her past and all the reasons she acted out in the first place. Six months later, she is on the cusp of getting a fresh start in life by starting her new job, in a new city, living with and working for the only quasi-parent who has ever seen her true potential. But during her twenty-first birthday celebration in Mexico, her last act as a careless youth, she meets a cocky playboy whose wide grin and steely blue eyes become her undoing. Their connection is immediate, their attraction indisputable, and yet all she walks away with is the memory of one embarrassing night spent in his room hugging the toilet bowl, too drunk to do much else. Two months later, that same cocky guy walks into her office, and he does not waste a second reminding her of their one disastrous night together.
“… I’m trying to control the hyperbolic flashback that took weeks to suppress… as the walking, breathing proof of one of my most mortifying nights stands in my office.”
Ben Morris is the confident new lawyer hired by Reese’s stepfather. His good looks and flirty personality have made him a hit with the ladies, something he did not mind in the least while working nights as a strip club bouncer to pay for his law degree. But his obnoxious swagger is only a playful façade he enjoys teasing Reese with, riling her up having soon become his favourite past time.
“Have you always loved yourself this much?”
“I had an awkward year in ‘ninety-nine, but I got over it quick.”
As they play a delicious game of cat and mouse, their daily interactions quickly blur the lines that Reese is so adamant to preserve, especially when her cheating ex-husband enters the scene and she needs someone to be her fake boyfriend. One kiss is all it takes for them to re-ignite the spark between them, something that no friends-with-benefits agreement can suppress. The more they pretend to be in love and the more they try not to fall for one another, the more they can’t keep their hands off each other.
“Reese, well . . . she’s all angry and fire-breathing bitchy until her lips find you, and then you’re sure she must have a cocaine-laced tongue because you can’t get enough of her sweet mouth.”
Reese and Ben are polar opposites in so many ways. While Ben is like a ray of sunshine any minute of the day, having been raised by a mother who loved and supported his every decision, and nurtured his interests in life, Reece has never felt that kind of unconditional love from a parent. She craves for someone to make her come first in their life, for someone to finally choose her, love her, make her their priority. Everyone who ever counted the most has always let her down, made her feel rejected and thus naturally distrustful of people around her. Ben is the first person in her adult life who makes her feel wanted, appreciated, good about herself. His cheerfulness and protectiveness towards her ground her and make her blossom as a person. Reese, on the other hand, is the first woman in Ben’s life to make him want to believe in something he has always looked at with disdain—love.
“I think Ben has a strange power over me— the ability to balance my chaos. And, the more time I spend here on the grove— in his life— the more I think that his entire world seems to stabilize me.”
A truly beautiful, light-hearted and yet deeply emotional story of two people quieting each other’s demons and becoming one another’s anchors in life—this is one of those books that warms you from the inside out and draws you to re-read it whenever you need a story to make you feel happy. From two charismatic leading characters to one of the most colourful casts of secondary characters I have ever encountered, this is a tale that shows the true meaning of family bonds as much as it is a love story, all laced with a delightful undercurrent of humour and wit. I am besotted, I am in awe, and I cannot recommend this book, as well as the series as a whole, highly enough.
“… if you have to fight over a guy, he’s not worth it. Go for the one who’s waiting for you.”
I love the angry ones.
Of course, anyone who knows me would argue that I love any and all women, and I can’t exactly disagree. But I love the angry ones the most. They’re a challenge to be conquered, the reason for their fury usually fitting neatly into three buckets: insecure, scorned, hormonal.
And this purple-haired chick gazing up at me with fire in her caramel eyes?
I’m betting on bucket number two.
“My, what an awfully bright red shirt you have on,” she pushes out between gritted teeth, as if she’s trying to be polite but can’t hide her disdain.
I didn’t know what I was walking into when the punk-rock chick with the crazy-ass muscular body waved us over, but her friend with the purple hair and her back to me had me intrigued. Now that I’m getting a good look at her face, I know who I’m spending my last night with in Cancún. She’s not what some would call traditionally “pretty.” Her eyes are slightly too big and far apart, her nose is slightly too long and slender, and her lips—though nice and wide—are on the thin side. Yet something about all of that put together makes her sexy as hell. Maybe it’s the little nose ring. Or maybe it’s the way her decent-sized tits are pressing up against me, her low V-neck tank top—a casual shirt, telling me she’s not trying to pick anyone up—giving me a fine view of her cleavage. Whatever it is, my dick is certainly pleased. “You like it?” I ask.
An irritated glare flickers to the material. “No.”
I can’t help but chuckle at her candor. “Will you at least give me a head start before you gore me?”
Those thin lip curls into a condescending smirk. “Bulls don’t see color. That’s a myth.”
The only thing I love more than an angry girl is a smart, angry girl.
This is going to be fun.
“Well, how about I solve the problem for you.” I take a step back from her and swiftly yank my shirt off, exposing six days of suntanned skin and an upper body that I know looks damn appealing because I work my ass off to keep it that way. The random catcalls from the tables around confirm it.
And then I simply stand there and grin like the cocky ass that I am as Angry Girl can’t keep her eyes from scanning the muscles I’ve honed since my college football days, her lips parting ever so subtly. I see the shift in her, the moment where she realizes that, though she’d prefer to castrate the entire male species right now, she can’t ignore her attraction to me.
At least, that’s what I want to see.
“Sir. Excuse me, sir.” A glance over my shoulder finds Angelo, the short Mexican waiter who’s been serving us all week, standing there with a tray of beers for my friends and me. We didn’t even have to ask. Hell, I love Cancún. I could live here forever.
“Angelo! Why the f*ck are you calling me ‘sir’?”
“Uh . . .” He licks his lips as his eyes dart to the tile floor. “Please. Management requests that you wear proper attire in the lounge area. Please.”
“No worries, pal.” Poor Angelo is probably ready to shit his pants, as afraid as he is to offend me, the guy who has lined his pockets with a month’s worth of rent in tips. Snagging a beer off his tray, I take my time sucking back a few mouthfuls, feeling Angry Girl’s eyes riveted to my throat.
Yeah, I’ve got this one in the bag.
With an easy smile, I place the bottle down on the table and pull the shirt back over my head. “Though you may have to deal with Angry Girl in front of me, now. She hates my shirt.”
Angelo casts a polite smile her way as he hands out beers to my friends, and I know exactly what he’s thinking. He’s seen me walk out of here with a few different women this week.
What else can I say but . . . I’m on vacation.
I was planning on just hanging low tonight, going to bed solo. Now, though, getting this purple-haired chick naked sounds like more fun.
“Angry Girl will try to restrain herself, Angelo,” she purrs, draining the last of her drink and placing it on his tray before scooping up a fresh one. She still has a full one sitting on the table, too. “But only if you come back with another one of these in under five minutes. Otherwise, there’s no telling what she’ll do.” Narrowed eyes glimmer with secret amusement.
I smoothly tuck a twenty into his shirt pocket and pat his shoulder. “For causing you any trouble with management.” Angelo nods and quickly heads off as I stick my hand out. “I’m Ben. And you are . . .”
Angry Girl accepts it, the skin of her hand soft and cool within mine. “Jill.” Thumbing to her left, she adds, “Sabrina. And that’s Kelly over there. She’s Korean.”
What? My brow furrows as I regard the cute girl-next-door blond sitting across from us, trying to make sense of that strange introduction. A skillful distraction, it would seem, because it gives Jill a chance to slither into her seat, her back to me once again. She props her feet up to rest on the only vacant chair at the table, her long, shapely legs all the more visible thanks to the tiny shorts she’s wearing.
“Travis, Kent, Murdock,” I toss out with a lazy gesture toward the guys, three of my roommates from Miami. They can take care of themselves. I’m on a mission. I waste no time seizing an empty lounge chair from the table next to us. Flashing a big smile at the cougar eyeing me, a redhead who is definitely hot enough to f*ck should this thing with Jill go sideways, I swing the chair around and take a seat so close that my knee—the one that cost me a guaranteed NFL career and still throbs in damp weather—rests against Jill’s bare leg. She doesn’t shift away. “First night in Cancún?”
One of her perfectly shaped brows arches. “You’re persistent.”
“A persistent fool,” I correct her with a grin, earning the non-Korean girl’s laughter. “First night in Cancún?” I repeat.
“How can you tell?”
Finally. An open door for a conversation. I jump through it like a circus dog. “Because you’re way too tense, you’re downing those drinks like you’re on a mission to wake up naked on the beach, and you have no tan lines.”
“Huh . . .” She ponders that for a moment while I inhale her perfume. She smells like strawberries and cream. I wonder if she tastes like strawberries and cream. “What are you, a detective?”
“Bouncer at a strip club.”
Her head falls back and she starts laughing, a deep, throaty laugh that I want to record and play back again at a later date. “Of course you are.”
I shrug. “It pays the bills.” I could kill whatever assumptions she’s making about me by telling her why I’m really here in Cancún: to celebrate finishing law school and taking the bar exam.
But I don’t.
I simply watch her tongue curl around the salty rim of her glass. Dirty thoughts flash through my head and I’m forced to discreetly adjust myself. If she notices, she doesn’t comment. Hell, she probably knows exactly what she’s doing to me. There are no innocent vibes coming off this chick.