I always say it—there’s nothing like a Kristen Ashley book, my heart skipping a beat at the mere act of turning that very first page, but a love story set within the realm of the Chaos Motorcycle Club is a reading experience like no other, a thrill ride that leaves our hearts blazing in its wake from the sheer emotion present in every single word. A story of second chances in life, of two people who find all they’ve ever dreamed of having in each other, but also a story of families, of people who might not share the same blood but who would do anything for one another—this is in many ways the ‘quintessential’ Kristen Ashley novel, her unmistakable style and tone of storytelling present in every word, letter, and comma, and yet there was something quite unique about this story, and its powerful message of never losing hope, and the true meaning of family. I’ve loved every book in this series, but I lost my heart to Joker and Carissa’s story, and no amount of re-reading would give it back.
“It’s you. It’s always been you. It’ll always be you. F*ckin’ always.”
Carson “Joker” Steele’s childhood was not an easy one, raised in an abusive home by a drunken single father, but he eventually found his path in life by becoming a patched member of the Chaos Motorcycle Club, a brotherhood of men whose unbreakable bond and loyalty make them family. And even though he worked hard at leaving his painful past behind and only forging forward, he never forgot those who showed him kindness when his life had been a living nightmare, cherishing in particular the memory of a beautiful cheerleader who was never his but whose smile could light up even the darkest of his days.
“One day, Carson Steele, you’re going to be a magnificent man… And one day, you’ll see past what you’ve been taught and you’ll believe it too.”
All Carissa Teodoro ever wanted in life was a family of her own, to be a good wife and a great mother, and while she once believed she could have it all, her life steadily moving in that direction since her high school days, she finds herself divorced in her twenties, with a baby, no friends, no family, no money, a dead-end job, and her self-confidence in smithereens. The only bright light in her otherwise glum life is her little baby boy, a child she would do anything for, and whose happiness and wellbeing remain her only objectives in life.
“I hadn’t been about me. Not for a long time. Maybe never. I had been coasting in life for so long. I actually didn’t know who me was.”
When Carissa finds herself stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, the last person she expects to come to her rescue is a man from her past who never knew all that she had felt for him before he up and left. And although Joker’s feelings for her have not changed in the eight years since he last saw her, he is now convinced more than ever that a woman like Carissa deserves a better man than him, so he fights her pull at every turn, prepared to protect her and her child, but unwilling to claim her as his own.
“She doesn’t need dark. She never shoulda had it and she’s had a lifetime of it. What I got in me gets loose, it’ll engulf her.”
As Carissa’s troubles only intensify, Carson finds himself falling even more in love with the young mother whose selflessness and determination never waver, never lose focus, and eventually giving himself permission to do so too. Her honesty and compassion start melting his frosty disposition, revealing a man who has waited all his life to love unconditionally, and to become someone important to a woman like Carissa. They fill each other’s lives with the kind of happiness they both dreamed of finding in life, supporting one another and feeling something they had long forgotten how to feel—hope.
“It was always you. Only you. I was into you back then, Carissa, in a big fuckin’ way. And that hasn’t changed.”
But as their past and present start colliding, Joker and Carissa’s bond is put to the test, showing us how unfaltering true love can be and how much the support of those we love the most can empower a person to cope with any curveball life throws our way. Against her trademark backdrop of charismatic secondary characters we already know and love, Kristen Ashley has given us another ‘badass’ alpha male who wastes little time to claim his leading lady, and a ‘kickass’ heroine who might have always dreamt of a knight in shining armour riding in to save the day, but whose strength and resilience make her pick herself up and then fight never to be brought down again. This was the kind of story that I had a hard time letting go of, certain scenes replaying in my mind over and over again, and filling me with an overwhelming sense of hope and positivity. It’s a story that tells us never to throw in the towel in life, to keep fighting for happiness, and when we find it, to never let go of it. A true Kristen Ashley classic, perfect beginning to end.
“I’ve loved her since high school, man. She means everything to me. You gotta drag her down, that’ll suck, but I’ll pick her back up. You gotta rip her apart, I’ll f*ckin’ hate watchin’ it, but I’ll put her back together. Do what you gotta do to make you feel like you got the bigger dick. But know this, in the end, it’s gonna be her and me.”