When you open a new book and you find yourself gasping for air, your chest clenching only a few pages into the story, you know you’ve hit the mother lode of great reads. Once again, in true Kristen Ashley style, we are given a story that owns us from the start, our hearts fluttering to the rhythm of the powerful emotions driving every scene, every sentence, every word exemplifying this author’s distinctive and truly remarkable prose. I always take my time reading a KA book, but I gave myself even more time to savour this particular story, to absorb every hidden layer, to fully appreciate every facet of these two characters that are so unlike any of her others, because I knew she had saved some of her best work for last. A truly splendid conclusion to a phenomenal series, if you haven’t ventured into it yet, it is time you pay The ‘Burg a visit.
“I was the kind of girl who’d never dreamed because, even when I was little, I always knew I was the kind of girl who’d be stupid to dream.”
Cherie “Cher” Rivers stopped dreaming of a knight in shining armour a long time ago, learning very early in life that the only person she could ever truly depend on was herself. A single mum in her mid thirties, a hard worker, a loving parent, a woman confident in all that she is and all that she would ever be, she lives her life unapologetically and true to herself, knowing that all the sacrifices she has ever made were done in good conscience and for the good of one person and one person alone—her beloved ten-year-old son Ethan. Having pushed all her dreams of finding a good man and being loved by such a man aside, all Cherie now dreams of is giving her son a good life, teaching him how to be a decent man, and making him feel loved every single day of his life. But as closed off as Cherie’s heart might appear to be, it secretly pines for a man who’s only ever seen her as a friend—a good man, a loyal man, a trustworthy man, the kind of man she would fight with all her might to keep in her life. Just not a man who’s ever showed any signs of loving her back.
“A man who liked me. A man who laughed at my jokes. A man who smiled at me regularly. Who teased me often. Who shot the shit with me. A man who liked me a lot. A man who was my friend. A man who thought of me as a friend. The man I loved more than breath.”
Lieutenant Garrett “Merry” Merrick has only ever loved one woman in his life, but he’s never believed in happy endings. Losing their mother as young children has marked the Merrick siblings deeply, leaving them both terrified of loss, and thus prone to self-sabotaging their own happiness while in pursuit of emotional numbness. But while his sister conquered her demons and got her second chance at finding happiness, Merry’s hang-ups have led him to watching the love of his life getting engaged to another man and not wanting to do anything to stop it. Except drowning his sorrows in an expensive bottle of whisky with a friend, and opening his eyes to the possibility that the one who’s been in front of him all along might be exactly the kind of woman he didn’t even know he was looking for.
“You got good, you don’t let it go. It lets you go, you hold on. It slips through your fingers, you pull out all the stops to get it back. You got somethin’ worth fighting for, you fight for it. You do not sit on your ass waitin’ for it to come back to you. You show whoever that is they mean something and you go all out on that, and the only way you go down is doin’ that shit swinging.”
With their inhibitions lowered and their bodies aching to seek comfort in one another, Merry and Cherie share one night of unrivalled passion, a small taste of the bliss to be found in each other’s arms that neither of them can deny, but a new day brings them two very different outlooks on the night they’d shared—one of them daring to dream of more, and the other dismissing it as a one-night stand that should have never happened.
“It wasn’t walking out of a house into a taxi or your car in your clothes from the night before that was the walk of shame. You wanted what you wanted, you went after it, you got it, then you left it and went on with your life. There was no shame in that. None. The shame was lying naked in your own bed listening to a man be quiet while dressing because he woke up next to you not wanting one thing to do with you.”
Cherie’s pain from allowing herself for one fleeting moment to hope a man would want to look after her, share her load, love her and her son, and then seeing that dream vanish even before it took shape, leaves a deep scar in both her pride as well as her fragile heart, only strengthening her conviction that she is just one of those girls who would never find that kind of happiness in life, even though she would give anything to have it.
“… he’d never give me what I wanted. I forgot. I forgot I wasn’t the kind of girl who got what she wanted. Not once. Not in my whole f*cking life. Yeah, I’d forgotten that.”
But the moment Cherie’s heart closes off again, Merry’s suddenly becomes wide open to falling for a woman who now spends equal time fighting her attraction towards him and plotting his murder for making her feel everything she refuses to feel for him. And when a Kristen Ashley alpha male sets his eyes on a woman, get the popcorn ready and make yourself comfortable, because resistance is futile from the get-go and it’s going to be a ride like no other.
“What I want is more good times with you, Cher. I wanna f*ck wild and I wanna laugh hard, and while we’re doin’ that, I’m gonna look out for you. More, I can’t promise.”
A woman scared of any more heartbreak in her life, reluctant to let a man see her vulnerable side and trust him not to hurt her, and a man who didn’t even know that all he ever needed in life in order to let go of his past was a woman who would stick by him through thick and thin—Merry and Cherie are two damaged, lonely people who find everything they’ve ever dreamed of in each other, if only they can see past their fears and embrace the rare beauty they’ve uncovered in each other’s arms.
“That’s life. You have no clue what you’ll get along the journey. But you won’t get dick you stay in one place, spinning your wheels.”
I have loved all the stories in this epic series by an author who never fails to rock my world, and this was not just another great addition to the series—it was the perfect finale, the perfect conclusion, the perfect send-off to a remarkable group of characters whose stories have become some of my favourite re-reads. The epilogue alone acknowledging all the other couples in the series was far more than just the proverbial icing on the cake, the closure gained from seeing their lives fast-forwarded before our eyes leaving me in a happy daze of nostalgia laced with bittersweet tears. Each one of these stories touched me deeply in its own right and in its own way, and the beauty of Merry and Cherie’s story did not disappoint. Not by a long shot.
“God, did he know? Did he know that he was the dream come true a girl like me would never dare to dream?”
Through this, my leg hit an end table and I adjusted. We cleared the couch, I shifted again too soon, both my calves hit the coffee table, and my ass went down on it.
I looked up. Cell flat to the table, I braced my hands to push up, but Merry was there, chin in his throat, eyes on me, and when he spoke again, his mind was clearly on my location.
“Tried to get your mouth on me more than once when we tore at each other up last Friday, but I was in the mood to use mine. Lookin’ forward to learnin’ what you can do with yours, but like I said, baby, right now, don’t got the time.”
My only response that he couldn’t twist was to glare at him, which was what I did.
“But got time before I go for a kiss,” Merry informed me.
“Only kiss I’ll give you is tellin’ you to kiss off,” I informed him.
“Who knew warm brown eyes like the ones you got could spark that kind of fire,” he muttered as if he wasn’t even talking to me.
“Step back,” I demanded.
“No,” he denied.
I continued to glare up at him, then I realized I was not the kind of woman who sat on her ass, glaring up at a man towering over her and pinning her in. So I stood, which put me smack in Merry’s space, my breasts brushing against his abs and up his chest on my way.
They kept brushing when he didn’t move back, but I didn’t attempt escape, even to get away from the shafts of electricity this all caused at my nipples, shafts that headed south.
I glared at him from closer.
He stared into my eyes, his gaze moving down to my mouth then back up as one side of his lips curved.
He was getting off on this.
I didn’t get that and I didn’t want to get that.
I wanted this done.
“In the mood to play, Officer?” I whispered.
“Told you, sweetheart, don’t got the time.”
I shook my head but held his gaze. “Not what I mean. Single mom, all alone. Switch out her storms. Offer info to help her out of a jam. Been a while since I was in the know about these things, so tell me, what’s the price for all that? You mentioned a blowjob. You got stamina, but I got talent. Balance that out, I’m thinkin’ it’ll take more than the usual ten, fifteen minutes. We’ll give it twenty. So I can manage my time, is there more?”
I wasn’t even done talking before I learned his eyes could spark fire too.
I also learned he was in the mood to play, that being, playing me at my own game.
And doing it better.
He dipped his face close, his voice low. “Storms get me the blowjob, brown eyes. I get the intel you need, that buys me sinkin’ deep in wet pussy.”
I felt my nipples get harder at the same time something else happened to me that, if he was of a mind to take his payoff right then, he’d get what he wanted.
I hid this reaction and asked, “You want this all in one go, or you wanna spread payback out for a while?”
“Keep plenty of time open, Cher. I intend to earn a fuckuva lot more and draw it out collecting.”
I nodded, still keeping a lock on his eyes. “I get it. Girl like me, only payback expected for me to be able to give.”
That didn’t get me fire.
That got me ice.
“I hear you talk down about yourself one more time, Cher, shit will get extreme.”
That made me ice over.
“Do not hand me that crap, Merry. You come into my home and got no problem talkin’ about wet pussy right to my face tells me the woman you know me to be.”
He dipped his face even closer, to the point it felt like if I blinked, my lashes would sweep his in a butterfly kiss.
“Do not hand me your shit, Cher,” he growled. “That hang-up is yours, not mine. And how I know that is I made you come just finger fuckin’ you and talkin’ dirty in your ear, and it was the talk and not what my fingers were doin’ that took you there. I like that, a woman who can let go and let me give her that without gettin’ uptight and closin’ down on me. You liked it too, a fuckuva lot more than me. So don’t stand there handin’ me your shit when I know you’re wet for me now and I haven’t fuckin’ touched you.”
I refused to reply to that because he was right and I had no intention of confirming that information.
But it was then he hit me with a verbal blow, the intensity of which, not in my whole shitty-ass life I’d ever received.
“Christ, if I didn’t know you were worth it, I’d walk out the door and this would be done—all we got, over.”
I could stand.
I could stare.
But I couldn’t breathe.
He could also speak.
“Hope like fuck no one takes off with those storms while I’m gone. You think they will, move ’em into garage and leave the key under the mat. I’m switchin’ ’em out, Cher. I come back tonight and they’re done, I’ll find you, and I won’t be collectin’. I’ll be dishin’ it out, but you won’t get it until you beg for it and do that shit for a really long time.”
His words were lost on me.
I continued to stand.
I continued to stare.
But my lungs had started burning.
If I didn’t know you were worth it…
“When’s Ethan’s next sleepover?” Merry bit out.
“Friday,” I whispered. “But his friend’s comin’ here.”
“Fuck,” Merry clipped. “Find a time, babe. You don’t, payback’ll stack up and I’ll have to take personal days and hole up in a hotel with you for a week. And there’s not a doubt that stick-up-her-ass church lady your ex tied his shit to won’t appreciate you bein’ gone from your kid for a weeklong fuckathon.”
That was kind of funny as well as hot.
I still said nothing.
Merry fell silent and stared at me.
Then he dealt the second biggest verbal blow I’d ever received in my life.
“Christ, you’re pretty, even standin’ there plotting my murder.”
After that, he lifted a hand, grabbed me gentle but firm at my neck, yanked me up so my mouth hit his hard but brief, then he let me go.
“Later, babe,” he said, strolling to my door. He stopped in it, turned to me, and bid his farewell by saying, “You touch those storms only to put them in the garage.”
He closed the door on that.
I stood where he left me.
If I didn’t know you were worth it…
What was I worth?
What was I worth to Merry?