As one of my most revisited series to date, a series that I frequently resort to whenever in need of a guaranteed ‘mood lifter’, a new story set in this world never fails to feel like a gift that will forever keep giving, and from the moment I opened this book, I knew I had found another instant favourite. We return to the Colorado Mountains with the story of Deke Hightower and Justice Lonesome, two people from very different walks of life, but whose souls are a perfect match from the start. A slow burning romance, like all its phenomenal predecessors in the series, this love story percolates our senses unhurriedly but steadily, giving us time to bond with the characters and to feel the growing connection between them. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest on so many occasions, during so many gut-wrenching scenes, making this story one of my most emotional reads by this remarkable author.
“…he was the only man there. The only man at the bar. The only man in the universe. The only man breathing. The only man for me.”
It might have started as a fateful but short-lived encounter in a bar in the middle of nowhere, but one look is all it takes for Justice Lonesome to know she’s found her home in the hulking man standing before her. Their attraction is immediate, visceral, but it all ends before anything even begins, only leaving a vivid image on the young woman’s mind of all that could have been, of all she would never have. That encounter, however, is something Justice never forgets, marking the following seven years of her life, those years never even dimming the memory of those short few moments spent talking to a man who made her wish for a different life.
“It was him. A man in faded jeans and a white tee at a chain link fence in a biker bar in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, sucking back a beer, laughing with his bud. And I didn’t know his name. What I knew was that I wanted him to take me wherever it was he lived his life, plant me in it so deep I could never pull at the roots, flourish in the life we built together, and wither to dust by his side.”
Seven years later, fame, success, and the recent loss of a loved one have all led Justice Lonesome to want to leave her old lifestyle behind and to seek a simpler life far away from it all. She drifts into a quiet little town amidst the mountains of Colorado and drops her anchor there; for the first time in her life, her gipsy heart craving to put down roots in the one place. But nothing prepares her for suddenly finding herself facing the very man who made her dream of that life in the first place.
“Seven years, ten minutes, and I knew him at a glance. Seven years, ten minutes, I was right then drawn to him so deeply, it was taking physical effort to stop my body swaying his way, my feet from moving to him.”
Deke Hightower is a nomad by nature and by choice, a man who needs the freedom of a rootless life, of being able to jump on his bike and take off whenever he wishes, in order to be happy. Life has taught him not to trust easily and to stay loyal only to a few, and the small town of Carnal, Colorado and its people have become the only home he’s allowed himself to have. So when a wealthy young woman walks into that town and buys one of the priciest properties on the market, he judges her on appearances alone and convinces himself that he knows ‘her kind’.
“He didn’t need her shit. Didn’t need to feel less when it was obvious she could give herself more.”
When circumstances put them in the same house day in and day out, however, their pull grows even stronger, but while Justice remains hopeful she’d eventually break through his standoffish façade and at least befriend him if that is all they would ever have between them, Deke is determined not to feed their attraction in any way. But the more he gets to know Justice, the more he realises all his preconceptions about her and the type of woman she is had been wrong. And then one tragic event changes everything between them.
“I sensed Deke Hightower was my place in the world. I’d sensed that all the way back in Wyoming.”
What starts as a heart-rending tale of unrequited love, turns slowly into a breathtaking love story between two people who were born to love one another. Life might have brought them to each other along two very different paths, but their souls never fail to recognise their other half in one another. Kristen Ashley shows us once again that the beauty of some stories is in the details, and this story overflows with them. We fall in love with these characters through the simple things in life—through the way they treat those closest to them, as well as those they meet for the first time, through the empathy and the self-awareness that paints their every action, through the unyielding way they do everything they can to make their relationship work. But most of all, we fall in love with them through their banter and the way they so easily open their hearts to one another.
“So you were nervous too.”
He grinned. “There was that, but mostly I figured I was good because you’re really f*ckin’ into me.”
“Sometimes your cocky is not hot,” I snapped.
His brows went up. “There’s times my cocky makes you hot?”
We return to this most beloved series with the story of two people who spent their whole lives believing they would never find a place where they’d always feel safe, loved, at peace with themselves, a place they would draw strength from and always belong to, only to find that very place in each other. There’s a singular type of pace common to all the stories in this series, particularly noticeable in some of the earliest instalments, and with this book, we return to that pace—steady, measured, hopeful—entirely character-driven and only accentuating the deeply reflective mood present in every single sentence. The richly-detailed prose gives us also a strong sense of place in these stories, their setting coming alive as much as the characters in them, and once again, the town of Carnal and its colourful inhabitants play a vital role in this story, as they did in all the ones that came before it. With each new story, we get the feeling we are not just falling in love with a whole new couple, but also returning ‘home’ to a place we have known and loved for so long. And to me, starting a new Kristen Ashley book always feels like coming back home.
“Only roots I want, me in you, you in me.”