A second chance romance. Ah, the mere mention of one makes my spine tingle with excitement, but when in the process of devouring one of these little nuggets of goodness I find myself discovering a phenomenal new author too, I can’t help but feel like I’ve just hit the mother lode. This book, and then subsequently the next one in the series (because I immediately had to read them all even though the stories are only slightly connected), were not only sublimely written, but they never stopped being interesting, engaging, exciting, quite literally impossible to put down. The story of two people, each other’s first and only loves and one another’s greatest regrets, who cross paths again fifteen years later, only with two very different perceptions of not only their shared past, but also of the future before them, as only one of them recognises the other—this is an unexpectedly poignant love story, consistently woven with emotion and longing, and as the sexual tension between the characters keeps escalating, the surprises only keep coming and coming.
Fifteen years, a new face, a new name, a biography scrubbed clean of any damning detail… I’m not that unsophisticated country girl anymore, that girl who loved with all her heart and soul. That girl is dead. There’s only this girl left, the one made of ice and vengeance.
Isabel Diaz was only seventeen-years-old when the only boy she ever loved left her with nothing more than a broken heart and a lifetime of regrets. Almost two decades later, this shy country bumpkin has become Victoria Price, a confident seductress, self-made millionaire, and an inspiration to thousands of women who listen to her every word on all matters relating to men. With an empire built on ‘man-hating’—by empowering women to achieve happiness and independence without relying on the men in their lives—Victoria has spent her entire adult life making sure that no part of her old self is left in her, erasing all traces of Isabel Diaz, and becoming the iciest and most notorious man-eater in New York City. But her perfect white-Armani-clad existence comes to a screeching halt when the she suddenly finds herself facing the very man who shattered her young heart all those years ago. And he does not even recognise her.
One look at the man who shattered my soul fifteen years ago and it all comes back with vivid, sickening clarity. The months of black depression. The feelings of utter worthlessness. The crying jags that wrung me dry and left my mother beside herself in a panic about what to do with her nearly comatose teenage daughter.
So what is a girl to do when she is given a chance to re-write the past? She plots revenge, of course, concocting the kind of ‘evil master plan’ that would raze a man to the ground, and make him regret his actions for the rest of his life. And she does it by using every trick in the book to seduce him, while secretly plotting his personal and professional annihilation.
A successful, intelligent, beautiful woman with a Mona Lisa smile, arctic laser beam eyes, and a reputation for being not only a ruthless bitch but also a voracious lover? The way my mouth has begun to water, you’d think someone waved a meatball sandwich under my nose.
Parker Maxwell, successful restaurateur and philanthropist, has felt utterly bewitched by the notorious Ice Queen from the moment he laid eyes on her, but as all his advances are met with disdain and rejection, what starts merely as a casual game of seduction quickly turns into an irresistible challenge he is determined to win at all costs. They toy with one another, one-upping each other every chance they get, and enjoying the game of cat and mouse as much as the sexual tension lacing their every encounter, but the more unexpected glimpses Parker gets of what hides behind Victoria’s heavily guarded heart, the more their every touch reminds him of the one and only time in his life when he allowed his heart to love freely.
“I want to know the woman I saw on the dance floor, the one who comes out only when she thinks no one’s looking. The one with the sad eyes, who hides and plays make-believe and kisses like it’s her last two minutes on earth.”
As the rules of the game keep changing, and wrecked hearts are put through the wringer all over again, we watch with rapt fascination as an angry young woman struggles to reconcile her desire for revenge with the way her body betrays her every time she is near the object of all her most murderous fantasies, and our hearts bleed for her. But as we are privy to the hero’s innermost thoughts too, we slowly discover that every story has at least two sides—the truth sometimes lying nowhere in between—and forgiveness becomes the only way to move on, before the bittersweet taste of revenge consumes us entirely.
When I have my revenge, what will be left? When I break his heart, or his soul, or destroy his career or reputation—who will I be without the bitterness that’s driven me? What will I see when I look in the mirror?
What a great read this was, start to finish! I’ll admit that I wished at times for greater insight into the battle raging inside the heroine’s heart, with less emphasis on what her mind was telling her to do and greater focus on what her heart was begging her to feel, thus binding us deeper to her, and I also felt that the ‘great reveal’ was not given the spotlight it could have had, failing to capitalise on the emotions it could have provoked in the reader had it occurred at a different time perhaps. But these observations are merely the result of the fussy reader that I am, entirely subjective and nitpicking in nature, and this remains one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. So much so that I immediately jumped into the next one in the series, stubbornly refusing to leave this reality just yet. A must-read.
A battle easily won is no battle at all. And we are at war, he and I. Blood will be shed. By the end of it, we’ll both bleed.
“Do you like puzzles?” I ask quietly, holding his intense gaze.
Parker lowers his head. Into my ear, he whispers, “They’re my favorite thing in the world.”
The tip of his nose skims the rim of my ear. This time when I shudder, it isn’t faked.
“Did you get my flowers?” he asks.
I have to take a steadying breath before answering. The way his hand is drifting down my spine is supremely distracting. “Oh…were those from you?”
Chuckling, he lifts his head. “And she’s back.”
“Who?” I ask innocently.
“Xena, Warrior Princess.”
In the most coquettish move I can manage without making myself vomit from the sheer sugar overload, I tilt my head back and peer up at him from beneath my fluttering lashes. This is far more difficult than romance novels make it sound. I worry he might think I’m about to suffer from a fainting spell. I’m sure I look utterly ridiculous, but I forge ahead anyway.
“Why Mr. Maxwell, I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He throws his head back and laughs, causing several couples nearby to look at us, startled. “That was terrible. You should never try to be coy. Xena is much better than Scarlett O’Hara.”
I smack him on his tailored lapel. “It’s rude to call a lady out.”
“Then it’s good you’re not a lady, isn’t it?” His grin is so dazzling, a woman gliding by with her partner trips over her own feet.
My mouth is in danger of breaking into a huge grin to match his, but I don’t want him to know I’m having fun, so I scowl at him instead. “And you, Rhett Butler, are no gentleman.”
He stares at me. I stare back at him. After a beat of silence, we both begin to laugh.
“Alright, now that we’ve got that established, let’s move on. What are you doing here?”
I shrug. “The same thing you are. Supporting a worthy cause.”
“How disappointing. I thought you might be trying to run into me while giving the impression it was accidental.”
Bye-bye Superman, hello cocky bastard. Making matters worse is that he nailed it. I say acidly, “Not even you are worth twelve thousand dollars a ticket, Mr. Maxwell.”
He smirks. “Oh, but I assure you, I am.”
“Ha! Egotistical much? Are you always this smug?”
He appears to give it serious thought. “No. Sometimes I’m just right.”
I laugh again. He twirls me around, moving us neatly out of the path of a man weighing more than the two of us combined, and his wife, a sweating red-faced dowager who looks in imminent need of a doctor. Saved once again.
“So tell me, Mr. Maxwell-“
“Please, call me Parker.”
For some reason, he looks pained. I think of how he’d said at the restaurant that Mr. Maxwell was his father. I remember his face then. It’s the same expression he’s wearing now, almost…ashamed. I feel a brief flicker of pity for him, but strangle it.
“Alright. Parker. Tell me, will your date be angry you’re dancing with me and not her?”
His brows arch. “What makes you think I have a date?”
“Excuse me. Dates, plural.”
“If I had any clue what you’re talking about, I’d gladly answer, but unfortunately I don’t.”
“No? Because your brunette friend over there by the potted palms is staring at me like I’m her arch enemy from beauty school, and your other friend, the blonde with the alarmingly large boobs, has just sent me her third scalding voodoo glare. I think she’s about to go into the ladies’ room and make a wax figurine of me to stick some pins into.”
Laughing, he spins me away and then pulls me back against his chest. He tightens his arm around my waist and flattens his big hand over the small of by back. That hand feels even more scalding than the blonde’s glare. We whirl around and around, until I feel a little dizzy.
“I came here alone, Ms. Price. Those are just two mistakes I saw coming a mile away.”
Heat rises in my cheeks. I’m embarrassed I told him Miles was a mistake. It was the truth, albeit calculated, aimed at trying to get him to feel sorry for me, but now I feel exposed by it. I feel the most awful, terrifying thing in the world, something I never thought I’d feel again.
His look sharpens when he sees my discomfort. “I’m not judging you. I know it’s harder for a woman than a man…especially one as famous as you, as successful…It can’t be easy for you to have a relationship…”
When I blink, surprised in equal parts that he’s being not only nonjudgmental but also understanding, he sighs and shakes his head.
“Jesus, I’m fucking this up. I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention to throw that in your face. Sometimes I open my mouth without thinking.”
“Well, I envy you that. I can’t remember the last time I spoke without thinking.”
I pause, shocked. Actually, I can remember, because I just did. Parker looks at me for a long, silent moment and then murmurs, “So she can tell the truth, after all.”
A feeling starts in my stomach, slow to spread at first, then going everywhere at once. Part dread, part astonishment, part pure, unadulterated joy, it makes all my limbs feel weightless, and my heart beat a million miles per hour.
I have just been seen. Not looked at, but seen.
I glance away, desperate to regain control of myself, desperate to hide. Parker slows and then stops, until we’re standing still in the middle of a sea of dancing people. When he takes my face in his hands, it’s so unexpected, I freeze.
In a voice so unaccountably raw and dark, he says, “You don’t have to hide from me.” His gaze drops to my mouth. He bends his head toward mine.
Oh God. What’s happening?
He’s kissing me. I’m being kissed by the man I hate more than anyone else on the planet, and holy fuck does it feel good.
It feels so good, I break away, breathless, and tuck my face in the space between his neck and shoulder. I smell him, skin and musk and a hint of spicy cologne, the sent of memory.
The scent of a long-lost home.
One second or a hundred years later, I hear a flurry of fast mechanical clicking. Light flashes beneath my closed lids. When I open my eyes and look around, I’m staring at a group of photographers.
I come back to myself as if a bucket of ice water has been dumped over my head.
I jerk out of Parker’s arms. He simply stares at me, his eyes shining. The cameras sound like gunfire. The photographers jostle and swarm. I do the only thing I can think of.
I slap his face. Hard.
Then I turn and walk stiffly off the dance floor, managing not to break into a flat-out run, but only just.