As we return to Charlemont, Kentucky, and the endless new challenges now facing the four Bradford siblings in the aftermath of their father’s sudden passing—the myriad of questions surrounding not only his final hours, but also the financial chaos he left behind—we are once more reminded of the utterly addictive quality of J.R. Ward’s writing and her extraordinary ability to instantly pull us into any one of her stories with the sheer detail of her world-building talent. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, speed-reading at times just to find out what happens next, because once you meet these characters, once you become invested in their fate, you cannot help but want each one of them to find happiness as soon as possible, even when their every step points towards absolute emotional devastation. This was a sublime instalment in a truly mesmerizing series, a worthy sequel to an all-time favourite of mine.
He felt like he was at the helm of a great ship that had been turned to a rocky shore—right before its rudder snapped off.
The Bradford Bourbon Company is on the brink of bankruptcy. And the youngest Bradford son is singlehandedly fighting tooth and nail to save it from ruin. But as Jonathan “Lane” Baldwine digs deeper and deeper into the Company’s bottom line, he discovers a lifetime of questionable business decisions and the full extent of late William Baldwine’s contempt for a legacy that had been handed to him on a silver platter. A bad man by all accounts, he has left both his family as well as the Company he had no hand in building on a thin veil of ice slowly cracking under their feet as more and more of his shady dealings are brought into the light, no one expecting the ‘prodigal son’ to be the one to step up and become his family’s only hope.
Everything was in the hands of a poker-playing, former manwhore with no financial, managerial, or relevant practical experience. All he had, at long last, was the love of a good woman.
Determined not to let his father have the last word, Lane desperately searches for ways to settle the family’s growing debts, even forgoing his scruples at times in favour of doing whatever it takes to keep Bradford Bourbon Company afloat. And as the surprises keep coming by the bucketloads, his only bright light and endless source of hope remains his Lizzie, her love and unwavering faith in him grounding him and giving him the strength to keep fighting for his family, for their past and future, and to become worthy of the woman who reminds him daily how little money matters in the end.
“Righting the wrongs of my father is the only way to earn my freedom—earn your love.”
But while the youngest Baldwine son might have found happiness in love, his siblings have not been as fortunate, their respective stories getting more and more convoluted by the minute. Lane’s eldest brother, Edward, former heir apparent to the Bradford ‘throne’, has always been the dependable and selfless one in the family, his childhood spent protecting his brothers and sister from their father’s violent streak and bearing the brunt of it, and even though he is now nothing but a shadow of his former self, his love and devotion to his loved ones remains as steadfast as ever. And our hearts ache for him—for the man he used to be, for all the hopes and dreams that were viciously stolen from him, for the defeated young man he has become, but most of all, for the love that still burns so stubbornly inside him for a woman of whom he no longer believes to be worthy.
“I want you. And I’d tell you I need you, but that truth scares me too much to say out loud.”
And then there is Virginia “Gin” Baldwine, a woman so haunted by the weight of her own regrets and the many irreversible mistakes she has made in life, that she makes herself a bed of thorns by marrying a man who would forever hurt her, and then forces herself to lie in it. Having spent her entire life having little regard for the wellbeing of others, driven by self-preservation and drifting through life by never allowing anything or anyone to touch her heart, her current predicament suddenly forces her to look back at all she has taken from those dearest to her, to question herself and her priorities, and from those rare moments of self-reflection, a new Gin is born, a woman who is willing to put herself second for the happiness and safety of the child she failed at parenting from birth. Her story remains the sharpest, the acutest, the most tormenting storyline in this series for me, and one I hope is resolved the soonest.
Theirs had always been a love affair that was like a bad intersection with no traffic light, crashes time and time again, sparks, the scent of gasoline and burned-up, tangled metal and rubber everywhere. They were safety glass busted into a spider’s web of cracks, airbags deployed, tires popped and sagged. But the rush just before the impact? There was nothing like it in the world.
A series that sprints forward in linear chronological order and continually swaps points of view by feeding the many intertwined and equally compelling subplots—it is this very pace, this unique insight into so many characters simultaneously that gives the story an utterly irresistible appeal, and when coupled with its pragmatic yet deeply romantic view on love and life, it is impossible not to become hooked on every single word. I might have hoped for more issues to be resolved, for more progress to be made within each individual storyline, but I am aware that was never an option this early in the series, our own emotional reactions until the very last word indicating that the storm is nowhere near its peak. And I cannot wait to see what happens next.
“When he tries to kiss you at the end of this party, remember that I told you so.”
“Oh, I’ll be thinking about you. But not like that.”
“Then think of me being the one at your mouth.”