Just thinking about this story puts a gushy smile on my face. A friends-to-lovers romance like no other I’ve ever read before—so utterly unique and enchanting, and paced in Mariana Zapata’s signature slow burning style—this book took my breath away. I’ve never encountered an author who can convey so much emotion with so little fanfare, and whose unwavering focus on her characters is downright hypnotic, but Mariana’s stories always leave my heart a happy mess. Her books are sheer beauty beginning to end, and this one was simply dazzling.
Most guys want someone who has a big rack or a big butt, or at least think or act like they do, or they like funny, outgoing girls. I’m not any of those. It is what it is. I’m just Ruby.
When twenty-four-year-old Ruby Santos sends her first letter to Aaron Hall, a deployed US soldier she’s been randomly paired with through the Help a Soldier program, all she hopes for is to brighten his day and to distract him a little from whatever bleak reality he is facing on a daily basis. But as their correspondence takes off, they begin a steady, year-long flow of exchanges through which they slowly get to know each other in ways they never could have imagined when they first started writing to one another, a bond of friendship gently blossoming between them. They become their truest, most honest versions of themselves in their letters, confiding in each other, and providing comfort and advice whenever needed.
“You asked what kind of guy I’d be interested in dating. I just want him to be mostly nice, funny, likes to do things with me, and be honest. And have a job. It’d be nice if he was taller than me, but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker if we were the same height. That’s not asking for much. What do you think?”
With each new letter they exchange, we are given rare insight into two very different, yet strikingly like-minded, main characters. And even though their friendship remains strictly platonic throughout their correspondence, we cannot help but notice small shifts in the way they perceive their relationship.
RubyMars: He kissed me.
RubyMars: That was all. It was nice.
RubyMars: Are you there?
RubyMars: Everything okay?
AHall80: Are you going to see him again?
A connection that was initially only meant to last throughout Aaron’s deployment becomes a genuine friendship that unsurprisingly continues once Aaron returns home, and before long, they are making plans to meet in person. For young Ruby, however, her heart has long stopped listening to reason when it comes to having feelings for her new best friend, expecting nothing but wishing for so much more than the ‘little sister’ label she seems to have been given. When they finally meet, they are nothing like either of them imagined, but that scene alone is one of the most powerful and touching moments in the entire book.
I had no idea right then that, for as long as my soul resided in my body and I could reminisce on the best parts of my life, I’d remember how Aaron Hall leaned forward and wrapped those long, tan arms around my back and pulled me into his chest. Me who was still on the bench. The way he hugged the hell out of me would be something that sickness and death could never take away.
One week together is all they get, a week to get to know each other better and show how much their friendship means to them both, but with the clock ticking, they must decide if what they have is all it would ever be, or a chance at something more.
“I was a goner from the first time you gave me hell.”
With a character-driven storyline that pulls us in from the get-go, this tender, slow-burning romance is everything I’ve come to expect from this author, and then so much more. And while I normally connect more with her male characters rather then her heroines, there is something about Ruby Santos and her quiet strength that made me fall in love with her instantly. I laughed with her, I cried with her, and I felt everything she felt in between. There were scenes I couldn’t stop re-reading, hooked on the emotion coursing through every single word, and in the end, I would have given just about anything for one more chapter…or ten. A truly magnificent addition to an author’s already extraordinary repertoire, an absolute must-read.
“You’re my Ruby, and you have been for a long time.”