It never stops being an absolute thrill reading an author for the very first time and falling in love with their every word page after page. The beauty of Jewel E. Ann’s writing and the detail with which she renders her characters took my breath away time and time again, weaving a story that is sexy, funny, sad, and everything in between, and entirely impossible to put down. I read this book in my bed, on the bus, while leaning on a shopping cart in the middle of a busy supermarket, and even once in the shower because I just couldn’t stop. It’s a story of opposites attracting, of second chances at finding love and happiness, of forgiveness, of family bonds, of pet rats, of life giving us exactly what we need even when we don’t think we’re ready or deserving of it, and while it might have been my first time reading this author, I am now the proud owner of her entire back catalogue.
“Why are you humming?”
“Because,” I whisper, keeping my eyes on his tie, “it calms my heart.”
“What’s wrong with your heart?”
“It gets a little out of control when I touch you— like it could explode.”
“Then why touch me?”
I glance up to meet his softened gaze. “Because you never feel more alive than when you’re flirting with death.”
Former football player and later agent for one of NFL’s hottest quarterbacks (story told in One), Flint Hopkins is now a successful attorney, a widower, and dad to a mildly autistic twelve-year-old boy. His entire life revolves around his work and raising his child, needing absolute control in every aspect of his daily life in order to chase his demons away and not let himself drown in guilt and regret. Because for the past ten years, Flint Hopkins has believed that he lost his right to happiness the day he killed his wife in a drunken car accident.
…on days of complete clarity, I see that having him and loving him is my greatest punishment. When he’s old enough to make total sense of what happened to his mother, he will hate me—almost as much as I hate myself.
Flint’s carefully controlled life is thrown into disarray when a young music therapist rents the space above his office, the imperfect silence of his thoughts suddenly replaced by the sound of drums, singing, and his new tenant’s effervescent personality. Ellen Rodgers comes into his life like a whirlwind, stirring in him an unexpected storm of conflicting emotions and desires. She hums, she laughs, she touches freely, and she voices her every emotion, thawing the ice around Flint’s heart one tie tug at a time.
The woman played me, distracted me with her body and happy dance for her new space, then wham! Bongos all day long.
Desperate to evict her and return to his bongo-free life as soon as possible, Flint uses his cool, detached demeanour to keep their relationship solely professional, but the more he pushes Ellen away, the deeper she gets under his skin, making him wonder whether he might be deserving of a second chance after all. And then a whole bunch of other crazy, wonderful stuff happens to them which I’m not going to spoil for you at all.
“Good evening, Ms. Rodgers.”
“Good evening, Flint.”
“You can call me Mr. Hopkins.”
“Mmm, my landlord likes to role play. Me too.”
In Ellen, the author crafts one of the most lovable yet complex female characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering—a perfect counterpart to Flint’s joyless one—and as she shares her story slowly, gently, we fall in love with her long before all the details from her past come to the surface to pull us in even deeper. We are drawn to her exuberance, her honesty, her joie de vivre, and her spirit. She is the yin to Flint’s yang, balancing his darkness with her sparkle, and by loving him so unreservedly, for the first time in a decade, he begins to believe that he might be worthy of the life he got to live.
“You’re stubborn and infuriating.” I narrow my eyes.
“And you’re the first breath of oxygen that’s touched my lungs in ten years,” he whispers in my ear.
The whole story comes together under Jewel E. Ann’s exquisite prose, separating itself from the rest with its snappy dialogue, and the depth of emotion present in every single interaction between the characters, often communicated with so few words. I laughed, I hummed along, I even shed a tear or two, and I already cannot wait to read this book all over again.
“Sometimes the world ends and forgets to take you with it. I get it.”