It didn’t take long for charismatic alpha heroes to become synonymous in my mind with the writing of J.T. Geissinger, and while her delicious leading men tend to inevitably hog the limelight with their playful magnetism and witty comebacks, it is the quiet strength of her heroines that keeps me coming back for more. Achingly romantic and devastatingly sexy all at once, this book is so much more than just a heartwarming tale of two good friends falling in love—this is also the story of a woman’s quest for her own identity, and of her emotional transformation from ‘ugly duckling’ to confident, self-assertive protagonist of her own life. It’s a feel-good kind of read that cheers you up when you didn’t even know you needed cheering, deceptively lighthearted and fun, all the while painting a sensitive picture of a woman’s battle with her own demons. This will undoubtedly end up being one of my favourite reads of the year.
“I’m an expert at two things, lass. Rugby, and the art of seduction.”
Mousy, socially inept and infinitely self-conscious Joellen Bixby is a thirty-six-year-old copyeditor working at one of New York’s oldest publishing houses, who has spent the past decade of her life pining away for a man she could never have. Joellen’s life suddenly becomes a lot more colourful, however, when a very mischievous and overconfident Scottish rugby captain moves in next door, and then tricks her into spending time with him.
“Just make it easier on yourself, darlin’, and admit you’re wild for me and are dyin’ to bring a few dozen little McGregors into the world.”
“You’re massively in love with me.”
“I’m massively in dislike with you.”
“You’ve finally figured out I’m the real man of your dreams.”
“I’ve finally figured out how you got here. Someone left your cage door open.”
There’s a lot more to Cameron McGregor than meets the eye. As one of the world’s most famous athletes and a notorious party animal, Cameron could have his pick of beautiful women wherever he goes, but from the moment he meets his feisty little neighbour, he doesn’t seem able to stay away from her. They quarrel, they taunt, they poke fun at one another any chance they get, but the more time they spend together, the deeper their friendship becomes. And while Cameron’s feelings for Joellen quickly become more than that of a friend, Joellen’s insecurities make her blind to it all, misinterpreting his every action and dismissing his every word. Because a lifetime of insecurity makes it hard for her to believe a man like Cameron McGregor could ever feel attracted to a woman like her, even as her own heart keeps pulling her back to him time and time again.
“To me you look like a man everyone underestimates, objectifies, and misjudges because of his appearance. To me you look like a man who’s thoughtful, insightful, and kind, but hopes no one will notice because it will be mistaken for weakness. To me you look like a man who hides his pain behind smiles and buries it in women and tries everything he can to forget whatever’s hurting him but can’t because he’s got a soft heart that scars easily, but no one has ever looked close enough to see.”
And once Cameron convinces her to let him teach her how to seduce a man, their every lesson in seduction further blurs the lines of their friendship—every kiss meaning more, every touch making them ache for more—and with her newly found confidence, Joellen slowly begins to see herself in a whole new light.
“I don’t ever wanna hear you put yourself down again, Joellen. Don’t do it out loud, and don’t do it in your head, either. Show yourself some damn respect, woman, or no one else will.”
With compassion and heartbreaking honesty, we are given a complex heroine whose negative body image issues and poor self-esteem affect her on a daily basis, but never succeed in snuffing out that irresistible spark of defiance in her that makes her so irresistible to her leading man. The tender loving care with which she is brought to life took my breath away, and with a boisterous yet doting hero as her counterpart who never stops building her up even when she is putting herself down, their story was an absolute joy to read. I loved this book madly.
“…don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget what you are, Joellen. Not for anyone.”
“What am I?” I whisper, terrified of the answer.