We’ve all fallen head over heels for a sexy rockstar romance at one point or another, but given the ‘ultimate fantasy’ element of the genre, it is not all too common for these stories to veer off course too much and really explore the emotional cost of the rockstar lifestyle, too, or how fame can become synonymous with addiction, isolation, and mental illness. Yet that is exactly what we get as we return to Kristen Callihan’s VIP series with the story of a larger-than-life hero whose demons constantly threaten to bring him down, and a heroine who hides her own loneliness behind a smile. But, as one would expect from this brilliant author, this is far from a bleak book. It’s a beautiful love story, first and foremost, and only secondly, a powerful tale of two people finding acceptance within themselves and with one another.
I never had anything solid to hold onto. Yes, I have my music, the band, the fame, but they don’t ground me. They make me high on life.
He might be the singer and guitarist for one of the biggest rock bands in the world, idolised by millions of fans across the globe, but being Jax Blackwood is no picnic. After hitting rock bottom two years before and then seeing one of the worse moments in his life trotted out for public consumption, Jax has shied away from the limelight whenever he could get away with it, and it is during one of his ‘incognito outings’ in New York City that he meets a feisty redhead who not only does not recognise him at all, but manages to steal a kiss from him, too.
“You do not want to get between a woman and her ice cream, bud.”
“You got the Oreos, sweetheart. I’m taking the ice cream.”
“And they need The Mint to be complete.”
“‘The Mint’? Are you seriously referring to ice cream as though it were some kind of superpower?”
“It certainly has the power to bliss me out.”
Nothing brings out the warrior in Stella Grey faster than a cocky stranger trying to put himself between her and the last carton of her favourite mint chocolate chip ice cream. And when all attempts at reasoning with him fail her, she doesn’t hesitate to use a kiss as a distraction tactic. But not even a week later, she finds herself pet-sitting next door to the very man she never thought she’d see again—a famous rock star to boot.
“Do you have any idea how creepy and desperate it is to track down someone over ice cream?”
“As much as I hate to burst your paranoid bubble, Button, I live here.”
They don’t get along much at first, their every interaction turning into a verbal sparring match, but the more Stella gets to know her new neighbour, the more she realises that there’s a lot more to the mercurial rock star than he lets on. She begins to see past his flirty confidence and recognise her own oppressive solitude in his, and in turn, her own veneer of carefully-crafted control slowly begins to shatter.
“I have zero true friends. Just people who know the surface of me. Sometimes the loneliness of it hurts crushes my chest like a vise. And I sit here, alone, wondering what the fuck is so wrong with me that no one has bothered to try. That no one sticks.”
But even as they begin to fall in love and find comfort in each other’s arms, Jax remains taunted by his own demons, finding himself once again in his dark, introspective hole, and believing his dark moods would eventually dim Stella’s light. And once he pushes her away one time too many, he proves to be exactly the kind of man Stella has always feared the most—the leaving kind.
“I cannot chase you. I’ve chased down people who were supposed to love me all my life. I can’t do that anymore. I shouldn’t have to.”
But for Jax, it takes losing Stella’s glowing warmth in his life, for him to realise that ‘rock bottom’ comes in many forms, and that by letting his anxiety and depression continue to rule his life, he would lose the only woman he’s ever loved.
My want of her isn’t just physical; it is soul deep… But how do I expose my soul, as flawed as it is, and have any hope that she’d want me too?
It is not the fabled ‘love at first sight’ scenario often found in rockstar romances, and the author goes out of her way not to ‘romanticise’ mental health issues when infusing her characters with depth, but those are the very reasons why a story like this stays with you long past the last page. Kristen Callihan’s deft hand knows when to be lighthearted, and when to hit you right in the gut, and she does both with effortless delivery.
It’s never been like this for me. I don’t get giddy. I don’t get attached. I don’t fall. I’m doing all of those things with alarming speed. Over a guy who is just as ignorant of love as I am.