I’ve had a love affair with Kristen Ashley’s books from the first moment I came across her inimitable style of storytelling, and to me, there is no one who writes Motorcycle Club Romances quite like her. But the problem with loving something so much and for so long is that one’s expectations only continue to rise higher and higher, and while I could read some of her books repeatedly and never grow tired of them, I know that the bar has been set sky high. That is why I dove into her latest offering of biker-y goodness with both anticipation and trepidation, fearing that nothing could ever replicate the badass biker vibe of Motorcycle Man, or the enduring romance of Own the Wind, or the sheer raw emotion of Walk Through Fire—and she’s already given us all of those. But that is exactly what she delivers once again. Bursting with the author’s trademark energy and imagery, Still Standing is a celebration of one woman’s indomitable spirit and resilience, of family, loyalty, friendship, and of love conquering all, and it’s the kind of story that reminds us that the human spirit can flourish and triumph even in the face of the darkest adversity. Kristen Ashley’s intimate understanding of her characters is on full display in this story, and it hits every note of emotion.
I knew and I’d always known. I’d known from the minute a mother who didn’t want me expelled me from her body. In my life, I had to settle for as good as I could get.
Raised in foster care for much of her childhood, and left destitute by a thieving, cheating husband at the age of thirty, Clara Delany’s life so far has been everything but a fairy tale, but it has taught her to adapt and survive even when it feels impossible. So when a particularly dire situation leads her into the heart of a well-known biker gang, and into the arms of its charismatic leader, Clara does what she’s always done best—she summons up every last ounce of courage to look danger in the eye and do what needs to be done to stay alive. But what she doesn’t expect is to find a man who not only makes her see stars in the bedroom, but who also offers her safety at a time when every breath is an effort at survival.
“So your advice is to make a major life decision naked, in bed with a man I barely know, after having four orgasms, our first fight and while somewhat intoxicated?” I asked.
“Definitely,” he answered without hesitation.
From the moment West “Buck” Hardy meets Clara Delany, he knows there is something about her that is unique and rare, and he wastes no time claiming her as his. But instead of jumping at his offer of protection, Clara lands in even more trouble, forcing Buck and the Aces High Motorcycle Club to come to her rescue. Before long, their lives become more and more intertwined, and Clara begins to learn all it means to be a biker’s ‘old lady’. Because Buck Hardy is like no man she has ever known before—bossy, demanding, set in his ways, and with his own emotional baggage to deal with—and even though he might not be perfect, Clara believes that something is better than nothing, and with Buck, that something would always be far better than what other men had to offer. So, once again, Clara adapts.
I could do this. I could and I would. Because I liked him, I liked his friends, and I wanted him for me. He wasn’t perfect. With what I’d just seen outside, he was far from a dream. But he was as good as I was going to get.
What follows is a complicated, at times confronting tale of two people who never believed they deserved or would ever find someone who truly believed in them, but who manage to build each other back together with their own chipped pieces. It starts off as a typical ‘hero saves damsel in distress’ MC Romance, but as the story progresses, it becomes a much more layered, character-focused tale about family, forgiveness, self-worth, and the feeling of belonging. Clara is a heroine who has hit rock bottom in life, but whose own past has conditioned her not to expect anything better. She meets Buck as a broken woman who is just trying to keep herself alive and who is afraid to ask for more than she thinks he is prepared to give. Her innate strength, however, flashes into view time and time again despite her vulnerabilities, and it is that strength and her immense capacity for empathy that made me not want to give up a single moment with her.
“I know the kind of man you are, West Hardy,” I whispered, and his eyes opened. Blazing now, they locked on mine. “Or I know who you are to me.”
There is a scene or two that stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to step out of my own shoes to truly engage with the characters on their terms, and see the world through their eyes, not my own. I loved how complex, imperfect, even unlikable at times these characters are, and Clara and Buck’s story reminds us that our past can shape us, but it is not the ultimate definition of who we are.
“We can’t do anything about those pages that were already written, baby. But we’re past those. Now we’re writing it new. You with me?”