Publication Date: November 28th, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Jack Valentini isn’t my type.
Sexy, brooding cowboys are fine in the movies, but in real life, I prefer a suit and tie. Proper manners. A close shave.
Jack might be gorgeous, but he’s also scruffy, rugged, and rude. He wants nothing to do with a “rich city girl” like me, and he isn’t afraid to say so.
But I’ve got a PR job to do for his family’s farm, so he’s stuck with me for ten days, and I’m stuck with him. His glares. His moods. His tight jeans. His muscles.
His huge, hard muscles.
Pretty soon there’s a whole different kind of tension between us, the kind that has me misbehaving in barns, trees, and pickup trucks. I’ve never done anything so out of character—but it feels too good to stop.
And the more I learn about the grieving ex-Army sergeant, the better I understand him. Losing his wife three years ago left him broken and bitter and blaming himself. He doesn’t think he deserves a second chance at happiness.
But he’s wrong.
I don’t need to be his first love. If only he’d let me be his last.
“Second chances are not given to make things right, but are given to prove that we could be even better after we fall.” —Unknown
The story opens with Margot and Jack in their own very separate worlds. Some readers will feel the opening scenes make for a compelling story, others like myself will find it counterproductive to connecting with the intended romantic couple—Jack and Margot. Though justified in her anger towards her douchebag ex, Margot’s handling of that situation makes her look immature and jealous. Rather than use the upper hand and expose him for the tool Trip is, she goes about things in an ineffective manner. Meanwhile, Jack closes his first chapter with “I’d already met the love of my life…” Except he’s not talking about Margot! Jack is still grieving the loss of his wife three years prior to the point he still has her clothes in the closet. None of this endeared me to either of the characters or gave me fuzzy feelings about their potential romance.
The story is told by their dual first person POV and alternates between scenes of humor and scenes of emotional distress providing an ever shifting mood, which perhaps mirrors Jack’s character. He’s grumpy and brooding with a big chip on his shoulder and distain for change. He truly needs to return to therapy long before he actually does. While it’s established that he’s quite physically good looking, it’s also established that some of these less than desirable personality traits aren’t new. I started to feel bad for his deceased wife for putting up with him. And it was hard to forget about her; Stef is repeatedly thrown in the readers’ faces at all the major moments when Jack and Margot make any kind of romantic connection.
I think full enjoyment of this story is going depend a lot on reading preferences. If you want a story about emotional growth and moving on from lost love, then this one is probably for you. However, if you prefer your heroes and heroines to be soul mates or simply the only people for each other, this one likely won’t be fulfilling enough.
It was clear their life and love experiences were unbalanced. Margot’s never experienced true love and longs for marriage; Jack’s already been married and is still in love. Margot knows she needs to move on; Jack doesn’t want to. The loss of his wife is not simply back-story; it’s a major internal conflict of the plot. While the pair share some new experiences and eventually build up chemistry as the story progressed, there were just too many instances where Jack’s dead wife felt like the third person in this romance in order for me to enjoy the romantic angle.
“Wow,” she said, shutting the screen door behind her. “That was close. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome.” I crossed my arms, wishing I’d thought to grab a shirt. “Want to tell me what you were doing out there?”
Her cheeks colored. “Um, I was taking a run.”
“Up a tree?”
She laughed nervously. “No. Well, I didn’t start out in a tree. That happened later.”
I cocked my head, unable to resist giving her a hard time. Not so sure of yourself now, are you, Barbie? “Oh yeah?”
“Yes. See, I left the cottage I’m renting without using the bathroom by mistake,” she began, twisting her fingers together, “and I was planning on running a loop around the farm, but it’s bigger than I thought.”
“Ah. So you were looking for a bathroom in the woods?”
“Well, yes.” She swallowed. “Sort of. But then I heard a splash and saw you…” Her cheeks were practically purple now.
I played dumb. “Saw me what?”
“Saw you naked, OK?” she blurted, throwing her hands up. “I admit it—I saw you naked.”
I had no hangups about nudity, but I was damn serious about my privacy, and about people sneaking up on me. But her embarrassment was funny. The two times I’d seen her before, she’d been so polished and poised. It felt good to put her in her place a little. “So you climbed a tree for a better view, is that it?”
Bowing her head, she dragged the toe of one shoe across the wood planks of the porch floor. “Something like that.” Then she looked up at me. Took a breath. “I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I was—I mean, I got—I couldn’t—” She sighed, briefly closing her eyes. “I have no excuse. Will you accept my apology?”
She was prettier without makeup, I decided. And the way she wore her hair off her face emphasized the wideness of her eyes, the angle of her cheekbones, the arch of her brows. Her lips didn’t need all that glossy crap, either. They were a perfect rosy pink, and I wondered if they’d feel as soft as they looked.
Fuck. I hadn’t kissed anyone in three years.
Clearing my throat, I took a step back. “Yeah. It’s fine.” Now get out of here.
She didn’t move. “So you’re not going to fire me?”
“I never hired you.”
“I know. But I really want this job. I think I can help, Jack. I know I can.”
“Suit yourself. I want nothing to do with it.” My name on her lips was trouble. Needing some distance from her, I started walking toward the dock to get my shoes and socks, but she followed me. God, she was a pest. It reminded me of the way Steph used to tag along after the boys when we were kids, wanting to get in our games.
“Are you going to be like this the entire time I’m here?” she asked.
“Moody and uncooperative?”
“Why? Do you hate me that much?”
“I don’t hate anybody. I just don’t see why we should pay some city girl who’s never set foot on a farm to advise us.” We reached the dock, and I leaned down to get my stuff.
“I’m not even asking to be paid, so piss off!” she shouted, her voice carrying on the water.
I straightened. “Oh, you’re working for free?”
“Then you’re an idiot. Or so rich you don’t need the money.”
“I’m not an idiot,” she said through clenched teeth.
“So you’re rich, then.” I don’t know why I was being such an asshole. But for some reason, I did not want to let her see another side of me, or see another side to her. “I should have guessed.”
She crossed her arms. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you look like you’ve led a charmed life. Like you’ve had everything you’ve ever wanted handed to you. Like you’ve never gotten your hands dirty.”
“So get them dirty.”
I almost fell off the dock. “What?”
“Get them dirty. Teach me about working this farm. I want to learn.”
Was she serious? The last thing I needed was to drag her ass around all day, explaining things. Or stare at her ass all day, imagining things. But one look at her defiant face and I shook my head. “Why do I feel like if I say no, you’ll just keep bothering me?”
She smiled and clasped her hands behind her back, rocking forward on her toes. “Because I will. I don’t like being told no.”
“Of course you don’t.” Jesus, she was trouble. A bad apple—smooth and shiny on the outside, spoiled rotten on the inside. But for no good reason, I found myself giving in. “Fine. Go change your clothes.”
Melanie is the author of the HAPPY CRAZY LOVE series, the FRENCHED series, and the sexy historical SPEAK EASY duet, set in the 1920s. She lifts her glass to romance readers and writers from her home near Detroit, MI, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and pet rabbit.