by Kimberley Ash
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Publication Date: January 15, 2018
Reading Challenges: 2018 Romance Roundabout Challenge, Title Hunt Quarterly Challenge: January - March 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
This emotional debut featuring two characters burdened by the past introduces a talented new voice in contemporary romance.
British expat Ellen Hunter trusts no man and finds her position as the events and conferences manager at a large hotel in Boston the perfect place to hide from her traumatic past. That is, until a business meeting brings her to the office of notorious playboy Kane Fielding. Ironically, his open disdain for monogamy and his storied past make him seem less of a threat. After all, there are no surprises from a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
Kane knows his reputation with the ladies is greatly exaggerated. After his father’s sudden death required Kane to take over the family business at the tender age of 22, he’s been more concerned with keeping the company running than finding someone to settle down with. He’s more than happy to treat Ellen the way she deserves. But the media is writing a different story, snapping pictures of them together around the city and putting her job—and her visa status—in jeopardy.
At the same time, an arsonist is stalking Fielding Paper, threatening the entire family’s livelihood and increasing the public scrutiny on Kane’s every move. Is a fling worth risking everything they’ve achieved—or can the flame growing between them forge a lasting bond?
Sensuality Level: Sensual
I was honestly surprised this was a debut novel. I enjoyed it very much, and had a really hard time putting it down. I have a bit of a thing for characters with mental health issues (especially those with traumatic pasts) getting their HEAs, so this was right up my alley!
“She dropped his hand and gripped her portfolio case more tightly. She’d gotten used to the occasional wash of fear threatening to overtake her whenever a man stood too close or made his interest clear. She was good at swallowing it, ignoring it, telling herself she’d never be afraid again. And she wasn’t, until the next time.”
Ellen’s a British ex-pat, who’s leaving Boston – actually, leaving the country entirely – in four months. Her visa’s up, and it’s time for her to move on to another hotel management position. But, before she leaves, she’s got one more Queen’s Ball to organize – the crowning charity event at the Rosette, the hotel she works for – and she wants Fielding Paper to contract with the hotel for all its conference needs. Kane Fielding’s paper mills are being set on fire. Kane takes it personally – it’s a family business – and he’s working with the union to make sure that all of his employees are able to work different shifts at other mills, even if he has to pay overtime.
I was torn about their first meeting. Kane attends the meeting between Ellen and her friend. Kane’s just gotten back from the site of another burned down mill, so he’s exhausted and not thinking clearly, but he’s attracted to her. When he reaches to take a coffee tray, she flinches when he gets too close, so he keeps his distance for the rest of the meeting (props for that). Later, however, he shows up unexpectedly at the hotel to ask her out, which I found… vaguely creepy? It’s possible I’m overreacting a bit, due to personal history and Ellen’s past, but it seemed like he should be more aware of the power differential in coming to her place of work, while she’s trying to secure his company as a client, to ask her on a date. To his credit, when she turns him down, he leaves, and it isn’t until they run into each other later – literally run into each other – that she agrees to go out for dinner.
“After a few minutes, Kane broke the silence. ‘Good?’ was all he said.
‘Really good,’ she had to admit[….]
He laughed a little. ‘That’s the nicest thing you’ve said all night.’
As swept up in the flavors and the pleasure of plain good food as she was, she said, ‘Maybe if you were covered in this gravy and served up next to this pile of mashed potatoes, I’d say something nice to you too.'”
Of course, there is an underlying attraction there, and both Ellen and Kane have to work through their issues. Ellen has a hard time getting past his parade of ex-girlfriends and the scrutiny being in a relationship with him entails. Kane has to learn that he can rely on others for help. I really liked them together, though, and I loved how Kane handled winning Ellen’s trust, though, of course, he fumbles a little as part of the culmination of the conflict they have to overcome. That part read particularly real and was very raw, so much that I was sobbing while reading it. Because while Ellen’s trauma is, perhaps, more common and easier to understand, the way his father’s death and the responsibility of turning around a failing company have left its own scars on Kane, and it’s not until he’s able to accept it that their relationship can bloom.
“They stayed like that for a few seconds, or Kane may have slept a little, but then she moved forward and kissed him. ‘I missed you so much when you were away,’ she whispered, and Kane fell in love with her so hard he couldn’t breathe for the ache.”
What I particularly enjoyed about the book is the underlying theme of how you present yourself to the world. Since a disastrous press conference when he took over the firm at 22 after his dad’s death, Kane’s cultivated the persona of the perfect businessman – one that’s immaculately dressed, with stylishly rumpled hair, and a parade of celebrity girlfriends. Ellen, on the other, maintains an illusion of control, of an “ice-queen” and has never even told her parents what happened or that it’s the reason she fled the country. When she can, she suppresses and ignores the trauma, until something triggers her and it explodes all over the place. Ellen has baggage from the rape, and, thank goodness, it’s not the “pretty” fainting or crying you sometimes see portrayed as a panic attack. For example, she has an attack while making out with Kane and literally karate chops him in the neck before kneeing him in the balls. There’s also how the outside world sees their relationship, leading to paparazzi eavesdropping on her conversations and rampant (and harmful) speculation about her visa status.
As for cons, while I enjoyed the arsonist plot, the final resolution was anti-climactic. Honestly, just thinking about it while writing the review annoys me, because it was just so jarring and sudden.
Overall, this was a delightfully fun and sexy read. I’m looking forward to more books by Ms. Ash, hopefully covered in gravy and served with a side of mashed potatoes!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: