by Naima Simone
Series: Sweetest Taboo #2
Also in this series: The Scandalous Diary of Lily Layton
Publisher: Entangled: Scorched
Publication Date: February 18, 2019
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Blackballed from my job.
Moved back to my hometown with my tail between my legs and family issues crushing my back.
Slinging drinks in a dive bar.
Yes, the past year has been hell. So when a man who’s temptation wrapped in golden skin and sin offers me one night of no-holds barred, dirty sex, I’m all in. I deserve it.
But now those few unforgettable hours have me facing blackmail from my own father: He'll pay for my mom's medical bills, but only if I never again touch the man who has quickly become my obsession.
Because the man? My obsession?
He’s my stepbrother.
Content warning: View Spoiler »
HELLO, ANGST! There is nothing so unbelievably delicious as watching two incredibly broken people fall in love and figure out how to unbreak themselves, and Naima Simone is the queen of sexy angst. I’m not usually a fan of “taboo romance”, but in this case, though they are step-siblings, they haven’t seen each other since they were kids 10 years ago. While I think you could read this as a standalone, I’d recommend reading Sin & Ink first, about Jude’s older brother Knox and Eden, just because it’s also insanely awesome and will give you background on Jude’s family dynamics.
“I was smart enough to go through any door that opened.
While I seriously doubt the late, great Joan Rivers meant throwing caution to the wind and embarking on a hopefully hot-as-hell one-night stand with a stranger—a stranger who had gifted me with one of the most brain-numbing, panty-melting orgasms of my life—her nugget of wisdom still applies.”
Cypress is back in Chicago after the implosion of her career and barely treading water, working at a dive bar while trying to take care of her mother, who’s still recovering from a heart attack some months prior. When she feels an instant attraction to one of the bar’s patrons, she can’t resist the chance to steal a bit of time for herself with a one-night-stand. Only, she can’t seem to get him out of her head – especially when she shows up to a family dinner with her estranged father and realizes he’s her stepbrother. Jude hasn’t been able to forget her, either, but even adding to his family’s already toxic atmosphere isn’t enough to dissuade him from wanting more with Cypress. But Cypress’ father – Jude’s stepfather – has laid down an ultimatum, and flaunting it would break each of their own families even more. Is the breakdown of both their families worth a few nights of passion?
While usually this is the point I gush about the heroine, I have to say I loved both Cypress and Jude. Both are struggling under crippling emotional baggage: Cypress from her mother’s inability to recover from her husband leaving her for another woman years ago, and Jude from trying to hold his family together under a weight of secrets and dysfunction in the wake of his father’s and brother’s death. After having held together her mother after her father deserted them for his new family when she was a young teen, Cypress is unwilling to lose herself in a relationship, so it’s easy to just avoid any relationships whatsoever. Jude is motivated by grief and fear, that it’s his responsibility to be the strong one and hold his family together, but also struggling to assert his identity out of his older brother’s shadow. There’s a fascinating focus on relationships in this book – toxic and healthy ones – and the particularly lovely assertion that a good partner doesn’t complete you, but rather adds to you. Since this is the main thing I love about romances – the relationship that helps grow you as a person – this completely hit the spot for me. Also, I mentioned “sexy angst” before, and all the family and personal drama certainly brings the angst part. The other half of that is that this book is ridiculously steamy, like fan-yourself-with-your-Kindle steamy. Cypress and Jude’s chemistry is off the charts, and Ms. Simone does an amazing job of showcasing each of their hopes and fears in the sex scenes in a really emotionally fulfilling way.
My only con is that at times it did feel like some of the family drama overshadowed their relationship. While I liked that I think it’s a realistic picture of a family fracturing under so much grief, adding the events from the previous book on top of it all made it feel over-burdened. Knox and Jude’s mom continued to wallow in her grief, and now in addition to aiding and abetting that, Dan, the step-father, also had basically abandoning his teen daughter in favor of his new wife and family. Much of it does seem to finally reach a turning point by the end of the book, which was a relief.
Overall, this was insanely hard to put down, an angsty, feels-soaked ride, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!