by Natasha Moore
Series: The Single Ladies of Lakeside #2
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Publication Date: August 8, 2022
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:
What’s the fun when you don’t bet to win?
Single mom Melanie Hayes should absolutely, completely, and totally not be attracted to her next door neighbor. Nick Campagna can be her friend, her secret crush, or just the arrogant —and unavoidably handsome—jerk next door, but nothing more. Because, even though it was a million years ago, he’s also her sister’s ex. And now, with Lakeside’s Battle of the Businesses in full swing, Nick’s also Melanie’s competition.
Their families have always been competitive, so it’s no surprise to anyone that Nick and Melanie are playing for more than just bragging rights. With a coveted piece of land on the line, Nick isn’t backing down. Maybe he can’t help noticing that the tomboy he knew as a kid has turned into a stunning redhead. Maybe he is attracted to Melanie. Ridiculously so. But as real as this feels, Nick knows this is one game he definitely can’t win.
They’ve known each other long enough that it’s definitely not love at first sight. But attraction can happen in an instant. And this is one wager where winning is nowhere near as fun as playing the game…
As the years go by, seeking out romances with more mature characters – ones in their late thirties and forties – has become more of a priority to me. While I think I’ll always love a good young adult romance, sometimes the parade of twenty-something romances gets a bit exhausting. So I went in to this book with a lot of expectations, some of which were unfortunately not met. While this is the second in the series, I read it as a standalone, and besides the parade of characters in the first few chapters, I think it worked fine.
Nick and Melanie grew up together in the small town of Lakeside, especially close considering their families lived next door to each other. But after Nick’s marriage to Melanie’s older sister Shelby fell apart, the families chose sides in the aftermath, and it’s only twenty years later that they’re finally recovering their friendships. While Melanie chose to stay in their hometown and raise her daughter there (after her own marriage failed), Nick moved away. After starting a successful gym (and two failed marriages), Nick’s returned to take over the original family gym after his dad’s retirement. Back in their childhood homes, Nick and Melanie can’t help running into each other, and the immediate attraction between them is surprising for both of them. But with their family history and the stress of running their businesses – plus a Battle of the Businesses meant to draw in more customers – neither of them have time for romance. But when it’s clear their chemistry isn’t going away, maybe a one-night-stand wouldn’t be so bad?
“Teenage-crush-Nick?” Lucy asked.
“Ex-brother-in-law-Nick?” Ginny asked.
“Next-door-neighbor-Nick?” Lucy added.
“Hot-as-hell-Nick,” Ginny said with a grin.
There’s a lot of tropes stuck in this book: childhood friends, next door neighbors, small-town, and forbidden romance. Melanie’s had a crush on Nick for forever, while Nick thought of Melanie as the bratty younger sister who was always following him and Shelby around. But from the moment they meet again, it’s clear that something’s changed between them. Not that either of them have time for it, between running their businesses and the BoB. The Battle of the Businesses is supposed to raise awareness of the businesses in the community, promote team bonding, and raise money for charity. All good things, but some of Nick’s employees think it’s a waste of time. Nick’s having a hard time replacing his dad, who ran the gym for decades, and also coming to terms with the fact that it’s not as successful as his dad made it out to be. It’s more work than he expected, and that, combined with the general disrepair of his parents’ house, give him very little time for anything else. But with constant reminders of Melanie just next door, it’s hard for Nick to concentrate on business.
“Look, I don’t know what to do with this feeling, but it’s there. I’m not going to lie about it.”
“Nick, today’s the first time we’ve talked to each other in more than twenty years. It’s crazy to be talking about attraction. It can’t happen that quickly.”
“I’m not talking about love. I agree there’s no such thing as love at first sight, but attraction? That can happen in an instant.”
I’ll be honest, the “forbidden romance” bit was a little odd. Melanie constantly referred to Nick as her “sister’s ex-husband.” I could understand that she was hesitant to cause more strife between their families and subject her teen daughter to small town gossip, but the constant reminders were a bit off-putting. The banter between them was uneven, but the bets, which brought out both of their competitive natures, were cute and helped showcase both of their characters. I liked how upfront Nick was about his feelings for Melanie, though they both had other communication issues.
The pacing was very uneven, with some parts dragging and others rushing ahead. There was a lot of build up to Nick and Melanie’s physical relationship, and then… it just kind of happened and they were suddenly in love. The part I was most excited about – the Battle of the Businesses – wasn’t as prominent as I would’ve liked. The parts that were there were great, like the scavenger hunt and the escape room, and full of small town zaniness. But too often the challenges were glossed over in favor of Nick or Melanie lusting over the other. While I like YA romance, when I pick up a mature adult one, I expect a little more, well, emotional maturity. Honestly, they read like folks in their twenties, not their forties. While both seem to have an understanding of why their previous marriages failed, I wasn’t completely sold that they wouldn’t repeat their mistakes. There’s also no particular surprises in the plot. It’s immediately obvious what’s going to happen in terms of Melanie’s sister and Nick’s disrespectful employee. And the whole Shelby bit at the end? That came completely out of the blue and made absolutely no sense to me.
Overall, 3-ish stars. It’s cute and it was a fun book to read on vacation, but the maturity level of the characters was a bummer for me.