I haven’t read a gritty, tempestuous bad boy romance in some time so I was all sorts of eager when I saw the release of this new series by an author I hadn’t encountered before. I knew going in that this wouldn’t be easy and boy-howdy was I right. Talk about a tough spot to be in and that was nothing to what came at the end. Jen McLaughlin can sure write THE big money scene of all climaxes. Whew! If this were a roller-coaster, I would want to get back in line and go again- and I get to because it’s a series that keeps on going with the same hard, gritty, tough-spot romance stories.
The book opens with Lucas Donahue just getting out of prison, but not before someone tried to end him. He might be out of actual prison, but he would never be free- not as long as the Sons of Steel Row gang owned him. And they did. No one left unless they were dead. So back to his responsibilities to the gang and forced to see that someone wanted him dead and the finger was pointing too close to the last person he wanted it to be. He couldn’t run and he couldn’t hide. And then one act of good just landed him even deeper into trouble. And trouble had a name and beautiful, hopeful eyes with a sassy tongue.
Heidi Greene grew up hard and fast, bouncing around in foster homes then living on the street, and finally taken in by a kind man. He gave her the bar and though it is barely getting by, she works hard because it is all she has. Hard men come to her bar because the people of Steel Row are hard. But one catches her eye. She tries to play it cool, but just a glance from Lucky’s green eyes sets her heart racing.
Then one night he saved her from a gang rape and to keep her protected from the rival gang, she must let him claim her as his. Heidi loves her independence and it is against her own rules to be ‘owned’, but Lucas went out on a limb for her and the threat is still there so she will do the smart, safe thing. That doesn’t mean that she will easily let him past her guard. Unfortunately, even though he says it plain that he is not a good man, his selfless actions, gentle touches, and loneliness crash through her guard like it’s not there. But guys like Lucas don’t get to have normal lives. They get cut down early and any weakness is used against them. Lucas pushes her away for her own good. He dares her to run.
The dark, dangerous streets of Boston’s Steel Row is the setting for this book and the series. The author does a good job of painting the backdrop and the people who live and work there. Lucas is part of the gang and he would seem to be the villain by his past and current circumstances. But his choices had been few and he made them in acts of protection to others. He lives in a world where any softness will be treated as a weakness to be exploited or to destroy him. Gang life is loyalty to the gang and to each other against trouble from without, but there is always the part where the others are looking to move ahead so a guy must always be on guard and watch his back. It’s a hard life and sucks the soul out. Lucas still manages to keep his soul and has lines that he will not cross. His act of saving Heidi is part of that even though he fights thinking about why he intervened. This was the story of his hard-fought redemption. Honestly, this aspect of the story grabbed me more than the romance. I was fascinated with the author’s character, Lucas.
Now the book starts out tense and this is only ratcheted up as the conflict grows more complex and harder than easier. As I was just pointing out, the conflict is internal as well as external. And that’s before the unlikely romance and Heidi’s issues from her past are tossed into the mix.
The romance is one of those sizzling, snarky, flirty, and baiting of each other types on the surface with a whole lot more going on underneath. Actually, it was much like the way Lucas had to live in his gang. Both Heidi and Lucas had a lot of vulnerability to protect behind their respective walls so this romance was like watching two boxers dancing around each other and looking for an opening while sending out jabs and faints to get the opponent off balance.
I confess that this sort of romance leaves me a little twitchy. Just as a heroine who is in way the heck over her head, but has a mouth on her and uses it at the wrong times doesn’t impress me as tough and strong so much as leaves me amazed at her naiveté (and that is saying it nicely). But I also get that Heidi’s personality and background of being vulnerable, but also showing herself as tough was exactly the type of woman for a guy like Lucas. She stood by him and she brought out his best showing him that he really did have a chance to be free. She didn’t see herself as any prize and couldn’t see that all Lucas’ actions were demonstrative of his love. She thought it was some sense of obligation and that was so sad. Glad he could prove her wrong. Talk about a hard-fought love story.
All in all, this was an exciting, intense ride and I am eager for more. I would recommend this one to those who enjoy contemporary romances with anti-heroes, hard gritty settings and situations, and hard-fought passionate romance.
My thanks to Penguin Group who provided the book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #38 CR
Literary Pickers #37 earbuds
New to Me #20 author/series
Bad Boys #7