Every book I’ve written is special. By the Rules, wasn’t just special to me, it was so much fun. AJ, one of the heroes, has been with me since the beginning of the Evergreen Grove series. His love interest, Hayden, has lurked in the shadows of his mother’s backstory waiting to make an appearance. Between the two of them, a journey to their HEA that could have been angsty or difficult was—for me at least—one of the most humorous and heartwarming books I’ve had the pleasure of writing.
So below are five reasons why I enjoyed By the Rules so much, and why I think you will too:
Unicorns – AJ has a thing for unicorns. Hell, he is a unicorn. Because you should always be yourself. Unless you can be the unicorn.
“You don’t actually have a unicorn collection, do you?”
“Sweetie, I am the unicorn.”
The trope you love to hate…or hate to love? – By the Rules is nothing if not an enemies to lovers story. AJ and Hayden were vastly opposed to each other at first sight. There was so much distaste they were practically body checking each other on the sidewalk. But you know, there’s a thin line between body checking and snuggling. Right?
He shakes his head and makes a noise in his throat. Dude probably couldn’t be more disgusted with me if I’d taken a leak on his shoes. “You wanna school me on etiquette, pal? Try and actually learn some.”
Boxing – Book two in the Evergreen Grove series, Acts of Creation, is about a heavyweight boxer named Dante. AJ and Dante are buddies, and there is much time spent sweating it out in the gym. AJ and Hayden, spend a little time in the gym as well… and in the locker room.
AJ lunges, putting us molecules from being chest to chest. Hard, chilly blasts of air conditioning remind me that he’s fully dressed and I’m wearing nothing but an undersized towel that is currently holding on with sheer luck and probably not enough determination.
Shenanigans in a tent – there’s camping, alcohol, and an awkward card game. What more do you need in your romance?
I’m busy noticing how his presence fills the tent and how much less freaked-out I am now that he and his Maglite have made the scene. Which only pisses me off all over again. More or less I’ve been on my own since my parents gave me the boot at seventeen. I don’t need someone around to feel secure. Least of all someone like him.
Hair and handyman things were never so much fun – if there’s one thing I love about AJ it’s the fact that he manages to do everything with humor. Even home repair. Gotta love a guy who comes armed with his own arsenal of caulk jokes?
I don’t know where I’d be without Mrs. Choi and this place. I’d caulk and grout until hell froze over if I had to.Squeezing big tubes and all.
About By the Rules:
He thinks I want him because of the rumors around town. Because I think he’s easy. I want AJ, because he’s AJ.
No liars. No suits. Absolutely no straight guys…
AJ Fabin’s list of rules keeps him safe. Since getting kicked out of his parents’ home and a vicious attack by a former escorting client, his rules and his life in the tiny town of Evergreen Grove provide a quiet haven. He may be lonely, and he may stick out like a sore thumb, but the folks like him well enough. When he’s not dodging his old pimp, things are peaceful.
Hayden Price is having a quarter-life crisis. Engaged to a woman he can’t connect to and working a job he secretly hates, he comes to Evergreen Grove to help his mother through a health scare. Returning to his childhood home makes Hayden re-evaluate a lot of things, including himself. When he meets AJ and finds he can’t stand the mouthy jerk—almost as much as he can’t stop thinking about him—he has a lot more to change than his career.
To be together, they’ll both have to break all of their rules.
Elisabeth Staab loves passionate stories and happy endings. Her books have been called “emotionally delicious,” “action-packed,” and “gloriously snarky.” When not writing romance about vampires and werewolves and emotionally wounded boxers (oh, my!), she enjoys date night with her husband, reading with her kids, and marathoning her favorite books or TV series. Keep up with all the latest shenanigans by following her newsletter, stopping by ElisabethStaab.com, or finding her on Facebook and Twitter.
Excerpt Option #3[quote](Hayden’s POV)
When I jogged past the window of Roy’s Gym this morning, I swore I was seeing things. I’ll admit to no one ever that I doubled back and went down Main Street a second time before stopping to stretch my quads. I needed to see this new version of AJ that ran so counter to my previous information about him.
What I knew so far was this snarky, colorful asshole of a kid. This punk with a young face and old eyes who I disliked on principle. Every time I’ve tried to get along, it’s gone sideways. Now I’ve got new information and, as if he’s a guy across from me at the closing table, I’m curious about what’s underneath the rainbow sweatshirt and skinny jeans.
A boxer? A boxer with a chest full of ink. No telling yet if this new information about him is useful, but it’s damn interesting.
I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t a lean chest covered in tribal tattoos and a pair of carved arms. As his friend or coach or whatever walks me into the gym, I can’t stop myself from visually tracing the dark waves and swirls that run over his pecs and down his sternum. This new visual of him knocks the breath out of me like that morning we crashed into each other outside the coffee shop.
When I get close, I can see that the thick ink is uneven in spots. Like someone painted lines over a bumpy road. On his stomach, jagged pink scars snake out from under the blackness, fanning like flames over the ridges of his abs, and disappearing into the waistband on his workout shorts.
I suck in a breath. Something happened to hurt him. That’s the most powerful observation of the obvious I’ve ever managed. But what? Those don’t look accidental. They look like—
“Take a picture, asshole. It’ll last longer.” AJ’s glare actually gives me the shivers. His gloved fists press against one another hard enough to make those lean biceps pop.
I bet I know who he’d rather be aiming those fists at, and it’s not the big guy who welcomed me in the door. “Just surprised to see you without all the bling.”
“And I’m shocked as hell to see you without a ridiculous power tie, but maybe we can all manage to soldier on.” The corner of his mouth lifts into something that’s either a smile or a sneer. He’s actually got a genuinely friendly smile—I saw him use it with my mom—but getting him to pull it out when nobody’s sick must be a rare feat. “So you know how to box or what?”
“I can hold my own.” I grin my ass off in the face of AJ’s responding scowl. Part of me is dying to say more. Negotiating a deal means being able to talk sports. Sometimes it means getting out on the golf course, or the tennis courts, or even being able to go a few rounds in the ring with someone who considers himself a badass.
Never got into golf. Boxing? I can definitely box.[/quote]
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