This was a sweet and tender romance with a mix-up and deception to keep things interesting. I was in the mood for something light, but not totally devoid of conflict and I got that with this one.
Ellie Bell is a ballet instructor. For many months, she has sunk all her time and energy into work and cut off all social life due to several disappointing relationships with the last being the worst. Ellie wants to make good and sure she has her head on straight if and when she tries again with another guy so she’s made a plan to go a full year without a guy.
Her brother is recently returned from Afghanistan after suffering a traumatic injury from an explosion. She worries about him, but he seems to be better now that he hangs out at the center nearby that is specifically for military people to get help and meet up with their friends. She plans to join him for lunch at the center and hopes to use the time to explain something she hasn’t shared with him yet. She had been exchanging emails with his friend for two months and they went well beyond information about Sam and she now had a thing for the soldier, Charlie, even after the emails stopped.
Charlie ‘Hunter’ Johannson has returned to the States after his tour of duty. The last mission really made him take stock of things and he’s determined to turn over a new leaf. He has such a reputation though that nobody believes him including his family and his army pals. He goes to the WS center to find Sammy Bell so he can somehow find the words to tell him that he broke the code of not taking up with a guy’s sister even if it was just innocent chit-chat stuff. Before he can get the words out, Sammy’s sister joins them and seeing the gorgeous Ellie Bell rattles him. She wants nothing to do with Sammy’s player friend, Hunter and even Sammy warns him away from Ellie which pushes her to react.
Ellie can barely keep her eyes off Hunter even though she knows his reputation after all of Sammy’s stories. Sammy’s overprotectiveness drives her to toss down the gauntlet. First she challenges Hunter to do something worthwhile like volunteer at the center which he does and then he agrees to come visit her ballet studio and voluntarily surround himself with small little girls in tutus. After a time, Ellie starts to wonder if she misjudged the guy and being around him all the time is making her forget about Charlie.
Charlie feels such guilt over not coming clean with Ellie, but first he can’t figure out how to do it and then Sammy wants him to promise not to tell the truth. In the meantime, the center lost one of its biggest sponsors and something must be done quickly before it is forced to close its doors. Ellie comes up with a huge fundraising scheme that now involves him too. As they grow closer even with her ban on dating and relationships, he is just waiting for her to learn the truth.
This one had its own built in tension from the beginning with Charlie’s secret about being the guy behind the emails and also being Hunter. There was also Charlie’s personal struggle to recover from that last mission when he thinks that he is really okay and there is Ellie who is terrified to trust any men who show an interest because of her past. I loved all these dynamics mingling together which gave it a good plot and pace.
I didn’t really connect with Ellie as much though I didn’t dislike her per se. She rubbed me wrong from the get go the way it felt like she passed judgment on Charlie the first time she met him and she justified it because every other guy she was interested in had been a jerk. Then there was that silly dating moratorium. Okay, it wasn’t silly at first, but it got old when late in the story, she had crossed her own lines and she was still clinging to the thing like a lifeline. I just got tired of reading about the thing every few sentences. I understand being gun shy, but she kept throwing off mixed signals which is ironic because other than the lie over his name, Charlie was more honest in their relationship.
Charlie was an all round favorite with me. I enjoyed how the normally confident guy was at a loss around Ellie. The way he stuck with her even though she taunted him, pushed him away, and even challenged him to involve himself in things he would not normally do. He respected her and shared his feelings so that she knew that he cared.
It was fun to meet up with the other two couples from the previous books and get a look-in with their lives. That segues into the fact that this will work as a standalone read, but just be aware that it is a third book in a loosely connected series.
The romance was the sweet sort that didn’t get beyond hugs and kisses really. It was obvious they were attracted and there were issues that needed to be dealt with before they could get in too deep so the light passion was appropriate. Plus, it was a way of showing just how much Charlie was changed from the whole player image of Hunter. I loved the scenes when she was teaching him to Tango and all the practices.
This was a nice heartwarming read to unwind with in my comfy chair by the fire. Those who enjoy their contemporary romances on the sweet side should try this one and the others in the series.
My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review thoughts.