This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Western Romance
Published by Forever
Released on June 25, 2019
He was her high school hero and friend until she got his son taken away from him while repping his ex-wife in a nasty divorce, but now she has to rely on a man who hates the sight of her for her very life. The blurb on Justified grabbed my attention as soon as I saw the situation and I just had to read this book that combined enemies to loves with smalltown cowboy protector romance. It also factored in that I’ve been wanting to try this author’s books since the first blazing reviews came out on her older series.
Justified opens in the past with Case Lawton losing nearly everything he cared about when his ex-wife won full custody of his son and he’ll never forgive the lawyer who made it possible. Over the years, everyone in town knows how he feels about legal eagle Aspen Barlow. Now, her law office has been vandalized and it is soon evident that someone is out to kill her. Case swallows back his bitterness to do his job as sheriff of the county and protect one of its citizens while figuring out which of the many hostile exes of her clients wants her dead. His dad was the rotten, dirty-cop, former sheriff who picked and chose who would get justice and Case has spent his whole life living down his dad’s reputation and cleaning up the mess. He will be impartial and do his job no matter what. At least that is what he tries to tell himself when uncomfortable feelings and the sense that he needs to get over his past anger that he directed at someone doing their job instead of the people really responsible for the situation.
Aspen was the fish out of water when she came to Loveless in high school and popular, good looking Case Lawton was the only kid to befriend her. It tore her up to represent his mean girl ex wife and see him lose his son and she has tried to stay out of his way as much as possible over the years to avoid the cold hatred and disgusted look on his face whenever he sees her. She had to take that case back then when her father in law assigned it, but now she has separated from her husband with a pending divorce and hung up her own shingle so she can take only the cases she wants. It is terrifying when two attacks leave her brutally wounded and vulnerable, but it is surreal when it is Case whom she must trust to keep her safe until he can get to the truth. He has to let her inside his home, see him with his son who grew old enough to choose the parent who cared, and to see him and his siblings have each other’s backs. If she’s not careful, she’ll fall for a man who sees her as only his unwanted duty.
As I said, I was intrigued by this blend of elements that made this story crackle with tension and energy from the start and that was aside from the build of taunt danger. It made a regular cowboy romance seem so flat- just kidding, I will always reach for those. But, yes, it was sizzling with the reluctant romance and the crazy situation of someone out to get Aspen.
I love enemies to lovers trope, but I’m wary about picking them up because more often than not, I get annoyed when their issues aren’t worth the stink their making. I thought this one was relevant and made sense even if it carried on for years with no one making an effort to get past it.
I liked that the romance took a slowburn approach with all that had to be worked through. The attraction is there as well as the connection, but they both have to get beyond the past. One would think it would all be on Case to let what he held against Aspen go since she was just the lawyer and not his ex wife, but Aspen isn’t exactly clear of resentment either. She feels she had good reason to do what she did and is tired of Case not appreciating that even though he has no clue that he owes her. Call me odd, but I like that they both have issues to get past so that both characters have some work to do on the relationship.
As to the attraction, whew boy, it was sweltering. These were two people who knew what they wanted and didn’t hesitate. Case may have shared a shocking kiss with her, but Aspen took things in hand just as assertively. I liked this pair together even when Case was still in denial and I enjoyed the confrontations that never crossed the line into annoying. They’re adults and they act like it.
Now, the suspense… who was after Aspen and why. Some was easy to work out, but the twist. Yowsers, that was good stuff. This was no tame romantic suspense and the danger was eminent with attempts on their lives. I enjoyed seeing both in action and particularly Case since he was trained. Aspen pulled a stupid move once, but she owned it and understood that she nearly got others killed which didn’t detract from her being a strong and intelligent heroine.
Beyond the romance and the suspense, another fabulous layer of good stuff to this story was Case’s family. This book introduces the Lawtons- Case, his brother Crew the cowboy and sister, Kody a fiery bar owner, and Case’s son, wise and responsible beyond his years, Hayes. They made an already good book shine more. I can’t wait to see feisty, angry, shotgun toting Kody and Hill, Cases’s Texas Ranger friend, in the next book.
This copy of Justified came with a bonus novella, It’s All About That Cowboy, by Carly Bloom. I didn’t read it yet, but it looks fun.
All in all, this first time with a Jay Crownover book knocked my socks off. I’ll be back for more from this series and her backlist to get those loosely connected older series stories because Case got some cameos and I wants them. Those who enjoyed a sizzling hot, contemporary western small town flavored romantic supense should definitely pick this up.
Mt. TBR #8
Literary Pickers #8 enemies to lovers
COYER Winter Friends #28
Romanceopoly #5 Gym (hot looking cover)
Romance BINGO #4 romantic suspense