After being so enthralled with Before You Break, I just had to keep reading to find out what Rachel’s story was. She was sassy, wild and nearly out of control in the last book and I had a burning need to know what brought her to this point. So as soon as I had the chance I grabbed up this book and settled in to submerge myself with this author’s storytelling again.
The story opens with Rachel coming home for the summer for the longest visit she has been on since she left for college three years before. Her mom needs her help with her business and Rachel wants to be there for her after all the times her mom was there for Rachel through the motorcycle accident, the traumatic brain injury that brought on surgery and extensive physical therapy, and her boyfriend deserting her about the time her parents divorced. Three years later and coming home brings her to the realization that the person she was at college- the wild carefree love em and leave em girl was little more than a front for not dealing with anything. She thought she was just being tough, but it was really just a distancing act. The realization comes when she moves in with her best friend, Dakota. If Dakota knew the way she was at college, she would be so disappointed in Rachel, but it was also the fact that Rachel lied keeping her college life with friends and her home life separate. Everything has come to a head from the lies about who the real Rachel is, to the return of her high school crush, Kai, Dakota’s bad boy brother, and then there is the return of her ex who seems to want to rekindle what they had. Rachel is in near crisis as it all hits her, but the anchor in her storm is Kai. Kai is ever supportive and doesn’t judge. He gives her what she needs or at least what she thinks she needs.
Kai fell for Rachel when he saw the strong, courageous girl who refused to give up as she worked through each painful and difficult step of recovery from her brain injury. He kept his feelings to himself then because she had just lost her boyfriend and her parents were divorcing. He tried to move on, but seeing her again makes it perfectly clear that he’s still hung up on Rachel. However, Rachel sees him only as a friend and someone she can use to get over her ex and work through her issues. In the meantime, Kai knows he has screwed up many times and just been drifting so he determines to stay clean of the weed and work hard at his dad’s tribal casino to prove himself. He loves making music and is fascinated even by working the sound boards to help others make music. If only it paid. Kai and Rachel spend more and more time together letting off steam in secret. He knows it won’t lead anywhere. He wants her so bad and has to stand by and watch first her ex and then another guy move in. He is too afraid of losing her friendship if he shares his feelings and she rejects them.
Alright, this one went off in a very different direction in plotting and tone from the one before it and that’s not a bad thing. I like how the story reflected the uniqueness of this couple compared to the others before it. Rachel has made one unholy mess of things and this is sort of her redemption story.
I confess she was a bit shallow for me before and I was curious if the author would give me something to engage my sympathies more. She definitely did that. Any one of the things that happened to Rachel that time just before she went off to college were tough things, but the fact that they were strung altogether was enough to knock anyone off their foundation. This was a hard one for me to read because Rachel was in an unhealthy place for most of the book. Kai might have allowed it, but she was using him instead of dealing with her stuff. I applauded him when he finally spoke his mind. Rachel never saw what she was doing that way and it made her mad, but between what he said and her clearing the air of her lies to her friends, that is when she started to change and really heal. Kai wanted her so badly that he was enabling instead of empowering. Truthfully, Kai’s addictions were his enablers. Then they just obscured. He wanted to forget his feelings and desire for Rachel, but the weed and sex also made him lose his music and his sense of self. So the story was a good piece about two people helping to heal each other and then finally getting a chance at romance.
When I look back over this, I was less interested in the romance than I usually am with a story. And I didn’t miss it. The passion and romance was there, but it was muted while character development took place. I love a good ‘friends to lovers’ romance and that’s what this was, but it was more authentic in the essence of that then some stories that follow this formula. One of the barriers to the romance here was exactly because these two were such strong friends. The reader and their friends see how awesome they are together and the potential for more, but they just see a tight friendship that they are so desperate not to lose that they won’t reach for more. Now that being said, they are horny college age types so they get up to some hot passion too. Kai just oozes sexuality between his physical image that includes his piercings and attitude which drives Rachel wild, but Rachel is pretty confident in the bedroom too. She is more than a match for Kai’s dirty talk and demands. Their past experiences have made them more equals in experience which was something else I appreciate since it’s usually hard for me to buy into the unbalanced relationships when one has tons of experience and the other has nearly none. I liked that Kai put on the breaks a few times because he recognized what was happening with Rachel and he was determined to hold back some things because he wanted it to be meaningful.
In the end, this is a challenging story in many ways, but very satisfying. It was also good to get a peek-in with the two previous couples. Squee for Avery’s news!
I recommend this series as one of the best NA Contemporary Romances series out there in my opinion. It’s a good idea to read these in order because the heroines are all introduced in the first book and their characters are revealed as you go, but they can also easily be read as standalones.
My thanks to Penguin Group and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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