A journalist tries to take revenge on a chef for the sins of her father, but falls for her instead in the middle of a beautiful countryside farm setting. City grit meets tranquil, carefully put together love. Where this story didn’t break me, as I’d expected, it gently settled around me, and I read it in one shot, thriving on the feel of it alone.
Simon Malik was a resident of St Judes—a foster home for young people who found themselves in trouble. In books 0.5, 1 and 2 (which follow a different couple) we see the same scene played out a number of times. The abusive foster parents attack the kids, the husband gets stabbed, and the children get offered a deal by the mysterious Bates who keeps them from jail. Then the debts get called in, which causes the protagonists to tussle with their loves. Like Bates is some sort of HEA fairy godfather.
To make this tale stand alone, that same scene needed to be shown again, but I’m over familiar with it now, and it made the opening of this story slow. But if you know me, you’ll know how big an O’Keefe fan I am, so I plodded on and got to the meat: Simon, and his life and circumstances. Of Pakistani heritage, Simon is geeky and super handsome with swishy dark hair. More interestingly, he’s a war correspondent, which translates to the ability to be a journalist Stateside also.
For years, he’s been seeking revenge on a man whose healthcare company, and profit-seeking ways, meant Simon’s parents died. Then, at a court hearing against the man, Simon winds up incarcerated in St Judes after going along intending to commit murder. He couldn’t go through with it, but the girl protesting next to him threw a rock, and the police nabbed Simon for it, sending him to St Judes for his non-sins. The girl claimed she was the healthcare company guy’s daughter, so when Simon gets the call from Bates to go find her again, as his debt repayment, he’s got multiple objectives in mind.
Penny McConnell changed her name and is hiding from the world. Only a recognizable birthmark under her chin can give her away. She’s opened a high-end inn and restaurant called the Paintbrush which is all organic herbs and acres of home grown vegetables. It sounded lovely. When Simon turns up, she doesn’t recognize him as the teenager she met at her parent’s trial, and slowly falls in lust for him as he seduces her.
Thing is, Simon’s revenge and Bates’ debt, are going to come crashing down on the burgeoning affair, and she doesn’t see it coming. Simon tries to be all hard line, but he likes Penny too much, and for all his tough talk, he’s not a bad guy. Penny is complicated too, and desperate to be loved after a loveless childhood.
My happiness needs controlled burns. Minor sorrows and liveable pain so that the happiness doesn’t get out of control. I need small explosions so I don’t blow everything to smithereens. And I can hurt myself on him. Ruin something small so I don’t burn down the whole forest.
As always, the writing was gorgeous and the atmosphere absorbing. I loved both characters who, in line with the others in this series (Tommy and Beth), weren’t standard hero/heroine attractive, white or model-like. Simon’s Pakistani, Penny is half-Greek, Beth is half-black but with a recessive gene giving her reddish hair and freckles, and Tommy is an oversized Nord-like guy.
Which brings me to the covers. This series has recently been relaunched with new covers, which show Beth as a blond girl. And I’m not sure the cover guy for this tale really looks like Simon. And this bugs me. Of course I don’t need the cover models to look identical to the people in the story—that wouldn’t be possible, but something I love about this series is just how unique each of the characters are, and the new covers white-wash that diversity away. I’m not sure why a change was thought necessary. The last set of covers were gorgeous and a better representation.
I still loved this story, but this matter left a bad taste in my mouth and it meant I didn’t rush to grab this book when it was offered up as an advanced copy. The tale is still so very good, and I’ve got high hopes to see Bates and Carissa (half-Chinese) get their own story, and to catch up with Rosa (South American), the last member of the St Jude’s set.
Click to purchase: Amazon
by Molly O’Keefe
Release Date: November 9, 2017