This is a difficult review to write, because a lot of my 2017 reading emotions were tied up in this series. I've loved Alisha Rai's writing for a long time, but this series has had two heroines in therapy and a recurring refrain of "you deserve love" that's incredibly empowering and comforting to read. I could write a 10 page essay on this book, so how about I give you the highlights, instead?
First off, I'm going to try not to tell you any of the Big Secrets... but they're gooood. (Bad, but good?) Rai clearly had the series plotted out in advance, because if you think back to HATE TO WANT YOU, some of the breadcrumbs are there for you to follow.
However, there are also new secrets! Eve, the heroine, is moonlighting as a Ryde driver (car-sharing service) and has gamed the system so that she can be Gabe's driver when he needs a lift home from the bar. She's been doing this for weeks by the time the book starts, which is sort of creepy since she's disguised herself as "Anne." It's also sort of sweet? Gabe rejected her at a bar when she was 19 (he's 12 years older than her, so good job, Gabe) and between that and the family drama, she doesn't want to put herself out there again. He's also keeping something from her, and Rai works all the secrets out in a way that brings the characters together rather than apart.
Bringing Back the Classics
I can't tell you how delighted I was to read several historical romance plot devices in this book. The set-up is something like a house party, with everyone gathering at the country estate at which Livvy and Nicholas's wedding will take place in a week. Of course, everyone's sick or delayed for a couple of days and they're "stuck" there together... alone. *rubs hands in glee*
There's a classic "stuck in a cabin in the rain scene," in which Rai has used Monopoly to keep our protagonists apart.
There's the awful formal family dinner, with big reveals and fallout.
There's a wedding!
Eve & Gabe
Alisha Rai writes wonderful heroines and heroes who deserve their love.
Much of Eve's emotional arc is about her finally standing on her own and standing up to her brother and her father. Brendan is awful, emotionally abusive, dismissive... you name it. Nicholas is loving, but over-protective. Take this line, from about half-way through the book, when Nicholas is scolding Eve for riding horseback in a rainstorm:
"She appreciated his worry so much that she didn't have the heart to tell him she hated how he yelled it."
Contrast this with another scene, later in the book, when she and Nicholas have had a bit of a Thing with their father.
"Here was love. Deep, unconditional love. And she deserved it."
Rai's books always feature complicated family dynamics, and this book tied everything together in a beautiful way.
Eve is short and round, but Gabe speaks lovingly and lustfully of her body, rather than telling her that he doesn't see her as fat or other well-meaning but dismissive things. There's an entire scene in which he lusts after the little roll on her back where her swimsuit top pushes her flesh down. It's a very body-positive relationship to read.
Gabe himself? He's a giant teddy bear and I adored him. He's a talker, but he doesn't talk over Eve. He gives her just what she needs to express herself. Gabe's arc is one of yearning to belong, but without ever making his mother and sister (who are great, by the way) feel less than. I really enjoyed Gabe's scenes with Jackson, especially as I didn't feel we got to know Jackson all that well in WRONG TO NEED YOU.
While I'm not sure I could recommend this as a stand-alone novel, it's perfect as a series finale. Most of the subplots are wrapped up, the characters all have their HEAs, and I have hope in humanity once again.