If there was ever an author suited to writing convincing new adult romances, it would be Charlotte Stein. With her unique voice and her ability to delve deeply into the minds of her heroines, a time in life that is so emotionally fraught brings out the best in her. Even with a premise as balls-to-the-walls crazy as this one, she delivers a moving and sexy romance that convinces me of the HEA and makes me want more. The crazy premise, you ask? A young woman falls in love with her high school bully.
Back in high school, Tate bullied Letty. There’s no polite way to say this. He did cruel things to her, culminating one day when he and his friends run her off a cliff in their car. Naturally, Letty is not happy when, upon entering college, there he is, taking up space in her life when all she wanted to do was leave him behind. They’re thrown together for a group project, and she can’t help it; she starts to see another side to Tate, and they fall in love.
This shouldn’t work at all. When some of my Twitter friends were raving about this book, I was skeptical that (1) I could get past a hero who had actually bullied the heroine and (2) that he would turn out to be the kind of big, sweet, tough-but-vulnerable beta hero I adore. Nonetheless, as usual, Twitter was right, and Ms. Stein makes it work. She does this by not making any excuses for Tate’s behavior. In fact, Tate is incredibly self-aware and refreshingly feminist. He knows he was a shit to Letty, and he spends the entire book trying to make up for that. His reasons are also plausible. He wasn’t a bully because he had a traumatic past. He was a bully because he was a teenager who lacked emotional maturity and wanted to fit in with his friends. And I love that he tells Letty straight out that she wasn’t responsible for his shitty behavior. In fact, in the here and now, he is incredibly careful with her, and the way they navigate around issues of consent is thoughtful and sensitive without going too far in the direction of preachiness.
This isn’t Tate’s story, though. As with the other Charlotte Stein books I’ve read, this one is told exclusively from Letty’s point of view, which means that every awkward moment, every time she doubts herself, and every joy is magnified. And I like Letty a lot. I love her in her impotent fury when Tate shows up, in her heartbreak when she thinks he’s just as bad as she’s always assumed, and her joy when things go well for her. She might think of herself as weak and passive, but she’s not. She has an unquenchable zest for life, and she’s witty. I love her banter, both with Tate and with her friend Lydia. (In fact, her friendship with Lydia might have been one of my favorite things about the book, because it still feels like such a rarity to see well-written female friendships in romance.) Letty does have some understandable trust issues, and she and Tate have to work through them, but it all comes about so naturally and believably that by the time their HEA arrives, I was rooting for them.
As with the previous book in the series, there is a minor subplot involving illegal underground fighting and the mafia. In the last book, this subplot hung together better than it does here. In fact, the only real reason it’s in this book at all is to create a dramatic moment for Letty, and it bogs down the story needlessly.
Though this is Book 2 in the series, you certainly don’t need to have read the previous book. If you can get past the premise, you’ll find a delightfully sweet romance with just the right amount of angst and Charlotte Stein’s trademark sexiness. Highly recommended!
Letty Carmichael can’t believe her eyes when she catches a glimpse of her high school tormenter, wrestling champ Tate Sullivan, on campus. College was
supposed to be her escape from Tate’s constant ridicule. Now he’s in her classes again, just waiting for his chance to make her life hell. But when Letty
and Tate are partnered up for an assignment—on sex in cinema, of all things—she starts to see a kinder, gentler side of him. And when she realizes Tate
knows more about sex than she could ever guess at, he soon starts making her blush in a whole new way.
Tate Sullivan is haunted by regret over his cruelty toward Letty. So when she agrees to work with him, he seizes his chance to make amends. He can’t blame
her for not believing he’s for real, but soon Tate starts to break down her wall. She wants to know about passion, desire, lust—topics he is well versed
in. And in return she offers the one thing he always wanted: the chance to be more than just a jock.
Letty is shocked by how sensitive Tate can be. Still, desiring him feels ludicrous. Loving him is impossible. Craving him is beyond all reason. So why
can’t she stop?
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