Dear Ms. Wyllys:
When MinnChica from The Bookpushers recommended this book to me, I admit a lot of reluctance. She said it was dark and gritty. Most of the dark and gritty books I’ve read lately have featured heroes who are criminals and into humiliating the heroine and I just was not up for that. Fortunately this book was none of those things but it was dark, gritty, and different.
Bri Martin runs away from home during her senior year when her alcoholic father mistakes Bri for her prostitute mother and makes a pass. Maybe if Bri’s older brother had stuck around, but Bri had been left alone to defend herself–something she simultaneously resents and understands. Five years later, Bri is serving drinks in a basement bar called Duke’s, a fake speakeasy that is described as a “lighthouse in the middle of the darkness.”
“The bar was a lighthouse in the middle of the darkness, shining like a beacon of hope and sweet promises. The lights stayed on above the bartenders for practical purposes—no one would appreciate a watered-down Long Island—but the effect was still a little romantic, in a drunken, broken kind of way. It was fitting, symbolic even. Because that was the kind of people that tended to frequent Duke’s. Broken drunks”
Into Duke comes Luke Turner whom Bri mentally names “Dark and Brooding”. There’s a connection between the two of them that she’s unsure about but later when Bri is mugged and Turner saves her, she recognizes the connection as lust. Initially Bri tries to keep it to lust only particularly when Luke’s profession is revealed. He’s a boxer training for the legit circuit but paying off debts by fighting illegally and providing muscle for a local criminal person, Bri’s boss and owner of Duke’s. Bri’s abusive father was the same–a boxer and when she goes to Luke’s first fight, she’s assailed with the memory of what it felt like when she sat in chairs like this squished between her mother and Christian, her feet never quite touching the ground. She’s full of conflicting emotions–caught up in the adrenaline of the fight but hating it as well.
There’s a certain twenties gangster feel to the story, particularly with the owner of Duke’s and Bri’s all smart mouth, high heels, and low simmering anger. She’s got a lot to be angry about given her upbringing and she’s challenging Luke at every juncture. He doesn’t hesitate in giving back in terms of verbal assaults either. Neither of them are probably g0ing to win partner of the year, but it’s easy to see how crazy they are for each other.
Brie is afraid of becoming her mother which is what she’s sure will happen if she allows Luke to be a permanent part of her life. Many of the intimate encounters between Brie and Luke stem from an angry passion. They fight (almost part of their foreplay) and then crash into each other. (This was actually a description used three times and that was probably two times too many) The energy of the story was crackling and I was engaged on every page. Even the love scenes had a certain grittiness to them, the language used different than others in some way even though the words were similar.
“He slammed me down hard and I was soaring, bowing back into an almost unnatural shape, free-falling and unable to breathe. He was still pounding into me, or maybe pounding me onto him, but it was blurry through the flames licking me, burrowing into my skin and igniting my bones. When I started to come down, he angled his hips, hitting a spot deep inside me that had me hissing and spitting like a savage cat.”
The story is told through Brie’s point of view but you get plenty of Luke. He’s incredibly possessive but Brie’s such a strong character that it is well balanced. The descriptions were so rich that I felt like I could visualize the story, as if it were a movie.
Now for the triggers. In the book, Brie is the subject of physical (not sexual) violence more than once. That might be problematic for readers. She hits Luke (which is about as successful as hitting a brick wall) and the action probably turns Luke on more than anything.
Originally I was going to give this book a B because I felt that it was short and could have used another chapter but in the end I didn’t know if that was fair. What I read was B+ worthy.