In Lea’s debut romance novel, an emotionally damaged chef and a reclusive carpenter fall for each other while dealing with fallout from their pasts.
Twenty-five-year-old Bryant “Ant” Pembroke, the adopted daughter of the late Tom and Carly Pembroke, is part of Munford, Kentucky’s wealthiest and most-hated family. As the story opens, she’s just tracked down her biological father, Ty Monroe, who’s on his deathbed with stage 4 liver cancer. Ant never got to know him, but he was a friend and surrogate father to 26-year-old Orion “Ore” Black. Standing at 6 feet 6 inches and perpetually clad in flannel, Ore is, for Ant, “the image of a Brawny Paper Towel commercial.” When the pair meet at Mumford Memorial hospital, their mutual attraction is immediate, but each feels that they don’t deserve the other. Ant’s insecurity stems from a childhood of verbal abuse from her father as well as from her relationship with Rodney Picoult, a stalker ex-boyfriend who texts her five times a day; Orion considers himself a monster after a life-changing night in county jail eight years before. As their relationship progresses, there’s no dearth of action; in the span of a single night, Ty dies, Ant finds out the identities of her biological grandparents, Ant and Ore have sex for the first time, and the Pembroke estate gets trashed. And just when Ant and Ore begin to trust each other, there’s a close call involving Rodney. Overall, this is a compelling, well-conceived romance. Ant is an admirable heroine, fiery and capable of taking care of herself, while Ore comes off as a Southern gentleman with rugged sex appeal. There’s a cute makeup scene that’s reminiscent of The Notebook—rain pours down as the couple argues outside Orion’s beloved 1968 Chevy truck before they make amends (and love) in a house that he built. Lea’s prose can be repetitive; Ore always smells of “sawdust” and “spice,” and Ant is said to smell of lemon and rose multiple times. However, the novel is redeemed by the author’s ability to capture the intensity of physical attraction—how mundane actions, such as chopping vegetables or carrying furniture, suddenly become irresistible. She also shows a firm command of her book’s erotic scenes.
A solid romance with thrills, sex, and plenty of Southern charm.