Giovanni Mosconi has returned to Jasper Falls after years of touring as a standup comedian. When Erin Montgomery, his childhood enemy, heckles his performance at O’Malley’s Pub, he holds nothing back and roasts her in front of the whole town. Emotions run wild and secrets are exposed when hate turns to lust and lines begin to blur.
Can trust form where betrayal began? Or should some secrets go to the grave?
This story was so different from my expectations. I anticipated a rom-com with some angst, full of biting wit and heated banter but this was much darker. Erin’s childhood is dark and dangerous with a father beloved by the entire town who’s actually a monster behind closed doors. He beats his wife and children mercilessly, tormenting them to no end with his endless rage and cruelty. Erin’s just a small child when her heartless mother flees, abandoning her children and never looking back. The beatings are split evenly between Erin and her older brother but at least their father is proud of Harrison’s football career, whereas he never has a single good thing to say about her.
She misses lots of school so nobody will see the bruises and is often forced to skip her homework to handle the domestic chores. Her existence is painful to imagine and while she has the world best bestie in Finn, even he has no idea what home is like for Erin or the horrors she suffers. The details of her childhood are bleak and heartbreaking. We have children whose mother runs away, they miss lots of school and schoolwork, have constant injuries and the little girl doesn’t even have her own clothes, she’s forced to wear her brother’s hand-me-downs. Yet not a single person in this town does a damn thing for her. Not one teacher or any other adult ever asks her if she’s safe. Everyone loves her father but nobody gives his children even a moment’s notice.
Her brother flees when Erin is fifteen. Harrison refuses to take her with him even though she begs for him not to leave her with the monster. Finn is her only friend and she’s picked on by everyone else in school yet even as teenagers, nobody ever thinks to ask if she’s okay, what home is like, where her mother and brother have gone. This is my first book in the Jasper Falls series and the circumstances of Erin’s life there kind of turns me off because what kind of awful town and horrible people live here? But I’m intrigued enough by the way the story unfolds to want to know more so I will check out other books in the series.
Erin’s childhood has formed her into a lonely introvert with no friends and not a single shred of self-confidence. She wants nothing more than to live without fear and pain but even at thirty, she doesn’t believe she can make it on her own. She still lives with her abusive father, treated like a servant, working in his hardware store because she can’t imagine a better life being a possibility. Giovanni is just another one of Erin’s enemies, another person who let her know she wasn’t wanted and when he returns, they still loathe one another. But they’re forced together and slowly begin to become curious about each other. He wants to know what made this beautiful woman so off-limits that she can’t even have a simple conversation with an acquaintance without lashing out. But Erin can’t open up to anyone because she doesn’t even have the emotional capacity to understand it herself.
Rudeness is her defense mechanism because the entire world has rejected her since the day she was born. She reactively lashes out when people are nice to her because she’d rather push everyone away than wait for them to abandon her, which is guaranteed because everyone does. Giovanni wants to understand her and show her that she’s worthy of so much more, but she doesn’t want to let him. Their story is tough and emotional because of her tragic past but his determination is hopeful and sweet. This reads fine as a standalone but I felt like I was probably missing A LOT of context by not having read the earlier books in the series. The characters didn’t have the depth I wanted, but I suspect the real issue is that I’m missing the necessary background to fully appreciate their complexities.
Regardless, I liked the characters even when they were abrasive and lashing out because they’re so real. And I love their story because it’s one of redemption when all appears to be lost. I received an ARC from Valentine PR in exchange for an honest review.