Joel Anderson doesn’t take anything seriously.
Not his relationships, which have been few and far between since his brutal divorce. Not the drama of working in a tattoo parlor, which seems to be around every corner. When things get him down, he smiles and cracks a joke. But he’s not the kind of man you cross, or you’ll find yourself at the wrong end of his fists.
Annika Belousov takes everything seriously.
Like her job as a reality television producer, given that she typically has something to prove. Or her love life, which is defined by a series of requirements — affluent, ambitious, accomplished, to name a few. Definitely her family, who worked their whole lives to afford her every opportunity, a sacrifice she doesn’t take lightly. When she’s tapped to produce a reality show at Joel’s shop, she doesn’t think twice, just goes in for the kill, as if there were any other way.
The second Annika walks into Joel’s shop, he makes it his mission to crack her open, but she’s not having it. He’s all wrong — too crass, too hairy, too un-serious. But it doesn’t take her long to find out there’s more to him than smirks and tattoos. And what she finds could put her career and his heart on the line.
Not that Joel cares. Because for the first time in a long time, he’s found his tonic.
“Let me see it.”
“What?” I blustered, caught off guard.
“Stand up and turn around. I want to see it.” I was too surprised and caught up in the moment to refuse, so I stood and turned, laying my palms on the armrests as I faced the back of the chair.
One hand rested on my hip.
My heart stopped as I wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
I glanced over my shoulder, my gaze bouncing between his face —turned down too much to read —and his reflection in the speckled, antique mirror, which I couldn’t see much of either. His free hand moved to the waistband of my tailored pants, and his fingers hooked and tugged, pulling the band down low.
His thumb ran over where I knew the tattoo was, and I felt his breath. Every place where we connected spoke to me of ownership.
“You got this done here? In New York?” His voice was rough.
Mine wasn’t much better. “Yeah. In Brooklyn.”
“Let me cover it up for you. Give you something you’re proud of. Your skin …” He paused, and I wished I could see his face, read his mind. “This shouldn’t be here, not on you. Let me … I want to …” He had moved closer, his hand on my hip pulling me back into him slightly enough for me to not have noticed that the backs of my thighs were touching his, my back arched just enough, his breath hot.
And then, he disappeared. I stood, finding my hands were trembling, wondering where I was and how I’d gotten there. The shop was mostly empty —no one had seen, not that it would have looked like much from the outside. But from where I stood, I felt every single deliberate move like a telegraph, telling me exactly what he wanted to do without him having to finish the sentence.
His back was to me when I turned around, his face down —I couldn’t see it in the mirror over his cabinet of ink and needles as he dug around in the drawers, seemingly for nothing in particular.
“Let me know if you want me to draw something up.”
“Okay, I will.” I paused, not knowing what else to say, feeling like I should say something. But there was nothing that I could say. “Well, have a good night, Joel. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He nodded, glancing at me in the mirror. “See you, Annika.”
I tried not to bolt out of the shop, but once outside, I admit it —I took off. I hauled up the stairs and into the office to grab my bag, grateful that Laney was already gone, and I texted my driver, asking him to pick me up a few blocks away so I could walk, put some distance between me and Joel, get the energy out of my body, through my legs and feet, into the pavement.
I then decided two things. One: My new mission in life was to make her laugh. Two: I’d crack her open if it was the last thing I did.
I struggled a little with this one. My main issue is that I felt it was quite a predictable read, and it took me a while to actually get into it. I wasn’t so keen on the minor mafia links, and some of the familial subplots dragged a bit for me. I’m also not a fan of the insta-love that was on the edge of happening from the very first couple of pages.
I had a feeling once I got a taste, I wouldn’t be able to get her out of my system for a long, long time.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a decent book – the chemistry and sex scenes were absolutely scorching, and I thought Hart’s characterisation of Annika and Joel was brilliant – they were largely complex characters and worked extraordinarily well together. I just couldn’t help but feel that the story I wanted to read was the destructive, explosive prequel of Joel and Liz.
Three steps and I was in his arms. Two heartbeats and I looked him into his eyes. One breath and I kissed him.
Slow and predictable, this wasn’t one of my top books by Hart, especially as I absolutely loved Wasted Words. It had its good moments, but I was expecting something a little funnier whilst wanting something a bit more emotional.