Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + Giveaway

Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + GiveawayHard Justice (Body Armor, #2) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Body Armor #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Playing it safe has never felt so dangerous
Justice Wallington knows how to harness his strength and intimidating sizeskills he put to good use first in the MMA cage and now as a bodyguard at the Body Armor agency. But no opponent has ever left him feeling as off balance as his new client, heiress Fallon Wade. Far from a spoiled princess, she's sweet and intriguingly innocent. It's a risk-free assignment, until he's required to fake a relationship with her in order to blend in.
Sheltered from the world after a family tragedy, Fallon longs to experience lifegoing to bars, dancing, talking to strangers. Not easy with a huge, lethal-looking bodyguard shadowing her every move. Justice seems like her polar opposite, but pretending to be a couple stirs undeniable heat. And when danger strikes again, it's not just her safety in jeopardy, but a passion that's real, raw and absolutely against the rules"

My Review:

This one was just plain fun. I read it in a single day. I stayed up until 2 am to finish. Admittedly, not on a “school night”. But still. One day. Because I couldn’t put it down.

And it proved that all of my fears about the series, after my read of Under Pressure, were totally and completely unfounded.

Like Under Pressure, Hard Justice is also a variation on the classic theme of The Bodyguard, where the guard and his protectee fall head over heels for each other. But this is one where we really do see them both fall, not just succumb to the intensity of being on the run together, because they aren’t. On the run, that is. They definitely fall for each other.

There is a bit of a mystery in this story, but it isn’t any of the expected ones. At first, Justice Wallingham can’t figure out who or what Fallon Wade needs to be protected from. Her uptight parents, particularly her father, seem to be adamant that Fallon needs to be protected from pretty much everything and everyone in the universe.

Fallon, on the other hand, is a surprisingly down-to-earth 24-year-old who just wants a chance to finally experience the things that people her age normally do, or have done. The reason for all that overprotectiveness isn’t obvious, except for the continuing reappearances of Fallon’s douchebag ex, Marcus, a guy who can’t seem to take “no” for an answer.

And can’t seem to overlook the scars that Fallon hides under her all-covering clothes. Marcus is just sure that their shared backgrounds make them perfect for each other, and that any man would be put off by her scars. He’s sure that he’ll get used to them in time, if he makes an effort. Of course he’s wrong on all counts.

Justice, on the other hand, wants to flatten the guy from the word go. Because Fallon’s scars, and her survival of the trauma that caused them, make her even more precious, and more beautiful, in his eyes. Which he’s having an increasingly difficult time keeping on the lookout for possible threats, because he’s too busy just watching Fallon.

Until it starts looking like someone is really out to get her. Or him. Or possibly both.

Escape Rating A-: It may be a case of the right book at the right time, but I just plain loved this one. Sometimes books are like that.

Part of the charm of this series, and the Ultimate series that it spun off from, is the rowdy bunch of fighters, and their wives, who make up the close-knit group who live, work, and train in or near Cannon’s gym in small-town Ohio. It’s always great to see the gang again, and find out how everyone is doing. They are great people and always wonderfully accepting of anyone new.

But the success of this particular book rests on the characters of Justice and Fallon, and their developing relationship. And they are absolutely adorable together.

One of the things I liked best about Hard Justice is the way that it set the woman in danger trope on its head. There’s an unfortunate tendency in romantic suspense, and it applied to both Under Pressure and several of the titles in the Ultimate series, that the way to put a woman in jeopardy and in need of protection is to give her a creepy sexual predator stalker, whether the asshat is her ex or just someone who is fixated on her. I am really, really tired of that trope, because it always ends up robbing the woman of her agency.

Hard Justice was fun because it doesn’t go there. Even better, it makes you think it’s going there, and then it actually doesn’t. Marcus does turn out to be a bit of a douche, but not that big of a douche. Instead, the real villains were revealed as a bit of a surprise, and the motives for threatening Fallon were not sexual. For this reader, the story worked much better this way.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series, which looks like it’s going to be Close Contact, coming in November.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Lori and Harlequin are giving away a $50 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!
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Review: Under Pressure by Lori Foster

Review: Under Pressure by Lori FosterUnder Pressure (Body Armor, #1) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Body Armor #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He can protect anything except his heart

Leese Phelps’s road hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s brought him to the perfect job — working for the elite Body Armor security agency. And what his newest assignment lacks in size, she makes up for in fire and backbone. But being drawn to Catalina Nicholson is a dangerous complication, especially since it could be the very man who hired Leese who’s threatening her.
What Catalina knows could get her killed. But who’d believe the sordid truth about her powerful stepfather? Beyond Leese’s ripped body and brooding gaze is a man of impeccable honour. He’s the last person she expects to trust — and the first who’s ever made her feel safe. And he’s the only one who can help her expose a deadly secret, if they can just stay alive long enough...

My Review:

As Lori Foster so often does, her new Body Armor series is a spinoff from her previous series, Ultimate. The character who ties the two series together is Leese Phelps, who began Ultimate as somewhat of a jerk of a side character, but ended the series as a solidly good guy who realized that while he might be a good MMA fighter, he was never going to be a champion.

We get enough of his background in Under Pressure that it isn’t necessary to read Ultimate to see where he’s coming from – but the series is a lot of fun if you like sports romance at all.

As Under Pressure begins, Leese is now the number one bodyguard at Sahara Silver’s Body Armor agency. Sahara, as the new owner of Body Armor, recruited Leese from the MMA because she has a plan. She plans to transform the image of bodyguards from suited thugs carrying ill-concealed guns to something charming, appealing, deadly and ripped. With the addition of Leese and his friend Justice, she’s off to an excellent start.

The body that Leese has been assigned to guard is that of Catalina Nicholson. The contract is a bit mysterious, as her wealthy stepfather has paid Body Armor upfront to protect Cat from anyone and everyone, including himself, who might come after her. Whatever is going on here, it is obviously way more than meets the eye.

And so is Cat. Leese finds her attempting to sneak into the bus terminal, dragging a busted suitcase in the snow, facing down the thug who clearly plans to grab her and rape her, just for starters. When Leese sends the bastard scurrying back to his lair, Cat decides to give Leese limited trust. She has to trust somebody – she’s been on the run for six weeks, and is worn down to her last frazzle.

But as much as Cat wants to trust Leese, she has some serious trust issues, and with good reason. The very first person on the list of people she is running from is that same stepfather who paid for her bodyguards. Unfortunately for Cat, Leese, and the entire crew at Body Armor, he is far from the most dangerous on that list.

And Cat is too scared, and a bit too selfless to give up that list of names. Because she is just sure that in a contest of reputations, she will always come out the loser. And that her best chance of saving everyone else is always going to be to give herself up to what she sees as her inevitable fate. She just doesn’t want to take anyone else with her.

Especially not after she makes the classic mistake of falling for her bodyguard. And Leese makes the equally irresponsible mistake of falling for not just the body he’s guarding, but also for the woman inside it.

Escape Rating B-: This is very much a mixed feelings review. There were a lot of things about Under Pressure that I liked, and one that turned me completely off. Unfortunately, the part that turned me off looks like a repeating pattern from Ultimate, and not one of the good ones.

As the first book in the series, there is a lot of set up in this story. While the gang from Ultimate does appear near the end, this is all about the new gang at Body Armor, and we, as well as Cat, get introduced to Sahara and the team she is building. Sahara has some big plans for her new agency, and readers will also end up hoping that Sahara gets resolution on her own issues, particularly the issues surrounding her missing and presumed dead brother. But hopefully that’s another book.

The story in Under Pressure is one of the classic tropes – the bodyguard and his protectee falling for each other in the intense atmosphere of danger and ongoing death threats. In the case of Leese and Cat, it does seem like insta-lust that morphs into love rather quickly. From the descriptions, the insta-lust is very easy to understand, but the story doesn’t quite sell the development of the emotional relationship, at least not to this reader.

But it’s Cat’s need for protection, and the reasons behind it, that drive the suspense part of this plot. Cat overheard her wealthy stepfather, an even wealthier and more influential U.S. Senator, and their two bodyguards plan to cover up a murder. In particular, the murder of a young woman who said “no” to the Senator’s more depraved tastes. Cat can’t sort out just how deeply her stepfather is involved in this shitshow, so she runs. And keeps running. They really are after her.

Cat’s understandable fear is that no one will believe her. The Senator is rich, influential and beloved. He has perfected a sterling reputation as a kindly, twinkly grandfather, albeit one who hides a sack of slime underneath his expensive suits. On that other hand, her stepfather has given their inner circle the impression that Cat is flighty and unstable, just because she’d rather be a teacher than live the life of a pampered society princess.

And of course the Senator has bought off more than a few police departments and probably government agencies. The murder cover up that she heard is far from the first. And she knows that hers is next.

So Cat’s unwillingness to trust is at least somewhat understandable. She knows that the rich can buy off anyone they want, she’s seen it happen. And she knows that the Senator’s reputation is above reproach. No one will WANT to believe what she heard.

But of course her lack of trust in Leese and Sahara puts more people in danger than her trust ever would. This becomes another story where the heroine looks foolish for not letting other people help her, even if she needs to give up some of her agency to get that done. However, this wasn’t the part that really made me grit my teeth.

Cat is in plenty of trouble. They really are out to get her, and they really will kill her if they catch her. Even more, they really will kill anyone and everyone around her to get to her, and she is the kind of person who will see those deaths as being all her fault. But there’s an added element here. One of the killers is the Senator’s bodyguard, who in addition to being a cold-blooded murderer, also has an extremely unhealthy interest in imprisoning Cat and breaking her to his will. The addition of the crazed sexual-stalker murdering arsehole felt over-the-top. It is not necessary for their to be a sick sexual component for a woman to be in extreme danger. And it’s an added element that I’m just plain tired of as well as completely creeped out by.

I hope that the creepy-stalker-sexual-predator thing is not a big part of the story in the next book in this series, Hard Justice. I really liked Justice’s character in Under Pressure, and I’m looking forward to him being the hero of the next story.

Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + GiveawayFighting Dirty (Ultimate, #4) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense, sports romance
Series: Ultimate #4
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He's the hottest MMA fighter in the game, but one woman is ready to try out a few steamy moves of her own in an unforgettable new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster...
With the life he's led and the muscles he's gained, Armie Jacobson isn't afraid of anything. Except maybe Merissa Colter's effect on him. It's not just that she's his best friend's little sister. Fact is, she deserves better. Women pursue him for one night of pleasure, and that's all he wants to offer. Until rescuing Merissa from a robbery leads to the most erotic encounter of his life.
Good girl meets bad boy. It's a story that rarely ends well. But Merissa is taking matters into her own hands. No matter how he views himself, the Armie she knows is brave, honorable and completely loyal. And as past demons and present-day danger collide, they're both about to learn what's truly worth fighting for…

My Review:

Considering that this looks like the last title in Foster’s Ultimate series, both the title and the story are very, very fitting.

no limits by lori fosterIn every book in the Ultimate series, starting with No Limits (reviewed here) there is always someone who is fighting very, very dirty, and it isn’t the hero. Each of the stories in this series has a villain who starts out as a nasty piece of work and only gets worse as their story goes on – until they get their head figuratively handed to them and they get handed over to the law to get their just desserts.

It’s always icing on that cake that the law officers who cart the bad guys away are the heroes of Foster’s previous series, Love Undercover. Which, if you are interested, starts with Run the Risk (reviewed here).

Bringing up that Ultimate spun off of Undercover is also fitting, because at the end of Fighting Dirty the author gives a sneak peak at the series that will spin off from Ultimate Body Armor – starting in November with Under Pressure.

It’s always fun to jump into one of her series and see how everyone from the earlier series is doing!

If the title of Fighting Dirty is appropriate, the story is even more so. Through the entire series, the author has teased us with hints of Merissa Colter’s long-standing interest in Armie Jacobson, and Armie constantly running away from Rissy. It’s so obvious that he cares, and equally obvious that he’s decided that Rissy can do better than him. While it is equally true that he is being an idiot and not asking her what she thinks or wants, his reluctance is not completely far-fetched.

Rissy is Cannon Colter’s sister. Cannon is Armie’s best friend. If Rissy and Armie try a relationship and it doesn’t work, there will be no getting away from each other unless one of them gives up the circle of people they both call “family”. Additionally, and we’ve seen hints of this all along, there is something nasty in Armie’s past that he has been successfully keeping under wraps – and it’s a secret that he’s sure will kill both any chances he has with Rissy and any chances he has to be a success in the SBC.

tough love by lori fosterBut at the end of Tough Love (reviewed here), Armie finally gives in and signs with the SBC. The powers-that-be in the SBC, Jude, Havoc (Havoc’s story is in Causing Havoc, the first book in her SBC Fighters series) and Simon, whose story is Simon Says, the second book in that series, are going to back Armie every step of the way in fighting that long-ago mess. Which turns out to be a bogus rape charge that everyone, including the cops, knew was a lie, but that was backed by a lot of threats from the liar’s rich and powerful daddy.

The interlinking series are lots of fun. And clearly a continuing theme.

So the story here is Armie finally letting Rissy into his heart and into his life. The danger turns out not to be from that old rape accusation, but from something much more recent, and all, unexpectedly, on Rissy’s side of the table.

The question is whether Armie can get out of his own way to protect Rissy from the slimeball in her own past, and whether Rissy can forgive him from being a self-sacrificing idiot before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: As you can probably tell from the above comments, I generally enjoy Foster’s series. Even though I don’t have reviews for all of them, I have read all of the series listed in the above text, and several others. She’s a go-to contemporary romance author for me.

At the same time, because I like her stuff, I also have quibbles. One of themes that runs through the Ultimate series is that the heroines always end up in jeopardy and the fighters rescue them, with or without their participation or consent. Also, with or without those heroines willingness to admit that they need protection. I don’t mind the rescuing, it’s the lack of participation and/or consent on the part of the heroines.

Rissy’s situation was kind of in the middle of that spectrum. Her spidey-senses are tingling, so she’s aware that there is trouble, but the bad guy starts out fairly subtle, and he isn’t an expected bad guy. In fact, his evil came from pretty far out in left field for this reader. His motives didn’t quite seem plausible, even though his evil was obvious to the reader early on, but only because we saw scenes that Rissy didn’t.

This reader, and I suspect many others, was incredibly glad to see that Armie and Rissy got their story before the series wrapped. This one has been brewing for a long time, so it was great to see it resolve before the story moves to the next series.

As a personal comment, I will say that once the reader discovers the whole of Armie’s backstory, his reluctance to be in the spotlight or enter into a relationship make sense. However, I wish that the cause had not been a fake rape charge. There are too many tropes in the media about how many women pretend to be raped for whatever reason, when in fact the numbers are minuscule. I wish this had been something else, because that’s a beast I don’t want to see fed in any form.

I liked both Armie and Rissy a lot. We’ve seen their characters throughout the series, and it was good to see them finally get a happy ending with each other. Armie’s outrageousness is a ton of fun, and Rissy does a great job walking a fine line between being independent and letting her brother look after her a bit because he needs it, not because she does.

All in all, a good wrap to a fun series. I can’t wait to see Leese’s story in Under Pressure. He’s turned out to be a great guy after a rocky start, and deserves his own happily-ever-after.

Cover Spotlight: No Limits by Lori Foster

Want to know what goes into making a sexy, MMA-themed cover? Read on to find out more about the cover art for Lori Foster’s No Limits, the first book in the Ultimate series, as well as the book itself.

lori foster ultimate covers

Here’s what Art Director Kathleen Oudit had to say:

“Illustrations for Lori Foster books are always focused on a dramatically lit, strong male physique/character. For the entire “Ultimate” series we will depict men with fighter’s physiques, and subtle cues from the MMA environment such as hand wraps, simple gym clothing etc. But, we will always use these props “lightly” and we have deliberately kept the background non-recognizable–we are subtly directing the viewers emotion to the hero’s character and romantic journey–rather than his “matches”. It is important to skirt this line carefully or we risk making Lori’s covers look like a men’s health magazine!”

Lori FosterAbout the author: Since first publishing in January 1996, Lori Foster has become a USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times bestselling author. Lori has published through a variety of houses, including Kensington, St. Martin’s, Harlequin, Silhouette, Samhain, and Berkley/Jove. She is currently published with HQN. Visit her online at LoriFoster.com.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Lori is giving away the entire Ultimate series to one lucky entrant!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Tough Love by Lori Foster

Review: Tough Love by Lori FosterTough Love (Ultimate, #3) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, sports romance
Series: Ultimate #3
Pages: 544
Published by HQN Books on August 25th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She's playing hard to get… to win the MMA fighter of her ultimate fantasies in a sultry new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster…
Vanity Baker loves a good, clean match, but she's not above playing a little dirty. She's wanted Stack "The Wolf" Hannigan from day one. Seems as though the best way to corral the famously commitment-phobic fighter is to insist on keeping it casual. And her plan works—deliciously well—until Stack's past steps out of the shadows.
Stack learned early to stay free of attachments. But with sexy, forthright Vanity, he's the one always left wanting more. Then his troublemaking family comes back into the picture, threatening everything Stack cares about—Vanity included. Suddenly he realizes they're much more than friends with benefits. He's ready to go to the mat for her…but will it be in time to protect the woman who's tamed him for good?

My Review:

holding strong by lori fosterFor this reader, Tough Love wasn’t nearly as tough to love as the previous book in this series, Holding Strong (reviewed here).

While Tough Love did have a bit too much of a feel of heroine Vanity manipulating Stack according to “The Rules” for catching a mate, Vanity never loses her agency in this story. Not that there aren’t bad people trying to do terrible things to both Vanity and Stack, but when evil closes in, Vanity rescues herself. And she helps tie up all the loose ends for Stack and the police.

Vanity is no princess, in spite of her wealth. Vanity rolls up her sleeves literally as well as figuratively, and takes care of business. Including her business with Stack.

At the end of Holding Strong, Vanity makes the notorious Stack a proposition. She needs a date for her best friend Yvette’s wedding to Cannon (see No Limits, reviewed here, for the deets on that relationship). Vanity asks Stack to be her date to the wedding, promising him the no strings attached sex that he would normally get from one or more of the ladies attending the wedding.

no limits by lori fosterVanity is very clear that she really does mean no strings attached, to the point where she tells Stack that all she wants out of this is a guaranteed date to the wedding, and that she doesn’t care what he does with whom in the intervening weeks.

Stack is completely hooked. Not just because Vanity is drop dead gorgeous, but because he can’t get over her forthrightness about what they both want.

What Stack doesn’t know is that Vanity is not being forthright at all. Not that she isn’t interested in sex with him, far from it. But what she really wants is to get him so wound up that he’ll stick around for more. Vanity has been fascinated with Stack since the first time she met him, and she thinks that the way she has him set up, she’ll at least get the night of her life. And she might get a whole lot more.

The wedding goes off without a hitch. Well, actually with the hitch it’s supposed to have, but no more. However, Vanity and Stack’s night together is just filled with hitches and glitches, from the woman they rescue out of a burning car wreck to Stack’s overly melodramatic sister Tabitha calling to tell Stack that their mother is in the hospital.

Even as Stack takes Tabby’s over-emoting with a whole shaker of salt, he still rushes to the hospital to check on his mom. Vanity invites herself along for the ride, and orphaned Vanity finds herself quickly adopted into Stack’s family, whether he wanted to bring a woman home to mom or not.

One fly in this ointment – his lying, cheating, stealing, using, dope-dealing brother-in-law, f’ing Phil. Phil sees Stack’s new girlfriend as just another sucker, and immediately starts trying to maneuver Vanity into buying his sob story, giving him money, and just maybe slouching his way into the bed of another woman that Stack cares for.

That’s where the suspense element kicks in. Phil is scum. He’s also a drug dealer. He uses his own product, and everyone within his orbit. And someone else plans to use him to find her way back into Stack’s good graces, by any means necessary.

Escape Rating B: Tough Love was way, way more fun for me than Holding Strong. It is all about tough love, in multiple directions. While Stack needs a tough, strong woman to love him, the real person who needs some tough love in this story is his sister Tabby. Their mom has always picked up after Tabby’s messes, enabling her to stay in denial about just what a low-life Phil really is. Tabby is in her mid-20s at least, and it’s past time for her to woman up and kick Phil to the curb. Her mom has to stop bailing her out as she often literally bails Phil out.

Tabby’s friendship with Vanity gives her just enough moral support, along with her absolute revulsion of the prospect of Phil helping to (read that as neglecting to) raise the baby she is carrying, to get Tabby to see Phil and her life with him for what it really is.

Vanity is a contradiction. She is so used to being completely on her own, that she takes care of business without a single thought that someone else should do it. When the danger quotient starts ratcheting up, Vanity makes sure to get professionals involved to keep herself safe. She’s very clear that she wants Stack in her life, but she doesn’t need him to take care of her. She’s got that covered, thank you very much.

But at the same time, her manipulation of Stack does come back to bite her, which readers expect from the very beginning. No one likes to find out that they are being manipulated, and Stack has already been through that particular scenario. As soon as he finds out that Vanity has kept some salient facts from him, his mind is off to the races that she’s evil and betrayed him at every turn. I don’t think he eats nearly enough crow on this score.

My overall feeling, however, was to stand up and cheer when Vanity took care of the evildoers pretty much by herself. That was awesome.

Review: Holding Strong by Lori Foster

Review: Holding Strong by Lori FosterHolding Strong (Ultimate, #2) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, sports romance
Series: Ultimate #2
Pages: 475
Published by HQN Books on March 31st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Heavyweight fighter Denver Lewis plays real nice, but he doesn't share. That's why he's been avoiding top-notch flirt Cherry Peyton. But a man can only resist those lush curves for so long. Their encounter surpasses all his fantasies, bringing out protective urges that Cherry's about to need more than she knows…
Denver's combination of pure muscle and unexpected tenderness has been driving Cherry wild. Yet no sooner does she get what she's been craving than old troubles show up on her doorstep. And this time, Cherry can't hide behind a carefree facade. Because the man by her side is one who'll fight like hell to keep her safe…if only she'll trust him enough to let him…

My Review:

I really enjoyed the very rambunctious “family” atmosphere of the rec center, and I love the personalities of all the guys who train there, but the romantic relationships that develop in this series, at least so far, feel just a bit off.

Let me explain…

The guys in this series are all very alpha. They are MMA fighters and are very protective of anyone in their orbits who is weaker than they are, which, let’s face it, is just about everyone. That the guys all keep a special look out for Cannon’s sister Merissa and her roommate Cherry is kind of a endearing in a way. The Ohio town they live in is not just small, but definitely kind of rough around the edges.

no limits by lori fosterBut, just as happened in No Limits (reviewed here) when Denver finally admits that he’s fallen for Cherry, some aspects of both the alpha male protectiveness and Cherry’s capitulation to it go a bit too far. Far enough to make this reader more than a bit uncomfortable.

Denver and Cherry have been circling around each other since the day they met. But their baggage gets in the way. Cherry is very friendly to all the guys, and Denver sees her friendliness as flirtatiousness. Which he doesn’t see her take to the point of taking anyone home with her. But Cherry’s party-girl vibe reminds Denver of a woman in his own past, and he keeps away from Cherry because he’s so possessive he has problems seeing her talk with another man.

Cherry is just being friendly, because she was isolated as a teen. And I feel myself cringe as I justify her behavior, because it doesn’t require justification. She is an unattached adult, and who she flirts with, is friends with, or sleeps with is no one’s business but her own.

But she wants Denver, so when circumstances finally conspire to give them a chance to work out why Denver is avoiding Cherry, she propositions him, and he gives in.

And that feels like the last time that Cherry has any agency in this story.

Because Cherry gets sick after their blistering hot night together. There’s a flu bug going around, and it catches her. She and Denver, and the rest of the gang, were out of town watching one of the guys fight, so she’s away from her support network. Denver steps in to take care of her, and never steps back.

But he takes care of her over her wishes. Because she is sick and feverish, she is admittedly not quite in the best position to make good decisions, but it sets the pattern for the story. When even worse stuff happens with her evil, manipulative and absolutely stalkerish foster brothers, Charity also makes bad decisions – and again, Denver ignores her wishes and gets involved anyway, pushing her to the point where she gives over all decision-making to him.

And the problem set up by the story is that her foster brothers are way nastier than she can handle, and she ends up looking stupid for not giving over to Denver from the beginning. These men terrorized her as a teen, and are physically much stronger than she is. As well as the simple fact that the three of them are working together to further their evil ends, where Cherry has always been alone. They are too much for her to handle by herself, but instead of being part of the planning and decision-making in regards to what to do about them, she just turns it all over to Denver.

Escape Rating C: I have to downgrade this rating because Cherry’s continual loss of agency throughout the story makes me so angry. She’s set up to look stupid because she wants to handle the situation herself, and then gives up any control over her life.

And every time she even talks with another man, Denver gets possessively jealous and starts going through her purse and looking through the calls log on her phone. It would be all too easy to flip this story and have Cherry need to be rescued from an obsessive would-be boyfriend, and make that work.

tough love by lori fosterI’m also uncomfortable because, looking back at the story in No Limits, it seems as if Yvette’s story parallels Cherry. She’s being stalked by someone evil and more powerful than she is, and she gives complete control to Cannon instead of being a part of her own rescue. And again, she needs Cannon’s help and it looks stupid that she doesn’t grab for it at the beginning. This is not a pattern I enjoy and one that I hope does not continue in the next book in the series, Tough Love.