Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Ultimate #2
Published by HQN Books on March 31st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
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…
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.
But, 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.
I’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.