Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #5
Published by Hqn on October 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
In Happily Inc, love means never having to say “I do”…
Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing—a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake…and eat it, too.
After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up…until his flame becomes his muse.
Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love?
There’s a theory that dogs come into our lives because we need them, but cats come into our lives because they need us, can’t admit it, and the entire universe is rigged to do their bidding anyway. I digress, just a bit.
But this story begins with a dog. In fact, poor Koda is the first person who comes into Jasper Dembenski’s life because they are meant to be his. And helps Jasper to heal enough – or to acknowledge the progress he’s made in his own healing enough – to allow Jasper to let Renee Grothen into his heart – by way of his bed. Or hers.
Because they’re meant to be each other’s – even if it takes them both a while to figure that out.
After all, Jasper believes that the things he experienced during his military service, and the PTSD the service left him with, have left him too damaged to deal with any relationship more complicated than friends-with-benefits, with as much emphasis on the benefits and as little on the actual friendship as his partners in those “relationships” are willing to tolerate.
Renee is one of the wedding planners at Weddings Out of the Box, the themed wedding service venue owned and operated by Pallas Saunders Mitchell, the heroine of the series opener You Say it First (which, BTW was lovely and fun and charming and got me hooked on this series.)
When it comes to weddings, Renee believes that those who can, do. And those who can’t become wedding planners. Her love life has been fairly disastrous, and she’s not interested in trying again.
But a woman has needs. Needs that Jasper is more than willing to help her with. After all, men have needs too. In Jasper’s case, while he’s all in on the benefits of the friends with benefits relationship they enter into, Jasper also needs something else from Renee.
Jasper is the best selling author of a long-running detective series. And that particular series needs to wrap up. Both Jasper and his editor are sure that what his loner of a detective (art imitates life) needs is to fall in love and find his HEA – or at least some purpose to his life besides catching serial killers.
However, Jasper can’t figure out how to write a female character who is not either a serial killer herself or the victim of one. He needs to learn out how women think. So he turns to his friend Renee for help and advice.
Thus the confirmed bachelor ends up shadowing the wedding planner to discover what makes women tick by observing them as they plan their weddings. And Jasper and Renee end up spending a lot of time together, fully dressed, in scenarios where they have to talk with each other in complete sentences.
Not that they don’t still nearly screw everything up.
But with the help of nearly every person in Happily Inc, Jasper’s dog Koda, Renee’s cats Fred and Lucille – and Renee’s mother Verity who understands what ALL the animals in town are thinking – they finally manage not to mess up their own HEA.
Even if there are more than a few times when it feels like the entire situation is going to the dogs. Complete with pooper scooper.
Escape Rating B+: Koda does come into Jasper’s life because Jasper needs him. Don’t get me wrong, the dog gets PLENTY out of the arrangement, but Koda does an especially good job of helping Jasper. Meanwhile, Fred and Lucille come into Renee’s life because they need her to help them get back together.
And in spite of how many times Renee’s mother Verity’s gift for understanding what animals are thinking has caused Renee all kinds of grief, it’s Verity’s gift that allows Koda, Fred and Lucille to get their messages across.
Obviously I fell into this particular book for the pets, and they are an important part of this story. Also, the giant dog wedding is a hoot!
But as much fun as all of the animal interactions are, it’s the humans in this one who are involved in the romance. Even if that’s not what either of them thinks is happening at first. Especially if that’s not what either of them wants to happen, or thinks is even possible TO happen.
The romance of this one is watching Jasper and Renee take two steps forward and sometimes three steps back on their road to a real relationship. At the beginning they are both certain that they are too broken for love or marriage – but having a regular sex partner is terrific.
They become friends. Slowly and hesitatingly. And their friendship eventually manages to work because Renee calls Jasper on his shit and doesn’t back down until he both understands what he did wrong AND apologizes for it.
His laser focus on his work and his tunnel vision in pursuing his vision of it does get him into trouble. Watching him work his way out of that trouble is fascinating. At the same time, one of the things that really worked for me in their relationship is the way that Renee accepts his need to completely concentrate on the work when it’s flowing. She doesn’t expect him to change who he is. He just needs to learn to not step on anyone else in his drive to get the story “right”.
As much as I love the town of Happily Inc and this series, it was the portrayal of Renee that dropped the story from an A- to a B+. Let’s just say that I empathize with how hard Jasper found it to get inside her head because I had the same difficulty.
I liked so much about her, but her fear of a relationship didn’t feel quite right, at least not based on the examples of where her previous relationships went wrong. The action and reaction didn’t feel quite proportionate – but YMMV.
I did like the way their relationship built slowly, and by fits and starts. And I certainly loved seeing Jasper grovel when he needed to – and there were plenty of times when he needed to.
But for this reader the animals stole the show and happily trotted away with it!