Review: Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey

Review: Heat Exchange by Shannon StaceyHeat Exchange (Boston Fire, #1) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #1
Pages: 336
Published by Carina Press on August 25th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Lydia Kincaid's shipping back to Boston, but she's not happy about it. She left to get away from the firefighting community—her father was a firefighter, her brother's a firefighter and, more important, her ex is a firefighter. But family is number one, and her father needs her help running the pub he bought when he retired. Soon, Lydia finds it hard to resist the familiar comfort and routine, and even harder to resist her brother's handsome friend Aidan.

Aidan Hunt is a firefighter because of the Kincaid family. He's had the hots for Lydia for years, but if ever a woman was off-limits to him, it's her. Aside from being his mentor's daughter, she's his best friend's sister. The ex-wife of a fellow firefighter. But his plan to play it cool until she leaves town again fails, and soon he and Lydia have crossed a line they can't uncross.

As Aidan and Lydia's flirtation turns into something more serious, Lydia knows she should be planning her escape. Being a firefighter's wife was the hardest thing she's ever done, and she doesn't know if she has the strength to do it again. Aidan can't imagine walking away from Boston Fire—even for Lydia. The job and the brotherhood are his life; but if he wants Lydia in it, he'll have to decide who's first in his heart.

My Review:

I plucked this out of the towering TBR pile because I’m reviewing the fourth book in this series, Hot Response, for a tour next month. While I don’t have time to read the middle books before my tour date, I did want to take the opportunity to see where it all began.

The series features the firefighters in one particular Boston Fire company, as well as some of the regulars at the bar that most of them use as a second home. That the bar is owned by a retired member of their company probably has a lot to do with that.

Lydia Kincaid has kind of run away from home, and from that home-away-from-home known as Kincaid’s Bar. Between the bar and the firehouse, it’s a very close-knit community, and Lydia was tired of everyone knowing her business – especially since that business includes a divorce from a firefighter. Not to mention that Tommy Kincaid, the owner of the bar, is her father. His expectation that both Lydia and her sister Ashley would work at his bar and nowhere else is just the beginning of his attitudes.

He still seems pissed that Lydia divorced her lying, cheating ex-husband instead of giving him yet one more chance. Dear old dad is a bit locked into 1950s.

But that tendency of the bar regulars to know and be up in the Kincaid’s business is currently more than her sister Ashley can handle. Ashley and her firefighter husband Danny are separated, and she can’t cope with every single bar patron commenting on her life and her choices.

Sister to the rescue! Lydia comes home and takes Ashley’s place behind the bar, as well as her guest bedroom. It’s all supposed to be temporary, until Ashley and Danny either figure out how to fix what’s gone wrong, or figure out that it can’t be fixed. Then Lydia will run away again, as far from Boston as she can stand.

Lydia’s plans are derailed when Aidan Hunt happens to them. She’s known Aidan forever – he’s her younger brother Scotty’s best friend. And he’s Scotty’s partner in the fire company, which means that he should be off limits to her. From the perspective of the story, it’s much more that she should be off limits to him. Both as his best friend’s sister and because any relationship drama will ruin the cohesiveness of a fire team that has to have each other’s backs every moment.

But their chemistry can’t be denied. And instead of fighting it, they give in, both believing that the whole thing is only temporary, and that nothing good will happen if they tell either her brother or her father that they are seeing each other.

Of course, they’re only half right.

Escape Rating C+: I loved many of Shannon Stacey’s earlier books, including her Kowalskis series, and I really wanted to like Heat Response more than I did. Instead, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

The overall feeling I got from this story is that it is a “bros before hos” story, to put it bluntly. Lydia and Aidan are both single and completely unencumbered. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the two of them getting together, whether it’s just a hookup, a friends with benefits relationship, or something more.

But they both know that her brother Scotty and her father will be pissed that Aidan and Lydia are seeing each other, so they keep it secret. And, of course, when the lies are finally exposed it makes the situation exponentially worse. The problem for the story is that it feels as if all the tension created by their relationship and its secrecy is false. It feels unneccessary, especially as there are plenty of real sources of tension between Lydia and Aidan without adding a fake one.

Lydia left Boston because she found the close-knit atmosphere of the firehouse and the bar stifling. Her relationship with her father is contentious at best, and her previous marriage to a firefighter was disastrous. Her ex was a lying, cheating jerk who used his uniform and his job to find more opportunities to cheat and more ways to hide his cheating from Lydia. Her dad seems to have put his job and his brotherhood ahead of his family. Lydia is tired of playing second-fiddle to a fire company, and has no desire to get into any kind of relationship with any more firefighters than she already is between her dad, her brother, and her currently estranged brother-in-law.

Her vow to stay away from relationships with firefighters along with her frequently stated plan to leave Boston as soon as Ashley is back on her feet, provide enough reasons for Aidan to be wary of a relationship with her, because she’s clear from the beginning that she’s not planning to stick around.

That means that there were plenty of problems to provide conflict for their relationship without adding the lying and the eventual fighting between Aidan and Scotty. Or at least that’s my take on it.

I found the secondary romance between Ashley and Danny to be much more interesting, and wish we’d seen a lot more of it. They’re separated, not because either of them did anything wrong, but because Danny suppresses all of his emotional reactions. Ashley feels lonely all the time, because Danny just isn’t emotionally present. It is a big and very, very real problem, and it takes them most of the book to finally start talking with one another. I loved seeing them start working things out, and I wish I’d seen more of their story.