Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Harlot's Bay #1
Published by Avon on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Bestselling author Olivia Dade welcomes you to Harlot's Bay in this delightfully sexy rom-com about a woman who buys the town's famous Spite House, only to realize the infuriating man she can't stand lives right next door--and their unwilling proximity might spark something neither can ignore.
When Athena Greydon's fiancé ends their engagement, she has no choice but to move into the Spite House she recklessly bought him as a wedding gift. This is a problem, for several reasons: The house, originally built as a brick middle finger to the neighbors, is only ten feet wide. Her ex's home is attached to hers. And Dr. Matthew Vine the Freaking Third (aka the uptight, judgmental jerk who convinced his younger brother to leave her) is living on the other side, only a four-foot alley away.
If she has to see Matthew every time she looks out her windows, she might as well have some fun with the situation--by, say, playing erotic audiobooks at top volume with the windows open. A woman living in a Spite House is basically obligated to get petty payback however she can, right?
Unfortunately, loathing Matthew proves more difficult than anticipated. He helps her move. He listens. And he's kind of...hot? Dammit.
Today is Valentine’s Day, which means that today’s review absolutely had to be a romance.
So when At First Spite sashayed its way to the top of the virtually towering TBR pile, with a come-hither look and a sassy come-on, I didn’t even try to resist its siren song.
Welcome to Harlot’s Bay, Maryland, a place that really, truly, seriously – if laughably – leans into its salacious name – and history.
Athena Greydon thought she’d be moving in with her new husband, Dr. Johnny Vine, tanned, rested and refreshed after their picture-perfect, one month Hawaiian dream vacation, meticulously crafted and created by Athena herself and her innate desire to learn and experience ALL THE THINGS.
Instead, Johnny is off on that vacation alone, after he left her just about at the altar because his brother Matthew convinced him to dump her, while Athena is moving into Spite House, the tiny slice of house attached like a limpet to the side of Johnny’s row house in ‘downtown’ Harlot’s Bay. In the pouring rain, alone with a 10 foot-wide, four-story house that is now all she has left to her name.
It was supposed to have been a wedding present to her new husband, because he wanted to tear out the wall and expand his own house. Now it’s a refuge for Athena’s pride, sailing all alone on a sea of regret.
Athena needs help to get herself moved in, and the only person offering is the last person Athena wants to ever see again. Johnny’s older brother, Dr. Matthew Vine, the man with the stick up his ass and the endless number of reasons why Athena would make a terrible wife for Johnny.
And he’s absolutely right, as the story eventually proves, but not from the perspective through which Athena originally sees – or actually hears – the argument. It’s not so much that Athena would make a terrible wife for Johnny as it is that Johnny would make a terrible husband for Athena. Or honestly, that they are just so wrong for each other that Matthew can’t even articulate it – if only because he’s spent nearly all his life parenting his younger brother and can’t even let himself think that he doesn’t have enough spoons left to parent them both.
Even though it looks like that’s exactly what will happen if they make it to the altar. And Hawaii. And the not so happy ever after that would inevitably come after.
For all three of them. Because, as much as Athena and Johnny are wrong for each other, Athena is entirely too right for Matthew – and vice versa. Even if no one will ever forgive anyone if THAT scenario comes to pass. So, of course, Matthew can’t let that happen, either.
Until it does.
Escape Rating A-: It’s clear early in At First Spite that the narrow confines of Spite House aren’t nearly wide enough to handle ALL of the emotional baggage that Athena, Johnny, and Matthew have deposited there, in spite of Athena being the only person actually living within its walls.
Because they are all hot messes – but not the same kind of hot mess.
As often as the author’s trademark sassy humor and snarky banter trip the light fantastic across the pages of this romance, the story in At First Spite is absolutely NOT all fun and games. (If that’s what you’re looking for, I highly recommend Spoiler Alert and its sequels because WOW what a terrific ride that series is!) Which leads right back into the hot messes that the three – and yes, really, it’s all three of them and it is, sorta/kinda, just the type of romantic triangle that should have landed them all in a session with Dr. Phil – or even the late Jerry Springer.
The heart and the heartbreak of the story in At First Spite lives at the corner of parentification and depression, and it’s not a pretty place – but it certainly is a real one. Not that any of the characters are all that great at communicating what’s going on inside their heads.
I want to be glib and snarky here myself, and that is utterly the wrong mood to strike. This is serious stuff, and stuff that all of us at least brush against at some points in our lives – no matter how much we’re taught not to, well, talk about it.
Athena’s situation – and Matthew’s contributions thereto – cause her to finally hit an emotional bottom she’s been tap-dancing over the top of for most of her life. At the same time, Matthew’s reluctant acceptance that everything he’s said about Athena is way more about his relationship with his younger brother than it has anything directly to do with Athena herself is a struggle that he keeps losing – which is where the parentification part of the story comes in – and very nearly does them all in along with it.
While Johnny’s charmed life of charming everyone around him, getting mostly what he wants while knowing that Matthew will pick up the pieces has to come to an end – he has to figure that shit out for himself while Athena and Matthew are concentrating – as they should be – on each other.
So, on the one hand – possibly the hand with a whoopie-cushion in it – this first book in the Harlot’s Bay series (and YAY about THAT!) introduces us to this charming, quirky town and the equally charming and quirky people in it. Along with their seemingly endless love for broadcasting salacious audiobooks of monster porn from the literal rooftops.
And on the other, much more serious hand, there’s a beautiful story about two people helping each other stand on their own two feet, discover their own worth in their own selves and learn to stick to their own guns about it, and learn to grovel appropriately when necessary with the help of grand gestures that also involve – you guessed it – rooftop audiobook broadcasts of anatomically impossible monster porn.
Along with the beginning of the story of one irresponsible man-child finally manning up and getting out from under his brother’s overprotective shadow. The rest of which story will hopefully be told later in the series, but in the meantime the next book is titled Dearly Departed, a story which will somehow, both heartbreakingly and hilariously in equal measure, manage to lead to a happy ever after for the local supplier of all audiobooks monster porn. Because I can’t wait to find out the who, what, when, where and why of that whole, entire thing.