Watching the love of his life fall for his brother was enough to send Riley straight to boot camp. But over a year later, he’s officially a marine, and Beau and Paige are no longer an item. When Riley’s tour in Afghanistan is up, he intends to confess his feelings to Paige and win his best friend’s heart once and for all.
But all that changes when an IED takes the life of a comrade and leaves Riley an amputee. Now he’s heading home, injured and troubled. His plans to win Paige are a distant dream. She deserves so much more than the man that’s left. All he can do now is put some healthy distance between them. But upon his return he discovers his family has arranged for him to stay with Paige.
Paige is a nurturer at heart and happy to take care of her best buddy. By all appearances Riley is adjusting miraculously well to his disability. But as the days pass, Paige begins to see that the smiles and laughter are just a mask for the pain he’s hiding. To make matters worse, her job is in serious jeopardy. The animal shelter that she’s poured her heart into has lost its funding, and she has three months to come up with the money needed to save it.
As the weeks wear on, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into uncharted territory. Why is she suddenly noticing his arm muscles and the way his lips curl at the corners? Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?
Dylan finally tore his eyes away from Paige long enough to notice him.
“Riley. Hey, dude. Heard you were back. Good to see you, man.”
Riley balanced on his crutches and shook Dylan’s hand, making his grasp good and firm. “Good to be back.”
Dylan winced slightly as he pulled away.
“Let me go grab a sweater,” Paige said. “I’ll be right back.”
She dashed up the stairs.
Dylan’s eyes followed her until she disappeared. Then he turned a congenial smile on Riley. The guy didn’t even see him as a threat. And why would he? Riley’s mood took a turn for the worse.
“So . . .” Dylan said after a long uncomfortable moment. “How’s it going? You know, the therapy and everything?”
“Peachy. Where are you taking her tonight?”
Surprise flickered in Dylan’s eyes, and his mouth worked a minute.
Okay, maybe he wasn’t being very friendly. But he was digging deep just to keep from wrapping his hands around the guy’s thick neck.
“Ah . . . thought we’d take the ferry over to Folly Shoals and hit the Seafood Shack. It’s the perfect weather for a boat ride.”
“She gets motion sick.”
The sparkle in his eyes dimmed. “Oh. Well, I guess we’ll stop for some Dramamine on the way.”
“And she’s allergic to shellfish.” Didn’t this guy know anything about her?
A tinge of pink moved into Dylan’s face as his eyes narrowed. “Well . . . they have a varied menu. I’m sure she can handle herself.”
“I’m sure she can.” Riley continued to eye the man. And you’d better treat her right, Sparky, or I’ll be the one handling you.
Dylan shifted. His cheeks were mottled pink. “Listen, is there a problem here?”
Riley stood stock-still despite the growing ache in his stump. “Nope. No problem.”
“‘Cause it seems like there’s a problem.”
“Long as you treat her right there’s no problem at all.”
“Well, Dad, you don’t have to worry about-”
“All right,” Paige called as she descended the steps. “I’m ready to go.”
Riley held eye contact with Dylan, drilling his message in deep.
When Paige neared the guys her eyes toggled back and forth between them. She gave a nervous laugh. “Everything okay here?”
Riley aimed one last look of warning at Dylan. “Wicked awesome.”
As Dylan ushered her toward the door, she tossed Riley a What was that? look.
He gave her a tight smile. “You kids have a good night, now.”
Well. Two weddings, a bachelor auction, a near death, and a bombshell from Aunt Trudy… There’s plenty going on in the conclusion to Denise Hunter’s Summer Harbor series! That being said, I did find myself getting a little frustrated with Riley at times…
If you’ve read the other books in this series, you already know Riley’s history. He’s loved Paige for years, and been her best friend for even longer, but at the beginning of the series, she’s happily dating Beau. Riley enlisted in the marines to escape his heartache, only to have Beau and Paige break up just before he left for boot camp, and he’s spent the last 15 months planning his reunion with Paige and how he will finally tell her his true feelings, only to have his vision for the future upended by an IED and a missing leg.
Paige Warren has no idea that Riley has been in love with her for years. The Callahan family has been her surrogate family, and Riley her best bud, for years. Riley even calls her ‘Warren’, just like any other mate. So when her feelings begin to change, she’s not about to tell him and make things awkward between them.
Denise has a strong writing style and her kisses are swoon-worthy, but there were other parts of this story that didn’t totally convince me. For starters, I was never really convinced that Riley and Paige were best friends. Had they spent a lot of time together? – Yes. But I didn’t feel the emotional connection that normally makes ‘friends to more’ romances so enjoyable for me.
I have also spent days mulling over whether I am judging Riley too harshly if I say that his attitude regarding Paige frustrated me. And if that doesn’t tell you how seriously I take my characters, I don’t know what will! I found it difficult to understand how he could have such a can-do attitude about his physical recovery (although, yes, he was also frustrated and antsy), and yet be so defeatist about the greatest desire of his heart: Paige. In fact, for as long as he has loved Paige, it seems his modus operandi has been to sit around and just wait for her feelings to change. Where’s that grit that got him through the marines? What happened to wooing a girl? Showing her your tender side? Being a little proactive about getting her to see you in a whole new light?
And then there were the times when it felt like Riley’s voice crossed the line between genuine struggle and pity party. At one point, it turned into full on martyr syndrome, and even though Riley’s decision brought some benefits (including a dramatic conclusion to the story), it’s one of those romance novel tropes that itches places I can’t reach to scratch.
So anyway, while I did enjoy this novel, it didn’t inspire that level of emotional engagement that would have made it a five star read.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 6 September 2016
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Author’s website: http://www.denisehunterbooks.com/