By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
Ashley Bowman has always been impetuous, but even she is a little shocked when she chains herself to a palm tree in the Florida Keys hours before a hurricane is due to blow in. It’s all with the hope of saving her childhood home from a heartless Miami developer. But the moment she meets Roman Díaz she realizes he does have a heart—it’s just encased in ice. Ashley’s determined to get Roman to crack . . . even if she has to drag him all over the eastern seaboard to do it.
Roman can hardly believe he’s been talked into driving across the country with this brazen wild child in a skimpy bikini. He tells himself he had no choice—Ashley insists he meets the elderly snowbirds whose community will be displaced by his career-making development deal. But in truth he knows that there’s something about Ashley that makes him want to get a little wild himself . . . and the closer they get, the more tempted he becomes.
I love Ruthie Knox, but this is not her best work. There's waaaaaay too much going on in this plot: 1) Hero, Roman, wrestling with Daddy Issues with not one, not two, but three different father figures. 2) Heroine, Ashley, with her own Daddy Issues, roiling with grief over her grandmother's death and the impending destruction (at real estate developer Roman's hands) of her grandmother's run down resort in the Florida Keys, which Ashley had expected to inherit. 3) Roman's girlfriend, Carmen, an uptight Daddy's Girl whose soul is deeply encased in ice and attitude. 4) An absolute zoo of supporting characters, most of whom cluttered up the plot rather than contributing much to the story: Ashley's neglectful-yet-controlling Republican Senator Dad, Roman's judgmental and uber-rich Cuban immigrant real estate magnate mentor, the inhabitants of a hippie commune in Georgia (including a 300-lb alligator named Flossie), a cantankerous old codger from Pennsylvania coal country in love with a free-spirited artist from Wisconsin, a Rock God, his wife and baby and Nana-in-law (whom Ruthie Knox's readers will recognize from her Camelot series), and so many others I could barely keep track.
It took me a long time to warm up to both main characters: Roman because of his apparent greed and conspicuous consumerism (he drives a Cadillac Escalade, which he loves more than his fiancee), and because he was so emotionally-constipated I initially wondered he might be on the Autism spectrum, and Ashley because she seemed so flaky and childish. She's never held a job or maintained a relationship for more than a few months and she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. However, as the fight 'em or fuck 'em / slap-slap kiss-kiss dynamic evolved, I began to enjoy the developing romance: Roman and Ashley see each other differently and more honestly than others see them, and together they help each other be more authentic and just generally better people, which is one of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship.
However, I never warmed up to the chaotic plot. This is a quest story in which Ashley drives Roman across the country from Florida to Wisconsin, stopping along to way to meet and collect Ashley's grandmother's friends. The goal is that these people will help Ashley convince Roman that the ramshackle resort is too great to demolish to make way for a bigger, more modern resort, but like all of Ashley's plans, this one is vague, and as a plot device, it just feels busy, unfocused, and contrived. The road trip portion of this story reminded me of Ruthie Knox's debut novel, Ride With Me, in which the main characters are on a cross-country bike trip, but Ride With Me felt fresh and clever whereas this just felt scattered, literally, all over the map.
Among the chaos, there were scenes and subplots I really enjoyed, including Ashley and Roman's stay at the hippie commune, and the way Roman broke off his engagement to Carmen (and the infidelity aspect of this plot could have been really dicey, but miraculously wasn't) and the awkwardness, honesty, and maturity of the ex-lovers' relationship after the split. There was plenty of humor and plenty of heart-tugging emotion throughout the story, but my overall impression is that this could have been a much better book with a tighter plot.
*** I received a free ARC from NetGalley and Loveswept in exchange for my honest review.***