Jane recommended this book to me when I was looking for a contemporary category to read after a streak of lukewarm, unexciting historicals. On one hand, it was a great suggestion because holy cow did I enjoy it. It’s a book that evolves with so much humor and warmth, you smile while you read it. But on the other hand, whatever comes next has a lot to live up to.
Hailey has just moved home to her family’s beachfront bed and breakfast in San Diego after three failed engagements and a life built on escaping the same employment she’s just returned to: inn management. She and her sister Rachel had left the inn in the hands of a management company, and that company had screwed it up so badly, Rachel and Hailey had to use every piece of their available capital to make an attempt at saving it. The Sutherland, their family inn, was started by their grandparents, and while Hailey had at one time dreaded having to take on the stewardship of the bed and breakfast (and I can’t say as I blame her because that is a LOT of work right there), she and Rachel are throwing everything they have into saving it. They’re refinishing the rooms one by one, and coming up with new ideas for parties and evening gatherings for the locals.
The story opens with Hailey in a bookstore self help aisle looking at the titles and realizing she already owns most of the relationship titles – except for one. She grabs it, then on impulse stumbles into a deck of “Fate Delivery Cards,” playing cards with directions or dares that come from “fate.” The deck of cards comes in handy later at a bridal shower when Rachel and Hailey find themselves in need of one more game to keep the group happy. Hailey draws a card that reads, “Kiss the First Guy You See,” and wouldn’t you know it, the Navy SEALs are doing a training exercise on the beach, and lucky for Hailey, there’s a guy right there.
Nate is an injured SEAL who is training other SEALs while recovering from a horrible leg injury. He cannot wait to get back into active duty, but he also knows he has to recover and do so completely, or else he’s a liability to his team in the field. He doesn’t love being a teacher, but he knows what is expected of future SEALs and of himself, so he does his absolute best.
When one of his students gets knocked unconscious during the training exercise off the coast, he brings the man in for first aid and, surprise, a woman he doesn’t know runs up to him. After his student regains consciousness, shakes it off and gets back into the water, the woman gives him an absolutely sizzling kiss, while her friends cheer on the beach. Not the kind of enemy engagement he’d experienced – but not bad either.
The introduction of Hailey, the introduction of Nate, and the introduction of their attraction – which is immediate and sizzling – is so smooth and well done, after the first two chapters I was craving more. The smooth manner in which she reveals a turbulent backstory for Hailey is marvelous. Monroe has a friendly, funny writing style, and she balances the elements of the story with a very smart, deft touch. The seriousness of Nate’s job and responsibilities is balanced with the seriousness and precarious state of Hailey and Rachel’s family business. Rachel and Hailey’s humor and loving bickering communicates how much they care about and support one another.
Hailey and Nate’s beginning is mirrored with the incipient marriage of Rachel and Hailey’s friend Amy, the guest of honor at the bridal shower in the beginning of the story. Amy has real issues with trust and sexuality, and Hailey finds herself helping Amy after the Fate Delivery Cards turn Amy’s pre-wedding jitters into a full on panic. The absurdity and silliness of the Fate Delivery Cards is equally met with the idea that sometimes, you do stumble into opportunity, and the sum of past experiences, even painful ones, are necessary to make you ready for truly life changing chances. In a very small space, Monroe has written a layered, clever story that’s fun and funny and touching and real. Did I mention funny? Here’s Nate and Hailey talking after he comes to see her following their scorching kiss on the beach:
“They may not want to admit it, but deep down, all women want romance.”
“Believe me, that’s so not true,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“That sounds a lot like a challenge.”
She held both hands up in surrender. “No, no challenge, it’s a lost cause. I hate flowers, don’t even think about stuffed animals, and never never mix me a CD of cheesy love songs.”
“I never think about stuffed animals.”
This story is very much about Hailey. She’s had three painful failed relationships and despite a mammoth bookshelf of self help titles, she hasn’t figured out the common denominator in those relationships, and is left with the conclusion that she has to change herself radically in order to be happy. Then Nate washes up on the beach and it turns out he likes her just the way she is. Hailey is insistent that she doesn’t do relationships, and Nate is fine with “Just for now” since he actively wants to be redeployed as soon as he’s ready for duty.
The underlying message in this story is clever: right now is what’s important, not “what if” and “what happened,” but right now. Nate not only likes her for who she is, but respects her wishes and tries from the outset to help her with her goals, to work with her. When Hailey and Rachel’s “Spot a SEAL” parties create a big distraction for the men in training, Nate doesn’t forbid her from doing it again – he offers to work with her to come up with a solution that satisfies them both. For someone who is used to doing all the fixing, having Rachel, and now Nate standing with her to solve their problems is a new and shocking experiences.
Unfortunately, I knew way more about Hailey than I did about Nate. There were glimpses of his backstory, of why he’s single, of why he hasn’t been one for long term relationships either, but because I didn’t see enough of him in depth as much as I did Hailey, he danced back and forth over the line of being a foil for Hailey’s issues, and a full character of his own. What sets Nate apart is that he is very smart, and, without being obvious about it, he employs his tactical and strategic planning skills to court Hailey. Nate is very subtle – he doesn’t pound his chest and announce to all and SEALy that he’s gonna score and bone that woman into the dunes. He puts a lot of thought into his actions, and the care and detail of his strategy is revealed in how he treats Hailey.
But because this is Hailey’s story, the conflict and resolution come from her – and I think she did a botched job of it in the end. But even with that misstep, Monroe has written a category I will delight in rereading. Details and tiny elements resurface with added significance, and everything that happens in the story is connected, either to an earlier scene or to a past event. Setting Hailey and Rachel in their family home and literally within their own heritage is a brilliant touch, because it underscores the idea that everything Hailey has done to bring her to this day was not a mistake, but an experience that makes her who she is, and when Nate appreciates her as much as I did, I liked him even more for it.
I could keep going and going with this review, because there is so much to discuss and savor. But I’ll stop now – go treat yourself. This book delivers a wonderful romance.