I don’t usually read novels by the same author so close together because I start to see the style patterns more than the stories, but I enjoyed Rough & Tumble so much I wanted more time in that world. First, a correction: Just because Jace, the male lead in Rough & Tumble, rode a motorcycle, as do others in the Haven Brotherhood, this is not a biker gang as I supposed. It has a lot of the same markers, but is its own creation, or rather that of Jace and Axel. The common link between the brothers is more complicated than simply a love of motorcycles, and involves seeing to the heart of a potential brother to learn whether they are a product of their rough circumstances or capable of growing beyond that beginning if given the necessary support.
You might not have needed the above, but it cuts to the core of why these novels appeal to me so much. It’s about rising above harsh experiences, but the stories are specifically focused on success because of support and emotional nourishment rather than the lone hero. While the “lone wolf” concept has its appeal, I’m definitely more of a pack creature…as are wolves, oddly enough. There’s that and the almost Arthurian tale feel of might doesn’t mean right.
Anyway, Wild & Sweet is another great story with people who feel real, are facing serious challenges, and have a gut-level understanding of what it means to be a family. Like Jace and Viv, Zeke and Gabrielle have not had easy lives. Their pasts trained them to keep apart and avoid risks, and they’ve had little reason to fight that inclination.
Though Zeke has been a member of the brotherhood for years, in many ways, the pursuit of honor and justice–sometimes despite the law–has increased his wariness where outsiders are concerned. Add to that his hair-trigger temper along with an inability to tolerate any form of bullying, whether or not he’s the target, and close relationships outside of the Haven Brotherhood are not in the picture.
Gabrielle, or Gabe as she prefers to be called, is shy to a fault due to a combination of her mother, school bullying, and a social anxiety disorder. She’s a talented mechanic and a mother hen to those she lets into her circle, but the people she’s comfortable around are either family or largely senior citizens. Zeke–sexy, wealthy, and a doctor–could not possibly be interested in a grubby mechanic, or so she believes.
However, that Zeke is a doctor is key to how he helps her learn to manage her social anxiety, and for him, their differences are irrelevant. The first moment he saw Gabe, after she’s injured when foiling a robbery, he knows she grounds him in a way he never expected to find. Sure, it might be love at first sight, but neither of them is willing to recognize that pull easily, and their involvement is nothing but complications, the biggest being how the brotherhood has been assessing her brother Danny for acceptance. Zeke doesn’t want to mess with Danny’s chances, or anger the man he brought in for consideration, but he can’t stay away from Gabe. Then there’s her black and white view of things when the brotherhood doesn’t always toe the line.
There is serious character growth here, and some amazing life lessons, even delivered by minor characters like April (a perfect example of Gabe’s struggle to overcome her anxiety). The sex is explicit and detailed, and this one slipped just over the edge into risque territory, but their encounters are well written and caring in all the right ways.
Yes, the women in the series so far have been damsels in distress, trapped by financial or social troubles, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less capable or strong. It just means they end up in circumstances where a brotherhood of those with a wide range of talents is necessary to pull them clear. The women don’t sit back and let it happen, either. They are active participants in the process, sometimes much to the annoyance of their male counterparts in all of the best ways.
Wild & Sweet also shares the layered stories of the first, but the plots are so different, I had no difficulty reading the two so close together. In this book, there’s Zeke and Gabe’s maturing relationship, Gabe’s struggle with her social anxiety, and the story behind the break-in she interrupted, while Danny’s story, which began in Rough & Tumble as a minor side thread, is a powerful secondary tale intertwined with everything else going on. It also allows for a better understanding of the brotherhood itself, since Zeke provided a non-founder perspective.
If you are into stories that demonstrate the bonds between people–family, friends, and loves–this series is a powerful example while offering sometimes harrowing, but always personal, stories. Rhenna Morgan has won me over without a doubt.
P.S. I received this novel from the publisher in return for an honest review.