In the world of contemporary romance, it’s easy to run out of fresh ideas. Which isn’t to say that talented authors don’t give an idea their own fresh perspective, but the conflict/setting/occupations etc. of the hero or heroine often ring with familiarity. After reading literally thousands of romance novels in the course of my life, I feel like I can definitely say, I’ve seen it all.
At first glance of the synopsis, this novel can engender a “Whaa?!” response. A formerly abused small-town waitress being matched up with a UFC Champion renowned for the relentless fighting he employs to channel the rage of his past does not seem like a match made in heaven. But it is.
Clay Powers has lived in the small town of Garnet all his life, the last twenty or so years devoted to becoming a Hall of Fame champion UFC fighter. He had a crappy childhood filled with foster homes and if it weren’t for his best friend since middle school, Sheriff Wyatt Conner, and Wyatt’s sister Jules, he’d be even more of a cranky bastard than he already is.
When the new waitress of Hal’s Diner, a sweet, blond beauty who looks like an angel, treats him to a piece of pie during a lonely Thanksgiving dinner, something cracks open inside. Clay has never had anyone do something nice for him expecting nothing in return (Wyatt and Jules are as hard-nosed as Clay) and the more he finds out about the waitress, Melody Dylan, the more he wants to know her better. Much better.
But Wyatt warns him that Clay is the last person who should pursue Melody. She escaped an abusive husband by the skin of her teeth and is still hiding from him, working herself to exhaustion and learning to not live in fear all the time. What the sheriff doesn’t know is that Clay Powers is the best part of Melody’s day when he comes to the diner. In her gut, she knows that, despite his six and a half foot frame and plethora of muscles, she can trust Clay not to hurt her. The burn of desire she feels for him is a welcome change from her past and she wonders if she can take a gamble in getting to know him better.
Kele Moon gives us a strong sense of place with the small town of Garnet and the people who inhabit it. Garnet grows Marines and UFC fighters and while I feel comfortable with Marines, I’ll confess to not knowing the first thing about UFC. A little research revealed that this sport, begun in the 1990s, involves two fighters employing Mixed Martial Arts fighting, a style that consists of traditional boxing, a variety of martial arts and wrestling techniques. It is a full-throttle sport with a devoted fan base who appreciates the barely leashed violence of the men who make this fighting their career. Through Clay and Wyatt, the reader gets a strong sense of what draws people to love UFC.
While this is termed an erotic novel and Moon does an amazing job of building the sexual tension between our characters, I think that this is a book which would be a wonderful introduction to the erotic novel subgenre for someone a little tenuous about escalating the sensuality in their romance reading. There’s isn’t anything kinky or beyond what you would read in a traditional romance novel in terms of sexual content, just language that is a little franker than your average euphemisms, and the author keeps the emotional connection ratcheted so high, you’ll be doing a lot of sighing while drinking a cold drink and fanning yourself vociferously.
It’s been a long time since I fell for two protagonists with whom I had less in common, but Clay and Melody crawled right into my mind and took up permanent residence. I had to re-read the book a couple days after the first read just to prove to myself it was as good as I remembered (and it was!). Through both action and strong internal monologues, Kele Moon draws three-dimensional characters who walk off the page and into your heart as you root for them to find their much-deserved happily ever after. She is one hell of a writer! You can bet your boots that I’ll be buying her other books, which I’ve already added to my Goodreads “to-read” list.
And can we talk about the beautiful cover for a minute? Erotic novels often get the low budget book covers, sometimes demeaning their high quality contents (can someone PLEASE reissue better covers for Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight series?), but I’ve been elated recently with publishers like Entangled and, in the case of Defying the Odds, Loose Id. Finally, here are smaller presses who realize that well-produced book cover can not only inspire confidence in the author’s writing, but look so good as to not constantly remind the reader that the book is not from a big six publisher. Smaller presses who really “get” cover art are bound to find a strong readership, particularly when the people making the purchase realize that the writing quality and editing back up that beautiful first impression.
This book is first in Moon’s new Battered Hearts series, and I am looking forward to the next installment in the series (due out in 2012 according to her Goodreads page) which will star fiesty lawyer, Jules Conner and the UFC contender we met in Clay’s championship match, New Yorker Romeo Wellington. Wyatt Conner’s book was hinted at in the epilogue of Defying the Odds when he referred to a woman he cared about, Tabitha, who had experienced as a hard a life as Clay but left their small town due to feeling judged. I assume we’ll get the pleasure of her coming back at some point soon.
I would encourage anyone who loves great characters and an unusual pairing to put themselves in the capable hands of contemporary erotic romance author Kele Moon. This is one gamble where everyone is a winner.