Kele Moon won my trust months ago after I read her first book in the Battered Hearts series, Defying the Odds. This is actually unusual for me since one book does not a trusted author make, but there was something about her deft characterization and perfect plot pacing that made me feel I was in the hands of a romance novel master.
It’s because I was.
This point has only been proven again, with Star Crossed, the fabulous follow-up to Defying the Odds, and when I tell you that I was waiting with bated breath for this romance, I’m not exaggerating.
I love being immersed in the small southern town of Garnet, which specializes in producing UFC fighters and people who are in each other’s business in a big way. In the first book, Defying the Odds, we met Clay, a UFC champion who was becoming less enamored of his sport and more interested in the lovely new waitress of the local diner, Melody. In the course of their incredibly hot relationship (“watch that plate or you’ll burn yourself” should be the warning on that book), Clay trains with the help of his two best friends, Wyatt and Jules Conner, for a championship match against contender Romeo Wellings. In the aftermath of the fight, Melody’s psycho abusive ex-husband finds her and attempts to kill her, with Romeo and Clay saving the day.
In gratitude, Clay offers to help Romeo train since he plans on retiring after a final promotional tour, and it is this construct which sets the foundation for our newest book in the series. Romeo Wellings is one of three illegitmate sons of a loving Italian mother. Growing up on the tough streets of New York and with ties to the mafia, he learned how to fight the practical way before training with a local martial arts school. He’s used his immense skill at fighting to support his two younger brothers but there is a lot missing from his life. One look at the tall blond drink of water which is Jules Conner, Clay and Melody’s grateful friend, and Romeo finds he has a powerful thirst only she can quench.
Jules realizes that while she’s thought of Romeo as the enemy forever, his designer clad form and good heart has her recognizing that her sex dry spell has lasted wayyyyyy too long. Taking him out to a thank you dinner has them both viewing each other through a shimmering heat wave and getting a hotel room. And let me tell you, it’s a wonder that the hotel fire alarm doesn’t go off, the chemistry is that combustible between them.
But Jules has to go home to Garnet to her legal practice and Romeo needs to head home and then go on the promotional tour with Clay. Saying that it was a one time thing is all well and good, but the reality is that their connection goes deeper than just a one-night stand, and they find themselves texting and calling each other all the time. While the sexual attraction is there in spades (phone sex and webcams are beautifully utilized here, something I didn’t think I’d write ever), without either Romeo or Jules paying attention, the two of them are in a relationship with each other, one built on common interests and actual friendship.
This is where Kele Moon continued her maestro-esque writing. While I am usually a content reader, happy to indulge a love at first sight trope (even outside of paranormal romance), it’s rare I like a book that has a normal timeframe for two people getting to know each other. This is probably because it either goes wayyyyy too slow for me, with little emotional intimacy taking place and I get the physical aspect of the relationship either delayed (which frustrates me) or an initial encounter is not given the emotional importance I think it deserves. Kele has managed to give me the sensual heat early on, and actually (miraculously) continues it in the exchanges between Romeo and Jules, showing their continued attraction while simultaneously demonstrating their mental and emotional closeness. Oh. My. God. It makes for one incredibly sweet, hot romance.
There is plenty of conflict here, much of it seeming insurmountable. Jules’ twin brother and best friend, Wyatt, hates Romeo with a passion and is not thrilled that Clay is training him. He becomes less enthusiastic when he discovers that Romeo has a record – as a sheriff, Wyatt doesn’t have a lot of patience for people operating outside the law. As a result, Jules’ feels she has to keep her relationship with Romeo under wraps, which makes Romeo feel like her dirty secret and allows them both to delude themselves that this is more about hooking up and less about an actual relationship. Romeo feels that his ties to the mafia and need to free his brothers from its influence has painted a target on his back and he doesn’t want Jules caught in the crossfire.
Let’s talk about the male character’s for a minute. I really appreciate that the men are not man whores. I’m getting tired in this day and age of historical romances and contemporary ones featuring playboys who have cut through a chunk of the female population and the heroine must deal with ex-lovers right and left. While Romeo (and Clay before him) admit to occasionally having slept with the groupies who follow them on the circuit, you don’t get the impression that these two disciplined fighters have succumbed to utter debauchery and it’s confirmed that they haven’t had sex in a while when they meet up with their destined heroine. It’s downright refreshing.
Another feature of this series from Kele Moon is that, in her couples, one member of the pair comes from an extremely tough background and has risen above their circumstances. In Defying the Odds, Clay has a terrible childhood and was actually taken in by the Conner family and raised alongside them, and we discover in Star Crossed that Romeo not only has had a rough time when he was young, but things aren’t that great for him now either as he deals with mafia pressures. Both these heroes must use the love they’ve found as fuel for the final push to break from their past and find a new future.
Perhaps most impressive with Kele Moon’s writing is that every character feels fleshed out. This could backfire on her – I think I’m going to be heartbroken if she doesn’t devote books to Romeo’s brothers Nova and Tino and continue the storyline of the hot, young UFC fighter who lives above Jules’ law office. Obviously, Jules’ often frustrating but always loving brother, Wyatt, is next in line for his own book, with the arrival of Tabitha, the girlfriend he has never gotten over, back in town.
I’m chomping at the bit for Wyatt and Tabitha’s story, not only to explore them as characters, but to see further evidence of the couples I already love and admire. I’m going to have to content myself with the fact that I now I have two novels in the series to reread periodically while I patiently wait for her next masterpiece. Thanks, Kele!!!