Alisha Rai’s Forbidden Hearts trilogy was a very angsty, heartfelt set of diverse romances that I really enjoyed and when this book was announced, there was no way I wouldn’t read it. And getting approved for this ARC made me all kind of giddy and I’m so happy that it was all I expected it to be and so much more.
Rhiannon is an extremely whip smart, successful entrepreneur who comes across as abrasive and cynical but she has good reasons to be so. Being a black woman has never been easy for her, right from being bullied in an elite private school because she was from a poor family to being in the highly misogynistic tech industry; so, she has learnt to be tough and never show emotion or vulnerability and that’s the way she can achieve success. Also having been in an emotionally abusive relationship before which adversely affected her professional life too, she has decided to not to ever hookup with anyone more than once and her immense trust issues prevent her from wanting to have any sort of relationship.
Samson is a retired NFL linebacker and the current spokesperson for Rhi’s competitor dating website. He is a sweet, softhearted guy who doesn’t have much experience in dating, because he spent most of his past 5 years taking care of his uncle with Alzheimer’s and ALS. He is also still struggling to deal with the grief over his uncle’s death and also the loss of his parents years before; all this grief leaving him feeling lost and unsure of his future.
I enjoyed the way their relationship developed. Once Rhi forgave Samson for ghosting her due to extenuating circumstances, it was evident that they had real chemistry and were quite comfortable being around each other. Obviously, Rhi’s trust issues and need to be in control ensure that she comes up with rules for their professional and personal interactions, but it was amazing to see Samson accept all of them as par for the course and not ask her for justification. Their relationship is mostly based on mutual respect and they really support each other in their decisions and career aspirations and it was truly wonderful to read. Rhi is actually slightly more judgmental and comes to instant conclusions without thinking through sometimes when she believes her trust has been broken, and that was my only point of contention with her. But it was also true to her character and it just took her a long time to open up and trust him and show her sensitive side. Samson is much more thoughtful and patient and willing to give her the time to work through her issues.
There are also some excellent side characters here and I loved how each of them played important roles in the plot. Katrina is Rhi’s most vocal supporter who doesn’t hesitate to point out flaws in her reasoning and encourages her to be more open to relationships. Lakshmi is her awesome badass assistant and I think Rhi and her made for this amazing workplace duo who can do anything they set their mind to. Samson’s aunt Belle is an eccentric woman but strong in her own ways and I loved her dramatic gestures as well as her sound instincts and advice. It was also nice to see Gabe again.
Alisha writes such smart and thoughtful romances, I’m in awe of her. This book is definitely less angsty than the Forbidden Hearts trilogy but it really suited my tastes. She completely subverts the concepts of an “alpha” male character or the “strong” female character, by giving us realistic reasons for the way they are who they are. We also get some very funny but interesting discussions on the traditional old fashioned dating websites vs the modern instant world of dating apps and hooking up, the ever changing lingo of the internet dating world and how these two ideas are not necessarily opposing. The author also gives a lot of depth to the story and characters – In case of Rhi, by showcasing the adverse effects of sexual harassment in the workplace and how employees get gaslighted by the powers that be when they dare to report and the importance of investigating such allegations seriously and believing the victims; In the case of Samson, we see his struggle to reconcile his love for football with the adverse longtime effects of concussions and CTE on players and their families and what he can do more to ensure that sufficient support is available and hopefully, ensure the safety of the players. All of these aspects make for a fun and sexy romance novel with a realistic portrayal of modern love and an important take on contemporary issues.
To wrap it up, I’ll only say that if you love reading romances with smart characters, you should check this out. Obviously if you are an Alisha Rai fan, you can’t miss this book. It’s sexy, it’s fun, it’s engaging and it’s full of empowering characters. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one a lot. And I can’t wait to see who the next book will be about … is it gonna be Katrina… I will definitely kill for the one about Lakshmi and Tina… !!!!
PS: Thank you to Avon, Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing me with this advance review copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.