This is Book 2 in this author’s “True Believers” series. I liked the previous book, but I almost enjoyed this one a little more because of the two main characters in this story – Jessica Sweet and Riley Mann. The first book in this series was about Riley’s brother Tyler and Jessica’s friend Rory. The Mann brothers have had a hard time growing up. There was never much money around, and the only parent who was even remotely around was their negligent druggie mom. Now that she’s dead, Riley – the oldest brother – is fitted into the role of guardian to his younger brothers. He doesn’t have an easy road ahead of him. His worries include the very real possibility of losing the ramshackle family home, and making sure he stays the approved guardian for his brothers. Jessica comes from a different background and has different concerns but her family situation is just as dysfunctional. Her family is upper class and her father is something of a holy roller. Jessica feels nothing she does meets with their approval and their love is conditional. She lies to them about herself and what she’s doing to avoid being hassled. Her relationship with her brother is the polar opposite of the relationship the Mann brothers have with each other. The Mann brothers love each other and watch out for each other. Jessica’s brother constantly looks for ways to torment her, even going so far as to try and extort money from her. At the beginning of this story, Jessica tells her family that she is spending the summer in Appalachia building homes for the poor with a Christian mission group. What she will actually be doing is staying in Cincinnati and working at a steakhouse. She thought she had a place to stay until she takes over a sublet. Those plans fall through and she is scrambling at the last minute for a temporary place to crash. Tyler volunteers his place since he and his younger brothers will be vacationing with Rory’s family. Riley will be the only one in the house with Jess. I was anticipating a “buddy movie” romance based on how they reacted to each other in the previous book. What I got was so much more. They are not perfect people but perfect for each other and it was a joy to read about their romance. I was happily surprised that I ended up liking both Riley and Jessica more than I thought I would. At first glance, they might seem like they would have nothing in common. However, they bond over a relatively short period of time and discover they have more in common than they thought. At one point he tells her that her sarcasm is annoying, only to have her suggest that it reminds him of his own sarcasm skills. He admits that’s possible. They grow close as she shares her family problems and he shares his. She helps renovate his home to make it presentable for the social worker, and he goes to support her when she has to visit her family. Though they waited a little to be physically intimate, the many ways in which they were emotionally intimate made me smile. There were so many moments that stick out for me – when he scared off teenage thugs for her, them working side by side fixing the house, having talks at the picnic table, and the wonderfully romantic scene at the end. One of my favorite sections in the book is when Riley is trying to get Jessica to live dangerously and eat more pizza. I loved when he said:
“But just know that when you’re here, you can chow down on three slices of pizza if you want, and I’ll never think you’re anything less than gorgeous. Even if you chew with your mouth open”,and
“You’re hungry, own it. Round it out with a burp and I’ll think you’re basically the perfect woman.”My other favorite Riley quote comes when she’s talking about her parents’ expectations, and he says
“Jess, I’ve got no business judging anyone. But I can offer you some advice. Never ask someone to tell you who you are. You tell them."That was an awesome moment. Loved, loved this book and look forward to the next one in the series.