Once and Always by Julia Harper
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley
***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***
Summary (from Goodreads):
IS THERE A PROBLEM, OFFICER?
Small town cop Sam West certainly doesn't mind a routine traffic stop: speeding ticket, stern warning, and sayonara. With a whopper of a blizzard closing in, that's all he has time for. But the lawbreaker he pulls over is anything but typical. From her mile-long legs to her razor-sharp wit, Maisa Bradley is like nothing Coot Lake, Minnesota, has ever seen . . . and she's about to take Sam on the ride of his life.
BEING BAD HAS ITS BENEFITS
Whoever said blood is thicker than water probably wasn't related to a former Russian mobster. But an innocent mix-up and rumors of stolen diamonds soon have the Russian mob taking an unusual interest in the sleepy little town-and Maisa facing heated scrutiny from a certain tall, dark, and handsome deputy. Sam's dazzling blue eyes beg her to reveal all her secrets, but how much should she tell? Getting snowed in with the sexiest lawman in the frozen north may not be the worst way to decide . . .
What I Liked:
Gosh, I am soooo addicted to Elizabeth Hoyt's books. Julia Harper is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Hoyt - just clearing that up so I don't confuse anyone. This isn't Hoyt's first book written as Harper; you can find Harper's other books on Goodreads. It's been nearly six years since the publication of her last "Harper" book. I've read and enjoyed Hoyt's Maiden Lane series (which is historical romance), and when I saw this contemporary romance novel, I was immediately intrigued. Hoyt did not let me down at all!
Sam West and Maisa Burnsey are no strangers. One night half a year ago, they let their guards down and shared a single night together. Sam has been chasing Maisa for a year and a half, and he doesn't let her go that easily. When the pair gets entangled in some shady dealings and a Russian mobster, it could be the opportunity for the two of them to actually learn to trust each other - or get killed.
I'm not always the biggest fan of romances that involve a romantic history between the protagonists. Best friend history, totally fine, but romantic history, eh. I'm usually wary. However, I LOVED how Hoyt handles this romance structure. Maisa and Sam really don't know each other at all, since they only spent a night together. But both of them have wanted the other for a year and a half, despite not continuing what they had that night. I loved seeing them slowly get to know each other in this book, as well as build up trust.
Maisa is a likable heroine - she's grumpy and tough and protective of her heart. She annoyed me at times, but at the same time, I totally understand her. I can't say I'd be scowling all the time like she basically was, but I understand why she was the way she was. I'm just as prickly and protective, so I get that.
I really, really like Sam. He's actually such a decent person, with command and poise and selflessness hardwired into him. He was in the Army, on tour in Afghanistan, as a career, and now he's a cop in a small town. He's brooding on the interior, but sweet and kind and dependable on the exterior. Everyone loves him and depends on him, because he's easygoing and laid back, but underneath, he's a storm of anger and sadness, over what happened in Afghanistan. I loooove Sam. I loooove a man in uniform. He's definitely one of my favorite male protagonists from an adult contemporary romance novel.
The Russian-mob-craziness story is, in my opinion, more significant than the romance. The story revolves around stolen diamonds and a mix-up of suitcases and hostages. Trust me, there are plenty of romance and steamy scenes and whatnot, but there is also a very solid plot that has little to do with the romance. The romance had my heart stuttering, but the high-stakes story had me at the edge of my seat, at some points.
The romance is sooo steamy. The chemistry between Sam and Maisa sizzles, burns, and erupts. Hoyt masterfully creates a romance that does not involve insta-love or insta-lust. She also really knows how to write hot scenes, and makes them unique. Which is hard to do, in romance, in my opinion!
Not to mention that there is another romance subplot between two other characters - so adorable! Karl and Molly are great together; Karl is a bit silly and crazy, and Molly is very levelheaded and serious. They are a great match!
I really liked the setting - it's a snowy town in Minnesota. The setting is HUGE in this book, as snow is a limitation at several key points of the book. In bad ways, and in very, very good ways.
Overall, I LOVED this book. 100% would reread, recommend, buy, borrow, etc. I was already hooked on Hoyt's historical romance novels, but she has proven that she can handle contemporary romance just as well as historical romance.
What I Did Not Like:
More Sam and Maisa? Hehe I kid, I kid, this isn't a dislike.
Would I Recommend It:
YES! I loved this one! If you like adult contemporary romance, then definitely check out this book. Or Hoyt's historical romance novels. Basically anything by Elizabeth Hoyt/Julia Harper.
4 stars. 4.5 stars. Love love love. One of my favorite adult contemporary romance novels! I will certainly be looking out for more Hoyt/Harper contemporary books in the future!
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