The morning after the New Year’s Eve before...Waking up to a new year with a killer hangover and hazy memories of a seriously hot hook-up the night before leaves Portia in an awkward situation... Did I, or didn’t I? The only way she’s going to find out is by standing up to the guy in question.
With no regrets, Justin is willing to play the gentleman and save Portia her embarrassment. Only then he gets a text saying, come over… and he’s not gonna lie – this is friends with a lot of benefits! But no matter how good the sex is, there’s one thing Justin’s not down with: being this shallow rich girl’s dirty little secret...
The New Adult genre has quickly taken over the bookshelves and it takes talented craftsmanship to set your book apart from the crowded field, but Ms. Lark has done that with this story of opposite's attracting in a world where kids have to grow up too fast. Readers get to watch a sweet yet sensual romance evolve between the two seemingly different main characters along with a subtle commentary on inner-city violence to keep us compelled from start to finish.
Justin had a difficult childhood where he had to grow up quickly as his father was an abusive alcoholic involved in gangs. After years of abuse he's now out of the picture and Justin's determined to keep his brothers out of that life by taking on a more fatherly role. With his mother struggling to make ends meet and equally determined to keep these boys safe their family has become extremely tight-knit which endeared Justin to me as they all looked out for one another. With so much seriousness in his life, and with everyone relying on him, it's no wonder Justin let loose at his boss' New Year's party with the usually quiet and controlled Portia. This one night of naughtiness changes both of their lives forever as these two opposites make a perfect match with a few bumps and bruises along the way as reality intrudes to try and pull them apart. Justin is the epitome of hero as he looks after his younger brothers both physically and emotionally. His interactions with them are sweet and occasionally tension-filled as gangs are always close by. He takes his role seriously and when things go awry it weighs heavily on him. He's honest and forth right and being with Portia gives him a support system that he's longed for. Just as he cares for his brothers he cares for her too, acting the gentleman in public and the tender and strong lover at home. He's proud to be with her though he doesn't quite understand what she sees in him which causes some issues in their relationship early on which are addressed in a believable way. As they grow closer he becomes an integral part of her life, becoming the family she always wanted.
It may look like Portia has the perfect life but it's all a facade as she's desperately lonely and struggling to make it on her own as she recently walked away from everything she thought she knew about her posh world. Portia's parents have set her aside almost her entire life and she tried to live how they wanted her to to make them acknowledge her but to no avail. Tired of living a lie she turned her back on HEA and her parent's wealth, choosing to forge her own path. At work she appears cold and better than others, but a drunken New Year's party brings out a more realistic side to her that has her getting closer to Justin and embracing her caring side just when he and his family need help most. Portia IS a snob at first but quickly realizes her faults and makes amends as she doesn't want to lose the happiness and acceptance she found with Justin. She becomes a much better person by opening her heart to him, though it's a struggle and at times fear has her making a poor decision. Ultimately though their newfound connection becomes their lifeline to happiness as they are only complete in each other's company.
I found this a compelling story from the first page to the last. I enjoyed the realism of the characters as the issues they dealt with were believably portrayed. The romance between Portia and Justin started off sweet and quickly morphed into something hotter and more profound. The secondary characters (especially Justin's family) kept me further immersed in the overall story and their ending in particular kept me on the edge of my seat. While the answer to his family's problems were too pat I still got caught up in the journey and this story that often put a smile on my face as the dialogue was delightful. As the second book in the Starting Out series it's not necessary to have read the first installment to enjoy this one as Ms. Lark has crafted an engaging story that left no doubt as to HEAs!
My rating for this is an A-
*I received this book from the author for review in exchange for my honest opinion.