James Motel and Levi Kadish get off on the wrong foot the moment they meet. James is chatting on the phone with a friend when he enters Levi’s bakery and says some rude things about their small town. James and his brothers have essentially been forced through their father’s will to live in Cherry Creek and take over running a local hotel and James is not handling it well. But his attitude immediately sets Levi off and the two of them become enemies on the spot. Yet they can’t avoid each other totally, as Levi is good friends with James’ brother, Cameron. Also, James has been asked to take the lead on arranging a deal between the hotel and the bakery, which means he must work with Levi on the contract.
The two men are at odds and are clear they hate one another. But one night of hate sex leads to another, and James and Levi find that something about their dynamic is working for both of them, even though they don’t really understand it. Levi’s harshness is a turn on for James and it makes both men hot. However, even as things begin to grow between them, after losing so many people in his life, Levi is wary of counting on James. But as time passes, the connection between the men seems real. Now James and Levi have to figure out if they can turn their hate-filled lust for one another into something lasting that could bring happiness to them both.
Heartless is the second book in Kate Hawthorne’s Room for Love series. The series focuses on the five Motel brothers and their journey in Cherry Creek running the hotel their father left them. The men all live together at the hotel (with the exception of one brother who didn’t take the deal with their father), so they appear in one another’s stories. The first two books also overlap in timeline. That said, I do think from a story perspective, this one stands alone just fine, so you can jump in here if you want.
I am a fan of enemies to lovers and this story definitely brings that on big time. James and Levi seem to truly hate each other, even once they start sleeping together. And that hate fuels their encounters, making things super intense between them. Part of their dynamic is that Levi talks down to James, what I’d call a humiliation kink. It works for them because James knows Levi doesn’t really mean the things he says, but it gets them both hot. Hawthorne does a great job showing that it works for these guys, even if at times they struggle to understand why. But the message is clear here that as long as it works for them and no one is harmed, it doesn’t really matter why they like it. (I’ll note there is a watersports scene here as well, so be aware if that isn’t your thing.) This story is sort of enemies to lovers on crack, given how intense the feelings are between the guys. I did wish for a bit more development between them so I could better see them make that transition from hatred to real caring, but I do think overall Hawthorne makes this theme work well.
The other conflict here is between Levi and his brother Simon. There are some deep-seated issues between the men, mostly dating back to their childhood and the loss of their parents, and then grandmother. There is a lot of resentment between them and it affects their relationship as adults. This mostly manifests in disagreements about the bakery. It was really Levi’s baby, but their grandmother left it to both of them. Levi does most of the work, but Simon has very clear ideas of how it should run, including keeping it kosher (meaning following Jewish dietary laws) and following their grandmother’s traditional recipes. Levi is not as religiously observant as Simon and he wants to move things in a more modern and secular direction, but Simon is resistant. I think this storyline gives us a chance to really get more insight into Levi, as well as to get a contrast between the Motel siblings versus Levi and Simon’s relationship. At times, I felt like Levi’s dismissal of Simon’s religious beliefs felt a bit disrespectful, as if it was unreasonable that Simon would want to keep the bakery and its hours and food in line with his religion. But I do think this was a nice side plot and a good way to get some more of a sense of the men.
One of the best aspects of this story for me is the way Hawthorne really develops these characters. She really delves into both Levi and James and I feel like I have such a good sense of both of them from this story. This isn’t the type of dynamic that we see often in romance, but Hawthorne really made me believe in these guys and root for their happiness.