Sharing a kiss is easy. Sharing lunch, a laugh, a look. But sharing your life? All your dirty screts, all your broken dreams, all your failures? Every hope and dream. What happens when you invite someone in close enough to not just hurt you, but destroy what’s left of you? Jamie has failed so many, many times. As a child of alcoholic parents, she raised her little brother, protecting him from their illness even as she covered for them, excused them, and enabled them. It cost her her marriage, and even now it’s costing her money, time, and self respect. Their addiction is wearing her down to the bone.
The one bright moment in Jamie’s life is Sierra, a young woman who comes in for tattoos, and she only sits in Jamie’s chair. Her bright laugh, her irrepressible smile, and the subtle flirtations charm Jamie even as they unsettle her. She’s too old, too bitter, and yet … Sierra keeps coming back. Keeps insinuating herself into Jamie’s thoughts until she isn’t able to say no. And soon Jamie is finding excuses to say yes.
Sierra might look like she’s a kitten, all smiles and sweetness, but she’s a young woman who knows damn well her own worth. As a social worker, Sierra sees people at their worst, at their most tired, at their frightened and angry and scared moments, and all she wants to do is help. To help the kids who will soon age out of the system, to help the ones still in it, and to help Jordan, another young girl who has seen too much of the shitty side of life.
A bright idea painted in bold colors. Friendship between co-workers, ex-lovers, parents, and children — and most importantly, finding out that the person who most needs your love is the one you look at in the mirror every morning.
I loved the first book in the Thorn & Thistle series, which you don’t need to read before you buy this one (but you should), and I think I love this one even more. Is there a score higher than 5? Sometimes a sequel isn’t as good as the first book in a series, but this one is better, in different way. While MJ and Cassie do show up, I mean, it is MJ’s shop after all, they don’t intrude on the story. (I kind of regret that a little since I really do love them, but this is Jamie and Sierra’s story, so I suppose they had to get top billing.)
Jamie is responsible. Mature. Determined to do the right thing, even if it costs her her own happiness. The one time she forgets to unlock the shop, she all but has a panick attack because it’s a failure on her part, a sign that she isn’t capable of handling everything on her own. She’s struggling to be a good parent to her teenage old daughter, who lives with her mother the majority of the time, even as she feels Riley pulling away. Jamie wants a relationship, not a fling, but being in a relationship means she has less attention to spare for the thousand and one details that she has chosen to put on her own shoulders. Jamie is brilliant at denying herself, choosing to climb up onto a cross of her own making because she thinks she deserves it for not being … what, perfect beyond perfection?
Sierra’s mother died when she as young and she was placed into foster care by a grandmother who didn’t want her. If it weren’t for her uncle (gay, and disowned by his own mother for it) coming to claim her, she might have been raised in the same system she now works so hard fix. Sierra knows she’s lucky, has found security in the unyeilding love of her uncle, and she wants to share that love with everyone else. She’s not blind and she knows that the reality is that she can’t save everyone, but sometimes making it better can be enough. Sometimes it’s all you can do.
Jamie sees in Sierra hope, optimism, and — in some ways — a saving grace. Because Sierra is a social worker, Jamie lets her see her mom and dad, drunk and indifferent, and a part of her wants Sierra to magically fix them, and is let down and hurt when she won’t. Because she can’t. She puts the idea of Sierra on a pedastal where it can’t be touched, and where it can’t touch back. For Sierra, Jamie is someone who will always know the way home when Sierra gets lost. She’s a rock, she’s strong and confident, and while she’s not looking at Jamie as a mother figure, she is relying on Jamie to have answers, to be proud of her, to be there for her.
Watching them dance around each other as Sierra and Jamie tried to excuse away what they want — both of them wanting each other, but neither wanting to get too close — and then seeing them fall away as the pedastal crumbled and the perfect mask shattered, to realize there were flesh and blood and flawed people beneath all the perfection they’d placed on one another … well, I loved it. The emotional depth of the characters, the way they spoke, the way they treated each other, and even the way they treated themselves, it felt so damn real.
The writing is amazing, the pacing … it’s the only thing that didn’t quite work for me. The set up is slow and leisurely, giving you a chance to see both Jamie and Sierra and their ideal of the other person, and then the breaking of illusions and the realization that life is hard. And then it raced to the finish line. I would have liked a little more time lingering in the afterglow before the book ended, and maybe that isn’t as much a pacing thing as a me, thing. I love this author. I love her books. I want more, and I have hopes that a third book will show up for me to review so I can gloat over getting to read it first.