In the three months since her girlfriend Natalia died, Kelly Hernandez has been trapped in stasis. Her friends and coworkers at the Tabletop Tavern have been nothing but supportive and loving, but Kelly feels unworthy of their care because the grief they all thinks she feels over losing her lover of three years is absent. No one knows Kelly was in an abusive relationship and that the first thing she felt when she got the call about Natalia was relief, and her guilt is slowly eating away at what Natalia hadn’t already broken. So Kelly dons the flirty femme persona that she’s kept in place for years and lets her friends think the cracks they see is her mourning her loss. When New Year’s Eve comes around, Kelly finds it the perfect time to forget for a few hours; all she wants is to escape—escape the guilt, escape her friends’ well-meaning but suffocating good intentions, and escape the woman she’s become. So when bold and butch Tabby Reynolds rocks up to her at the bar, all swagger and hot, no-strings promises, Kelly knows she’s found just what she needs.
As someone who has carefully cultivated her stud, “love ‘em and leave ‘em vibe,” Tabby knows all the signs of someone looking for a good time, and quickly jumps at the chance to bring the stunning Kelly orgasming into the New Year. Yet for all the heat of their encounter, it’s not only that which keeps the enigmatic Kelly occupying Tabby’s thoughts. When they meet again and decide to be one another’s down low stress relief, the rules are simple: no strings and, if feelings get involved, it’s over. Tabby’s sure she can handle it (that’s her MO after all) despite the feeling of connection she has to Kelly. However, when an ACL tear takes Tabby’s usual outlets away and leads to the the two hanging out rather than hooking up, the cracks in Tabby’s easygoing, one-night-stand persona begin to show and her true desire to be someone’s endgame rather than their stepping stone to someone else rushes to the surface—along with all the insecurity and loneliness she’s been hiding from for years.
While Kelly feels the same connection and growing attachment to Tabby, she’s still hiding the truth about her relationship with Natalia and the damage it caused, and doesn’t think she has it in her to be in a relationship, especially with someone as giving and warm as Tabby. As the two women fall for each other, their respective family dramas and Kelly’s trauma bring a lot of ghosts and unresolved issues to the fore, and unless they are brave enough to confront their issues and speak their truths, what they’ve found may not endure.
Constitution Check is the fourth book in Katherine McIntyre’s Dungeons and Dating series, and while I think there are hints that all isn’t well in Kelly’s relationship in the previous book, having not read it, I had no problem falling into this story. Constitution Check is a charming, hurt-comfort story with enough angst to make the characters relatable and sympathetic in their personal journeys, while not reveling in their suffering. Both women are stunners who hide a wealth of pain from others (and themselves) behind disarming flirtatious mannerisms, bravado, and cultivated aesthetics. The pair are super steamy together, but the way they seem to instinctively feel safe enough to be vulnerable with one another and trust in that acceptance little by little is even better.
Both MCs are likable, complex, and easy to connect with. Kelly is stuck in the understandable position of not grieving her abuser, but unable to be honest or talk about it because she feels guilty that she isn’t sad and because she stayed silent about the abuse for so long it’s an ingrained habit. She can’t believe people wouldn’t think she’s a monster for not grieving Natalia and is still stuck in the cycle of shame being abused caused, despite Natalia’s death. Her need to please and willingness to give was always taken advantage of in previous relationships, culminating in her abusive one, so Kelly doesn’t trust herself to make good relationship choices, even if she didn’t feel so damaged and alone.
For Tabby, after being emotionally intimidated by her queerphobic older brother all her life and her peers in high school for being bi and geeky, she packed away the pieces of herself that made her vulnerable and cultivated being a built, roller derby badass only looking for a good time. The few times she’d tried for more, the other person was turned off by her “boring” job as an accountant and/or geeky interests, so Tabby convinced herself that quick and easy was all she was good for or needed. When her injury and her brother’s wedding bring up all the old bullying and baggage, she’s forced to confront how isolated she truly is, even from those she considers friends, and her own role in said isolation. Being herself with Kelly is freeing, but also scary because of their “catch feelings, we’re over” clause and Kelly’s need to hide that they’re hooking up.
As always, the Tabletop Tavern crew are wonderfully supportive and seeing them interact and play together is always fun. Tabby’s cousin, Eli, is also a great supporting character who shines in each scene he’s in and I look forward to his story. The family issues each MC has to deal with are relatable and work to underscore aspects of their journeys, especially for Tabby. Roller derby was the biggest piece of Tabby’s devil-may-care jock persona and losing it leaves her shaken and even more vulnerable than she already is to her brother’s vitriol and her outsider status in her upper crust, conservative family. Her family is more realistic in that they’re complicated—they’re not all hateful queerphobes and her parents love, but don’t understand her. The resolution she gets with them isn’t neatly wrapped up or “take that” dramatic, but it feels honest and real for Tabby.
Constitution Check is an enjoyable ‘hookup turned more’ story featuring two damaged people who’ve spent years hiding behind bright smiles and bold outer facades, finding the courage to be honest with themselves about who they are and take back what they’ve lost.