by Julia Harper
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 . . .
Rating: 3 stars
Ok, so to be perfectly honest the only reason I picked up this book was because it was written by an alter ego of one of my favorite historical romance authors, Elizabeth Hoyt, and I had very high hopes for her new project. I wanted to love this story, really, I did, but I was barely able to move it into the like column. Though I am a huge fan of Hoyt’s historical work, I don’t think I’ll be jumping to read anymore of her Julia Harper stories right away. While the story held a lot of promise, the characters were not overly likable for me, the romance was abrupt and just plain odd, and the overall storyline was choppy and jumped around way too much for my tastes. All in all, it was a very simple read without a lot of anticipatory passion or buildup and characters that lacked that special something that makes them memorable. I may give another story by Harper a chance, but I’ll probably just stick with Hoyt’s dependably awesome historical romances.
The story revolves around Sam and Maisa, who are on separate ends of the conflict that stems from a one-night stand months earlier. Sam keeps chasing after Maisa every time she comes to town to visit her great uncle, but Maisa thinks they could never have a relationship because of her family’s past. When their worlds collide and a series of unfortunate and completely improbable events lands them in the sights of the Russia mafia, Sam and Maisa, along with a strange group of locals, her uncle, and a mafia accountant, have to work together to defeat the mobsters that have over taken their town and find a way to keep everyone alive.
Sam was one of those characters that should have had this strong brooding alpha presence, that would make any woman yearn, but I just couldn’t feel it for him in this story for some reason. I liked his backstory and his emotional attachment when he finally began to share that story with Maisa and us, but there still remained a disconnect for me. My biggest issue I think was the way he seemed to be emotionally attached and ready to jump right into a relationship with a woman that he didn’t even seem to really know all that much about. Yes, they knew each other in the biblical sense, but other than that he really knew nothing about her personally, but he remained determined that he was going to have her and they would be great together. Maisa was a bit more realistic in that way, but I really wasn’t able to find a reason to like her very much. She seemed weak to me and if there’s one thing I hate it’s a truly weak female lead, one that seems to lack the inner strength to counteract any vulnerability that might be part of her nature. She didn’t think choices out completely, she jumped to conclusions a lot, and she allowed circumstances to shape her instead of shaping her circumstances.
Overall, Once and Always had a lot of promise that went unfulfilled in my opinion. Maybe it was just that I had such high expectations based on my love of Hoyt’s historical work, but in the end, I was left wanting and unsure just what had happened. Sam was a character that I could have liked with a few more important additions to his character. While he was obviously a smart and sexy person, with some serious chops as a cop, he was lacking an emotional depth, except for a few select scenes, that kept me from forming a deep emotional connection to him. Maisa I just didn’t really like much at all. She was selfish for the most part, used those around her for her own purposes, and was so determined to keep herself from falling for Sam that she almost got them all killed with dumb choices. The passion was there in starts and stops, without too much buildup between those scenes, which to me is one of the best parts of a romance, but it’s possible my issues with the characters kept me from really enjoying any passion between them. Sadly, for me the story was a miss, not quite a bust, as I definitely needed to finish the story to see if Maisa pulled her head out of the sand, but it wasn’t a hit in my book. I will have to reserve judgment on the Harper pseudonym completely until I read a few more stories, but I will most likely just still with Hoyt and her great Maiden Lane Series.
*eARC provided by publisher (via netgalley) for the purpose of an honest and unbiased review. No compensation was provided.