Tuesday, April 22, 2014

All He Ever Desired - Shannon Stacey (HQN - Mar 2013)

Series: Kowalski (Book 5)

A second shot at first love?

After college, Ryan Kowalski decided to leave Whitford, Maine, rather than watch Lauren Carpenter marry another man. Now his siblings need his help to refurbish the family-owned Northern Star Lodge and he's forced to face the past sooner rather than later when he collars a vandal -- and learns the boy is Lauren's son….

The last person Lauren needs back in her life is Ryan Kowalski. With a bitter ex-husband and a moody teenage son, she has enough man trouble already. But her son needs to learn a few lessons about right and wrong, even if Lauren has to escort him to Ryan's door every day to work off his crime.

With all this close contact, Ryan and Lauren can't deny the chemistry between them is as powerful as ever. But can a few searing kisses erase their past and pave the way for a second chance at true love?

I love second chance stories and this one was fantastic.  Ryan is back in Whitford to help his family repair the family lodge.  He's left his successful construction business back in Massachusetts for the month he figures it's going to take.  On his brief visits before he's managed to avoid Lauren, remembering the way she shot him down when he asked her to leave with him.  When he catches Lauren's sixteen year old son vandalizing the lodge he offers to let the boy work off the damages, which also gives him a reason to see her frequently.

Lauren remembers when Ryan offered to take her and Nick with him, but she'd been married at the time, even if the marriage wasn't the greatest.  Since her divorce she's spent a fair amount of time thinking about "what if".  But she has enough on her plate dealing with Nick's issues, her ex's bitterness, and trying to make ends meet.  She really doesn't need the complications that Ryan will bring to her life.

One of the things I love about the Kowalski books is that the people seems so completely real.  They deal with the same kind of issues that the rest of us have.  Ryan feels guilty about the way he neglected the family business and is trying to make up for it.  He and his siblings are close, but they each have their own lives.  I really enjoyed the way that they give each other a hard time, but they also provide support when it's needed.  

The beginning of the books spends a lot of time showing us who Ryan and Lauren are.  Ryan is furious at the vandal, but when he learns who the boy is he finds a solution that will work for everyone.  I liked his matter of fact way of dealing with Nick, not letting him get away with anything but also not being too hard on him.  He spends a lot of time teaching Nick and being a good role model for him.  He also takes the time to talk to Lauren and settle their past so that they can move on to the present.  He also discovers that his attraction to Lauren is as strong as ever, but doing anything about it is probably not a good idea.  As for Lauren, she is a single mother working to support her son in a small town without a lot going for it.  Her marriage ended when she caught her husband cheating, but she still shares custody of their son with him.  Knowing that Ryan is back in town adds another layer of stress to her life that only increases when she finds out about the vandalism.  I loved the fact that she was on board with Nick having to work off his debt to Ryan.  Her biggest problem with it is that it throws her and Ryan together more often than she really wants, especially with the attraction she feels for him.

The heat between them continues to build until the day of Ryan's brother's wedding.  With Nick at his father's for the weekend, the chemistry between Ryan and Lauren finally hits its flashpoint and they have an awesome night together.  Things get awkward when Nick arrives home early and finds them together.  Overall, they dealt with it quite well, with realistic attitude from Nick and some honest conversation from Ryan.  This begins a relationship between Ryan and Lauren that neither is quite sure has a future.  Ryan has his business and home four plus hours away, and trying to run his business and have a relationship with Lauren is physically and mentally exhausting.  Lauren knows Ryan has to go back to Massachusetts, but her life and job are in Maine, as is Nick and his life.  

Ryan has a tendency to avoid serious conversations by wanting to just see how things go and let them work out on their own.  When he finally realizes that isn't going to work he goes and has the first serious conversation with the wrong person, setting up a big argument with Lauren because she feels disrespected.  All Lauren can think about is how much she loves Ryan, but the thought of moving away and starting a new life scares her to death.  Ryan's errors just give her an excuse to break things off and try to protect herself. The pain they caused each other had me going through several tissues.  I loved the realism of the argument that was then followed by the family and friend support, which then leads to the couple seeing where they made their mistakes and finding a way to fix them.

There are some great scenes with various members of the family poking their noses into Ryan's business.  They do it with love, but there is also a fair amount chain jerking going on at the same time.  The Kowalski's surrogate mother Rose also plays a large part in keeping everything running smoothly by dispensing food and advice whenever needed.  I love this line of hers: "I don’t harass you kids. I persistently guide you in the right direction."

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