Every once in a while I get an itch for a small town romance, but the lack of diversity and the suspension of disbelief (sure, every small town can support a cupcake bakery and a bookstore and a yarn shop and a cute coffee shop and…) can get a bit grating. But this book? It scratches that small town itch while addressing those issues, plus has a pretty fun enemies-to-lovers angle.
After a tragic incident that left him wounded, Clay has arrived in the small town of Blue Cedar Falls, North Carolina with one mission in mind: opening the bar that his best friend and teammate, Bug, always dreamed of. The bar is intended to be a giant middle finger to all the fuddy-duddies who made Bug feel like he didn’t belong in that polished main street facade, so Clay’s expecting some resistance from the townspeople. What he doesn’t expect is June. June’s already dealing with a lot, from the family B&B’s dwindling business to the medical bills piling up from her mother’s stroke, and having someone blasting rock & roll and working with power tools at all hours isn’t helping. After a new highway bypassed the town, Blue Cedar Falls is finding it hard to survive (cue the “Our Hometown” montage from Cars). June’s solution? Hyping up the town’s Pumpkin Festival. But first, she has to deal with Clay – and her inconvenient attraction to him.
Initially, Clay is a hard person to like. At first, all his decisions are driven by what will annoy his new neighbors the most, and even when he finally realizes that June is honestly trying to help him, he worries that his vision – Bug’s vision – is being taken over. He has a weird reverse-snob thing going on, about making a dive bar for “real” people, which June rightly calls him on. But underneath all that rudeness, he’s a good person at heart who’s primary response to trauma is to not deal with it (you can guess how well that works). Even under all the prickly jerkiness, June’s able to see their similarities. Rather than shuffled through foster homes like Clay, she ended up in Blue Cedar Falls, where her mother was able to find happiness with someone new, and where she found a place and people she loves. All of which means June is deadset on keeping the B&B running as smoothly as possible, even if her world feels like it’s falling down all around her. June likes being in control and having a plan for every possible outcome. This can be a good thing, especially in terms of planning the pumpkin festival and helping Clay figure out what parts of his bar he hasn’t given any thought to, but it also means she’s reluctant to let anyone else help her – not that anyone other than Clay seems to offer.
“She wasn’t cutting him any slack about being a rude jerk just on account of his being handsome or anything, but her attraction to him had blindsided her. His taunts had riled her up, making her lose her cool in a way she never did, and with every barb they traded, the unexpected flicker of desire inside her only grew.”
Their attraction to each other is inconvenient at best – town busybody vs destroyer of Main St – especially since arguing with each other seriously turns them on. But as Clay realizes it’s better to have June as a friend than an enemy, they also realize they’re more alike than they first thought. Both of them are convinced they have to handle everything on their own, that doing any less is a failure to their friends or family. Their relationship can’t be anything but casual, they both reason, as they’ve got too much on their plates. But they didn’t reckon with the depth of their emotions for each other.
“A good bar would make Main Street better,” he argued. “It brings in exactly what all your perfect ice cream shops and bistros and gingko trees can’t replace.”
“And what’s that?”
“Normal life. Real folks.”
Her frustration mounted. “Why do you keep saying that? What makes you think the people on Main Street aren’t real?” She reached for him before she could stop herself, grabbing his hand. His skin was hot and rough, but she grasped on to him all the same. “What about me doesn’t feel real?”
One of the things I liked about this book is that it doesn’t shy away from the problems of small towns, from residents who are resistant to change to the economic realities of being dependent on tourism. June also mentions being one of only a few Asians at school and the problems that caused, and there’s a coming-out side story that has several major bumps. June has two sisters, and there’s several hints as to who their romantic interests will be, so there’s definitely plenty of room for future books in this series.
Overall, I was surprised by how much I liked this book, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a small-town fall romance. I will be keeping an eye out for more from this author in the future!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.