Shiloh Walker has come up with another entertaining and emotional romance in her Barnes Brothers series with Ruined in which Sebastian, the golden boy of Hollywood gets to play the hero in a way he never expected. While he’s had a crush on Marin, a close friend of his older brother (and a fellow actress he enjoys working with) for years, she’s been careful to stay clear of anything intimate with him, his easy playboy ways not what she’s looking for in a partner. But when Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend comes for a visit and ends up dead, with Sebastian having taken the knife from her abusive lover and killed him with it in turn, the physical scars he’s left with are no match for the emotional ones. Through his year of recovery from the trauma, Marin stands by him and is the only friend he can countenance being around him. With alcohol a complement to his pity party, his memories of some of what happens when she is around are fuzzy. But when the alcoholic fog clears, and he sets his sights on the future, he knows what he wants – and it’s Marin. But will his efforts be too little, too late?
Despite the traumatic nature of the attack that Sebastian is involved in, the overall story, while being emotional at heart, doesn’t descend into too much angst. Sebastian is definitely within his rights to struggle with what happened, especially when he is confronted by it in the mirror every day (his good looks are ruined by the scar on his face). As the attack takes place fairly early in the story, the majority of the plot deals with the aftermath and his relationship with Marin. From friends to lovers, their relationship is complex and fraught with memories and dreams. They’ve both secretly lusted after each other but neither made a move to change that, until Sebastian’s injury alters his view of the future. I like the way the story progresses, the steamy scenes between the two of the them as they struggle to figure out just what their relationship is, and how Sebastian becomes a man of much more depth than seen at the beginning of the story. There are a few scenes of misunderstandings and miscommunication that were sometimes frustrating for me as a reader and at times I wanted to give Marin and Sebastian a little corner time to talk things through. But overall I really enjoyed them as a couple. Plus, it is nice to see an older woman/younger man romance in a Hollywood type story (where it tends to be the other way around). Ruined is a solid addition to the Barnes Brothers series.