I’m a big fan of Christina Lauren (Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) and their Beautiful series. The first book in the series (Beautiful Bastard) didn’t quite have me at ‘hello,’ but not long after I finished the final page, I one-clicked book two, Beautiful Stranger, and never looked back. I’ve read all the books in this series multiple times (I usually read the whole line-up over again when I know a new book is coming out) and I always enjoy them. The sex is sexy, the characters are familiar (these authors know how to keep fans hooked; the in-between novellas are similarly delightful), and though the characters are all attractive and professionally successful, they’re so damn appealing, I can’t resent them for it. In Beautiful, the final book of the series, the authors amp up their winning formula by pairing up two single and likeable characters we’ve already met, and sending them on a wine tasting road trip with two other Beautiful couples, Will and Hanna (Beautiful Player), and Niall and Ruby (Beautiful Secret). That these couples are my favorites in the series is simply the cherry on top.
Jensen, Hanna’s older brother, is a lawyer and workaholic. After negotiating a deal for his firm, he’s returning home to Boston when he ends up seated next to an oversharing, slightly drunk female. He quietly indulges her need to talk about a recent bad break-up (she walked in on her boyfriend having sex with another woman), and then tunes her out by pretending to fall asleep. After he lands, he’s relieved to be home, though lately he’s been feeling a bit lonely. Jensen was married six years ago to his college sweetheart, but she left him after four months of marriage with little explanation and no warning. Wary of relationships since then, he’s dated but hasn’t been in a committed relationship since his divorce. When his sister calls to remind him of the birthday party he promised to attend that coming weekend, he assures her he’ll be there. It will be good to see her and her husband, his best friend Will – and to spend time with their tight-knit group of friends and kids.
Pippa is in Boston to visit her grandfather and her good friend Ruby and Ruby’s husband Niall. She’s planning to accompany Ruby and Niall on a two-week wine tasting tour and is looking forward to meeting and spending time with their good friends Will and Hanna. She’s just ended a long term relationship after walking in on her boyfriend having sex with another woman. Miserable at her job (the same company Ruby used to work for) and at loose ends after the break-up, she’s happy to get away from London and her depressing life. When she overhears another guest at the party talking about the crazy drunk woman he sat next to on his flight home from London, it takes but a moment for her to realize she knows the voice and recognizes the man telling the story.
Jensen recognizes Pippa shortly after she realizes who he is – but she manages to turn an awkward moment into a funny one when she pokes fun at herself and her drunkenness on the flight. They have a chance to spend time together at the party, and Jensen apologizes for making fun of her but she tells him not to overthink it. She knows she was a disaster on the flight. Jensen realizes his first impression of Pippa wasn’t quite accurate and that despite her behavior on the plane, he’s attracted to her. She’s funnier and more interesting than he expected – but not his usual type. Pippa likes Jensen, but thinks maybe he’s a bit too buttoned up and serious for her. Besides, she’s just getting out of a relationship. In the end it doesn’t matter, because by the end of the party Hanna convinces Jensen to take time off and join them on the road trip – and it’s just a matter of time before he and Pippa become a couple.
I’m not going to pretend there’s any other possibility but that these two are destined to be together. It’s clear from the start that the book is a love story about them – but Christina Lauren delights in tormenting couples before they finally realize they’re destined for each other. Pippa and Jensen are no different. Traveling with two happily married/love crazy couples, they’re single, attractive and they genuinely like each other. That they end up naked with one another is a given; it’s what happens before they hook-up and then afterwards, that forms the substance of the love story.
Jensen was burned by his first marriage and though he won’t admit it, he’s afraid to love again. He spends the first part of the road trip trying to decide if he wants to have an affair with Pippa, and trying to talk himself out of it. She’s funny, attractive, but nothing like any woman he’s been with before. She’s also brave and interesting – and after she plays along and pretends she’s his wife when they run into his ex, he’s smitten. Once he allows himself to be with Pippa, Jensen changes. He relaxes, lets down his guard and enjoys life – outside of work for the first time in years. Hanna is thrilled to see this new side of him and quietly hopes the affair will continue after the trip ends. But Jensen doesn’t let himself dream of more from Pippa. She lives in London, and the relationship ends when the trip does.
Pippa is funny, confident and a delightful match for Jensen. Slightly quirky, loud and not afraid to commit 100% to her fake husband, Pippa finds herself falling for the slightly reserved Jensen. They’re opposites in so many ways, but together they make a perfect pair. She realized right away that Jensen is the kind of man she could fall in love with but reminds herself it’s only a vacation romance. When they start sleeping together and the sex is more incredible and intense than she expected, she realizes she’s fallen in love with him. Though Jensen is everything she knows she wants in a partner, he makes it clear over and over again that this is only a holiday fling, so she resists telling him how she feels. Her life in London – the logistics, and Jensen’s seeming unwillingness to see past their two weeks together – discourage her from asking for more. After returning home to London, Pippa realises she wants more from her life and decides to move to Boston to be closer to her new friends and the version of herself she glimpsed on the road trip.
Beautiful is entertaining, romantic and though it isn’t a retread of any previous books in the series, it feels very familiar from start to finish. Old Beautiful friends have cameos throughout the story and the ending, much like previous books, finds Jensen making a big gesture to prove his love and win Pippa’s heart (and ours!). As a special bonus, the authors include epilogues for each of the Beautiful couples not on the road trip, and one secondary character near and dear to fans. Jensen and Pippa are appealing characters on their own, and adorable as a couple. Though this wasn’t my favorite book of the set, I like/loved it. It’s a great ending to a great series and I’m looking forward to what these authors have in store for us next.