The Devil’s Rock series deals with inmates of the federal prison system or their family members on the outside, and is now on its fifth instalment. Each can be read as a standalone romance though there are connections between the characters across the different books. In the previous novel, Beautiful Lawman, Piper Walsh and Sheriff Hale Walters got their happy ending, but we also found out that Piper’s brother Cruz was innocent of the crime for which he’d gone to jail. In Beautiful Sinner, Cruz is out of jail and trying to find his way in a community of people still wary of his innocence, when he meets up with Gabriella Rossi, home for what she hopes will be a brief stay. It’s a second chance for a couple who secretly crushed on each other in high school and now have the opportunity to make their feelings into something real.
Gabby is home to take care of her aging grandmother. She’s a journalist but lately her assignments haven’t been getting any traction with her editor back in Austin so she’s picking up some part-time hours in a local cafe. At her high school for her niece’s induction into the national honors society, the memories of being called ‘flabby Gabby’ for her extra curvy appearance are ones she wishes she could leave behind, along with the other bullying she endured. When she gets accidentally locked in a closet trying to avoid one of her nemeses, the person who comes to her rescue turns out to be none other than Cruz Walsh, the man everyone thoughts had murdered her cousin. Except he gets stuck in there with her.
Cruz may have had a reputation in high school as a playboy and the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, but he’d always had a soft spot for upstanding, innocent Gabby. Her lush hips and large breasts had fuelled many a late night fantasy, but he knew she was too good for him so he’d never indicated his real feelings – and when he confessed to killing her cousin to protect his sister, he knew that was the end of any future for them. Trapped in the closet together, awkward conversation eventually leads to an acknowledgment of the attraction between them and a kiss that brings back memories of a kiss they shared in high school, one where Cruz didn’t know in the dark of the boathouse that it was Gabby he was kissing and a secret she kept from him. Until now. For Cruz, the realization that the mystery girl he’d fantasized about in jail and Gabby are one and the same is a revelation, and not one he’s willing to let go. He offers Gabby the chance to explore the passion between them and Gabby accepts with the caveat that they keep it a secret and on the understanding that she doesn’t plan to stick around. But Cruz wants more. Can he convince her that they can have a happy ending together?
I’ve really been enjoying this contemporary romance series by Sophie Jordan. The earlier entries had more action and suspense than the later ones, and Beautiful Sinner is less about the trials of prison and more about making peace with the past and finding a path to a better future. It’s also about small town life and the challenges of coming home again.
Clearly Cruz and Gabby have a lot of baggage to overcome. Cruz has taken the money from his prison release settlement and used it to buy a house and fund a gym with programs for disadvantaged youths designed to help keep them out of trouble. The town of Sweet Hill is mixed in their feelings about him, with some believing he was wrongfully convicted and some still believing him guilty of murder. More than one suspicious eye follows him around town and the Rossi family have kept clear of him, until Gabby enters his life once again.
Gabby has an overbearing and bitter sister Tess who is recently divorced from her cheating husband. Gabby babysits her nephew on occasion and lives in a garage apartment on her grandmother’s property so that she’s close in case the older woman needs help after her recent surgery. Her memories of the town are mixed and she’s counting down the days until her grandmother is recovered sufficiently for Gabby to move back to her home in Austin. Having Cruz turn up on her doorstep is a forbidden enticement. She knows Tess would freak out if she found out that Gabby was speaking with Cruz, never mind what they’re actually up to. Cruz not only makes Gabby feel desirable, he listens to her and believes her when things happen that cause extra friction between her and her sister. Their love scenes are hot and steamy and make Gabby question whether her move back to Austin is really what she wants.
There’s another conflict besides the obvious family issues, though. Gabby is a reporter and her boss has been hounding her to interview Cruz about his time in prison. Cruz had been avoiding all journalists since he’d been released from prison, and finding out about Gabby’s career had put a brief pause on his plan of pursuing her – until they come to the understanding that his story isn’t for sale. When things get taken out of her hands Gabby finds out where her loyalty really lies. Eventually they get their happy ending and find a compromise that works for both their chosen career paths. Beautiful Sinner is a small town redemption romance with likable characters who deserve their happy ever after.