What happens when a no-strings relationship forms strings? That’s essentially the premise of Disorderly Conduct, the first in a new series from Tessa Bailey. Charlie and Ever (and yes, I did read it as Eve most of the time because Ever as a name gave me a twitch) agree to a casual relationship full of mind-blowing sex and no emotional involvement, until (of course) they become emotionally involved. Ever cuts tail and runs, but Charlie is having none of it and pursues her until she realizes what they have is once-in-a-lifetime type love.
Charlie Burns comes from a long line of law enforcement officers and has every intention of following in his family’s lofty footsteps. While he’s only a cadet in the police academy, he has focus and purpose and a plan – casual hookups only, as the commitment of a relationship will distract him from his goals. Once he climbs a few ranks, he figures, he’ll settle and start a family and engage in that side of his family’s heritage.
Ever Carmichael was raised by a single mama who used men entirely as currency. She taught her daughter to never risk her heart, because men were never worth it. While her mother was happy enough to sleep with whomever would strategically get her to her goals, married or not, Ever’s ethics were higher. She refused to sleep with married men, and instead pursued men who were married to their jobs. This, she figures, is a win-win. She doesn’t break up any marriages, both parties know the score before they climb into bed, and she can select her targets pretty scrupulously.
Ever and Charlie are nearing the timeline for exit that Ever sets for herself when she realizes that she’s fallen for Charlie. Sure, he’s dedicated to his job, but also to his family and seemingly to her. In a panic, and falling back on all the ‘wisdom’ her mother has passed down, Ever bails out. Charlie’s a little dumbfounded but keeps reminding himself he shouldn’t be, because this was their agreement, after all. However, as his world tips more and more off its axis without her, Charlie decides to change the rules and starts pursuing Ever all over town.
This is where I can see some readers checking out, by the way. My skeptical eyebrow was raised a few times, although ultimately, the happily ever after worked for me. You see, Charlie’s pursuit of Ever means that he manipulates various situations without her consent. The example that gave me the most pause regarded Ever moving on to another partner. She goes a speed dating event and he stacks it with fellow cadets who intentionally sabotage it so she’s driven into Charlie’s arms.
I do not find that charming, or affable, or evidence to the fact that this man deserves mine – or any woman’s – time. If my husband had ever pulled anything like that – or does in the future – we would be having quite the talk about my agency as a sentient adult and how communication is always better than manipulation. However, I can 100% see how Charlie – with the way he has been established as a character by the author – thinks this is a good option and how Ever – in the context of her character – doesn’t see that as a complete and utter deal breaker. So while I eye-rolled the hell out of most of the second half of the book due to my personal tastes, the scenario worked for them and I was still rooting for their happily ever after.
Ever is the one with more mountains to climb and more emotional work to do here, and she achieves it well. In order to see a potential future with Charlie, she has to face the root of the worldview that her mother planted so long ago and has to realize that even though she thought she was different from her mother, they are shockingly similar women and that Charlie has some choices to make. Sometimes I psychoanalyze characters and Charlie was a fun specimen. As a child, she was vulnerable with her mother and that vulnerability was rewarded with a cold, calculated strategy instead of maternal warmth. By not bonding on a fundamental emotional level while in those formative years, Ever’s ability to be vulnerable as an adult was significantly truncated. Thus, the decision to open herself up and truly trust Charlie meant she has to literally rewire the part of her brain that controls relationships. She is going against decades of training and patterning so her decision to choose Charlie and choose their future together was monumental and I was, to be frank, very proud of her.
Charlie is a charming alpha hero and Ever is certainly a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it; and watching them both off kilter at different points in the book was lovely. The B grade is due to personal preferences and not the author’s craftsmanship. If these tropes tick your boxes, then one-click away. I think you’ll be delighted.