Do Over is my favorite kind of second-chance romance. Jack, our hero, was once very dumb but not abusive or monstrous. Maddie, our heroine, had no time for his crap and got outta there, taking their kid with her. She’s been playing the single mom game for a while and Jack has been slowly cleaning up his emotional act. When Maddie needs a place to stay, Jack offers his spare room, and the rest is history. There’s groveling, honest conversations, really hot sex, and gut wrenching vulnerability. Oh, and did I mention it’s also a friends-to-lovers story? I can see so many one-click fingers twitching. Give in, you won’t regret it.
Jack and Maddie grew up together and were quite close. That changed after a kiss during high school, when Jack’s home life was thrown into chaos and Maddie, being youngish as well, didn’t know how to reach out and so didn’t. They drifted, not really communicating, but the narrative makes it clear that their emotional connection didn’t waver.
Fast forward a few years and Maddie comes home from college on a break nursing a broken heart. After a lot of feet dragging, she joins her best friend at a bonfire party and finds Jack there, too. They get to talking, Maddie starts crying over the ex, Jack doesn’t know what to do with crying women, really, so he kisses her, and then….
Not only do they reconnect that night, but Maddie ends up pregnant. Jack makes it clear to her that he is 100% there for her and his son financially, but not emotionally. So for the next five years, he’s ‘Fun Uncle’ – he has his son – Gabe – every weekend, but all the heavy lifting of parenting during those weekends is done by his mother and his sister. He thinks that’s a massive secret by the way, but Maddie is hip to his battle plan and knows what’s going on. Jack is not neglectful by any means – he just never changes diapers or cooks meals or administers discipline. In other words, he does the fun stuff of being a dad but never actually parents his son.
Our story picks up when Maddie discovers her live-in-boyfriend-almost-fiancé screwing her best friend in their house. Gabe is at Jack’s for the evening, and so in a daze she drives there. After some trauma-induced making out, Jack offers his place as her crash pad until she finds a new house, and that’s when I nearly clapped my hands in glee. Forced proximity! Man child trying to grow into a father! Strong woman who can do it alone but doesn’t want to! My trope boxes kept getting ticked, and I was delighted.
This plot could have easily hovered at surface level and been just a second-chance romance full of chemistry-laden sex. Instead, Ms. Bell takes the risk of exploring emotions and the book is all the better for it. I would have enjoyed the novel without it, but I’m so glad it’s included, because she does the work and elevates the story as a result. And by ‘work’, I mean she makes Jack and Maddie excavate their pasts and really talk to each other. They rehash past choices and fears of the future and then, with eyes truly wide open, they walk boldly into that future together. When I closed my Kindle, I knew these three were going to be okay. Additionally, Gabe is not a plot device moppet (a pet peeve), and is very much his own character.
Fans of second-chance romance are going to love this, I’m sure of it. If you’re looking for a fun and grounded read, make sure to pick up Do Over.