Zoey Castile draws on literary and film inspirations of Beauty and the Beast (and a dash o’ Cinderella) to retell the ‘tale as old as time’ as a steamy contemporary romance. Flashed (Happy Endings, #3) combines sweet romance with hot sex to portray a deeply emotional connection between a beautiful, broken ‘Beast’ and a compassionate, homesick ‘Beauty’.
However, plot contrivances and a distracting number of secondary characters detract some from the love story.
Six months after causing a terrible car accident, Hollywood pretty boy Patrick Halloran (née Pat Donatello) is a disfigured and emotionally scarred recluse. Plagued by crushing guilt over his reckless lifestyle and ignoble past, Pat hides from the world at his newly renovated, badly neglected Montana ranch house, believing himself unworthy of love or forgiveness. The former pro soccer athlete, ex-Vegas stripper, ex-romance novel cover model, and ruined actor has no hope of redemption (and is all out of jobs!).
Pat’s broken soul finds new life when he hires art student Lena Martel to be his live-in housekeeper. Pat prohibits Lena from meeting him face-to-face, and he restricts her from entering certain rooms of the house. Lena is willing to overlook the unusual circumstances of her employment because she is in desperate financial straits. Not only is she paying college tuition and supporting her teen sister in New York, but she is paying off the massive debt accrued by her stepmother.
As Pat watches Lena from afar, he becomes increasingly smitten. He has so little light in his life, so the last thing that this ‘Beast’ wants to do is to scare ‘Beauty’ away. Since speaking face-to-face is verboten, the two communicate with each other via texts and phone calls that are honest and tender. Despite Pat’s gruff demeanor, the kindly Lena develops a soft spot for her mysterious boss. As friendship blossoms and romance blooms, Pat challenges himself to become a better man. Lena begins to see the goodness within Pat and the potential for committing to a serious relationship. But Pat’s uncontrolled anger and Lena’s family drama present obstacles that beg the question – Is love enough?
Told in Lena and Pat’s alternating points of view, Flashed beautifully illustrates the heady but precarious stages of falling in love and early courtship. The prolonged absence of physical contact between the two heightens the sexual tension while allowing the couple to get to know each other through raw, unfiltered texts and phone calls. (Note: The phone sex in Flashed gets ‘two thumbs up.’ Be warned that your eyes might catch fire while reading Castile’s sizzling prose.)
Pat and Lena are likable, sympathetic characters who strive to be better people, both for themselves and for each other. The loving acts of devotion throughout are especially affecting, such as when they create art together – a painting using their sexed up bods. There is a grand gesture at the end that is a little over-the-top, but nonetheless satisfying.
Castile fluidly crafts emotive dialogue, romantic settings, sexual tension, and a compelling heroine and hero. However, the narrative is weighed down at times by sibling sub-plots and a clown car full of minor characters with lots of backstory. Also, plot momentum is achieved by means of throwaway characters and contrived circumstances that are effective, but glaringly obvious.
Despite the overly busy story, Flashed left me feeling ‘the feels’ long after I had finished the last page. This new installment in Castile’s Happy Endings series is a must-read for fans of sexy fairy tales who believe in the transformative power of love.
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