Hard to Fall
Hard to Fall is the fourth book in Marquita Valentine’s Take the Fall series which in itself is a spin-off of her Boys of the South series. I haven’t read any of her previous books but this one is well set up as a standalone romance, so I expect the others are, too. Unfortunately, the main male character and I started off on the wrong foot and he had to work hard to regain ‘hero’ status. Combining that with not just one but two long held secrets dragging down the story puts it squarely in the ‘okay, but won’t re-read’ pile for me.
Hayden Walker and Saylor Dean meet as part of the wedding party of characters from the previous book in the series, After We Fall. He’s the firefighter groomsman and she’s the bridesmaid who runs an animal shelter. The sparks fly when they meet and when the border-hopping wedding party spends the night in Tijuana, they spend it together, including a (surprise!) quickie marriage ceremony. The trouble is that Hayden was so drunk the night before that he doesn’t remember the wedding or the sex that followed it. What he does know is that he really enjoyed the time he spent with Saylor (the time he remembers, anyway) and when they meet again he makes it clear that he’d like to spend more time with her. As the son of a Senator, Hayden is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and his father has already started making noises to the press about just that. Hayden’s quite happy being single and being a firefighter. The last thing he wants is get married just to have it look good on paper for a possible political career. When Saylor tells him the truth, will it push him towards a future he never wanted or one even better than he’d hoped?
While Hayden and Saylor meet at the wedding, readers actually meet Hayden in the first chapter at a party at his parents’ house. It’s full of political bigwigs, and shows the close relationship he has with his mother, a well-loved and powerful society matron and his father, a Senator intent on Hayden’s seeking office. But seeking a distraction, and faced with an old (and forgotten) classmate who is clearly looking for a good time, Hayden proceeds to have sex with her out in the greenhouse. And then finds out she’s married. In all fairness she came onto him and he willingly obliged. He does feel badly about it, having made a point before (as his inner monologue goes) to never sleep with a woman who is involved with someone else. But I can’t help cringing at the knowledge that he’d have sex with a pseudo-stranger without asking her some basic questions. So it’s in this context that he meets our heroine in the next chapter but he’d already got a mark against him in my book. Mark two comes with the whole getting-so-drunk-that-you-get-married-and-don’t-remember-it-the-next-day part of the story. It seems that this guy just can’t keep it in his pants, sober or drunk. He does go some way to improving his reputation with me by not sleeping around after he’s met Saylor, and being quite sweet and thoughtful with her once they are dating. Also he’s a generous and attentive lover. I just wish he hadn’t started out as such a douchebag.
Despite Saylor’s questionable choice to marry Hayden on a whim in Mexico, I did quite like her character. She’s had an unusual upbringing as the daughter of a very popular actress who is known for her varied romantic relationships. She has no relationship with her father – who happens to be a U.S. Senator (not Hayden’s father, but hello plot complication!) – although this man knows who she is and has expressed interest in finally meeting her. Because of always moving around from place to place with her mom on photo shoots and such, Saylor didn’t make a lot of childhood friends, plus the paparazzi were always about. She’s changed her last name and kept a pretty low profile to keep her name out of the papers, and owns and runs an animal shelter. She has only a few close friends, like Eve (the new bride, who is married to Hunter, who is best friends with Hayden). She is addicted to all things Star Wars and Star Trek, has a cat named Padme, and references to the movies show up throughout the story (which I quite like as a fellow science fiction fan). It’s not hard to see why she’s swept off her feet by Hayden.
Keeping secrets as a plot device is not one of my favourite ways to bring conflict into a story but that’s what we get here. First it’s the marriage secret. While readers know they are married from almost the beginning, Saylor takes forever to reveal the truth to Hayden and only gets around to it when there could be political ramifications. The second secret relates to her father being a Senator as well and while I won’t go into details around that as it’s a major part of the second half of the story, it’s another instance where things are held on to for so long that you know there’s going to be a big blowup about it eventually. And let’s just say that things between the two families are… complicated.
Hayden’s career as a firefighter does get some page time but not as much as a typical firefighter romance gets. It’s more of an afterthought, like he could have any job and it would be secondary to the political aspirations his parents have for him. There are several scenes in the second half that create some extra drama and tension, some related to Hayden’s job and some dealing with Hayden and Saylor’s relationship. The sex scenes are plentiful throughout and make up for Hayden forgetting their first time together. They get their happy ending (complete with an epilogue) and despite some rocky bits, there is enough that I liked about Hard to Fall for me to consider reading this author again.