Holding Out
Grade : A

The first story in Serena Bell's Returning Home series about wounded war veterans readjusting to life back home, Hold on Tight, made my best romances of 2014 list. Five years later, I'm happy to say that the author hasn't lost her touch when it comes to giving the reader an emotional, heartfelt and sexy read with the latest book in the series, Holding Out.

Becca Drake is finding that the dating scene is really complicated, particularly when her prospective partners find out she's a virgin. Then they are either creepers who are much too interested in her sexual status or they don't want anything to do with her at all. The solution to this dilemma seems to be to find someone willing to 'do the deed' with her to solve her problem once and for all. And who better than the single man in her circle of friends, Griff Ambrose. Okay, so he also happens to be a friend of her brother-in-law Nate, and works with him at a retreat for returned veterans. But if they can keep it on the down low, it'll be a one-time thing that with any luck will leave them both satisfied and ready to look elsewhere for full time companionship.

Griff doesn't know what to think when Becca propositions him. He knows just how attractive, fun, and sexy she is, and part of him is definitely flattered by the request; clearly the men who've turned her down for being a virgin are fools, and if there's one thing he's good at lately, it's giving a girl a good time. Yes, it could get complicated if Nate, her sister Alia, or any of their other close friends find out, but although his initial reaction is 'No way!', he changes his mind after he realizes that Becca might look elsewhere and that at least with him, he’ll know she's getting a good and safe time.

Griff goes all out in providing Becca with a night she'll never forget. In fact, it's so good that he doesn't want it to be their only night together, and nor does she. They are both on board with having a secret affair for a few weeks while Becca is looking for a new job and working part time at the retreat center. But as they get to know each other and share things that draw them closer together, is it going to be so easy to go their separate ways?

Holding Out turns out to be a fitting title for this romance. Becca has been holding out for the right man to give her a really good first-time sexual experience and she definitely picks a winner in Griff. I think it's fair to say that everyone who reads this book is going to wish they had a man like Griff in their life. He wines and dines Becca, rents a fancy hotel room, checks in with her for consent at every step of the way, and basically ruins her for any other man. Not that Griff would find that upsetting at all – except that he's not supposed to be interested in any kind of permanent thing with Becca.

Griff doesn't do relationships, not since his wife divorced him. The day he arrived home from what he planned would be his last military mission was the worst day of his life when he discovered she had left him and was involved with another man, one who wasn't in the military.  Though she's now remarried and got the house in the divorce, he still hasn't been able to retrieve his stuff from the basement. She tries to contact him but he avoids her. He's just not ready to face her, or the real reasons why he can't move forward with a new woman. Griff is holding out - and holding back - from facing some serious events that trigger his PTSD and until he faces them he won't be able to be anyone's real partner.

What I enjoy most about this series is the author's ability to create characters readers want to see succeed and gain a real measure of happiness, to combat the trying circumstances they've faced, especially the soldiers, in their efforts to move forward with their lives. The veteran's retreat where secondary (and previous book) characters Jake and Nate work, where Griff lives and works and where new characters are introduced, is a safe space to share their fears, worries, hopes and dreams. While Griff has managed to keep his real pain under wraps, with Becca's support and understanding he's able to finally confront some of those issues that have haunted him. As for Becca, she may not have been in a war, but she grew up with a depressed and unreliable mother and it was her older sister Alia who took care of her.  Alia is still filling that parental role, something Becca no longer needs but has been unable to make clear to her overprotective sister. So naturally, if anyone is going to find out about Griff and Becca's fling, it's going to be her big sister (ouch). Becca is learning though, to put her foot down, speak up, and value herself. And soon enough Griff is going to have to choose whether he wants to live in the past, or take a chance on someone and something new.

The perfect mix of emotional and heart-wrenching moments, sexy and fun love scenes, and camaraderie between friends make Holding Out an excellent read from start to finish. It's another great addition to the Returning Home series and I hope it won't be the last.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

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Reviewed by Maria Rose
Grade : A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 21, 2019

Publication Date: 05/2019

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Maria Rose

I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.
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