Desert Isle Keeper
Make It Sweet
Make It Sweet by Kristen Callihan was my favorite romance read of 2021. (You can view the rest of that list HERE). The first time I read it, I was swept away by the characters, the story, and the feelings it evoked in me. Now that I’ve read it a second time, I can articulate why it ended up at the top of my list.
Lucian Osmond has the life he’s dreamed of having since he first stepped foot on the ice. A star hockey player respected by his teammates and competitors, his fame, career and engagement come to a screeching halt when his most recent concussion leaves him facing the ultimate decision – whether to continue with a sport that could turn him into a vegetable with another hit to the head, or get out while still having the sense to do it. His choice is clear, but leaves him bitter, angry, grieving, and still suffering the physical consequences of that last hit with migraines, mood swings and depression. He’s holed up with his grandmother at Rosemont, her Spanish-style California estate, with no plans to leave anytime soon. The only thing that soothes him is working with his hands in the kitchen, cooking and baking sinfully delicious treats as taught to him by his great-grandfather, a famous patissier in France.
Emma Maron has experienced all the highlights of being famous for her role as Princess Anya in the hit fantasy TV series Dark Castle. With her football star boyfriend by her side, she’s made friends of the cast and crew and is excited to see what her role will be in the upcoming season. Except the read-thru of the season finale script reveals that she’s getting the axe, as is her character (literally). No more Princess Anya. And no more boyfriend, as she discovers him making out with a local waitress when she comes home early with the news of her character’s demise. Not knowing where to turn, she gratefully accepts the offer of a friend of her grandmother to stay at Rosemont and lick her wounds. The first person she meets is the grandson of the owner who has come to pick her up from the airport; a broody, devastatingly handsome man who clearly has his own problems. Two wounded souls seeking solace in the California sun at a beautiful estate can’t keep away from each other for long. But is their affair destined to be a stepping stone to a future together, or apart?
I heard someone describe this book as reminiscent of the writing of Laura Florand (whose Amour et Chocolat series set in Paris with chocolatiers and pastry makers is one of my favourites) and I can see where the similarity is with Lucian and his grandmother (whom he calls Mamie) having a penchant for playing music by notable French singer Edith Piaf (especially around the pool, at night) and the incredible array of baked goods that appear at every meal. The food is described using multiple sensory details to create a memorable effect. Lucian doesn’t want to be attracted to Emma (whom he had recognized right away while she hadn’t known who he was) but something about her makes him want to show off, even if she doesn’t know it’s his food she’s eating at first. But when she finds out, well, food is foreplay for them:
Lucian’s nostrils flared. His hand shook a little as he lifted the cream puff and placed it on the edge of my lips. I opened my mouth wider, my tongue flicking out for that first sweet taste.
Rich, almost nutty caramel, the gentle crunch of pastry, a burst of smooth light cream with a hint of vanilla and ginger spice. Slowly I chewed, my eyes locked with his, my body tight, and my mouth in heaven. He stayed with me, feeding me with another bite, cream getting on his thumb.
My tongue slipped over the blunt end, and he grunted. Hard.
It’s no surprise that they end up in bed together in passionate and sexy love scenes as they give into their attraction, but more importantly, the tenderness and sweetness of the feelings that develop between them complicates what should be just a vacation fling. What I really enjoyed about this story (besides the food, because yum!) is that Lucian and Emma communicate with each other, telling each other their deepest fears and dreams, becoming each other’s fervent admirer and defender in the process. Coaxing Lucian out of hiding, Emma shows him that just because he can’t play hockey any more doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the sensations of being on the ice. Equally, Lucian encourages Emma to pursue other acting roles that will showcase her talents and not keep her typecast in the mold of her last role.
Secondary characters Mamie, Sal her assistant, Lucian’s cousins Tina and Anton (who also plays professional hockey), and Lucian’s best friend and hockey player Axel ‘Brommy’ Bromwell have supporting roles to show Lucian, like Emma, that he’s not defined only by his hockey playing. Conflict with Anton (a life-long rivalry), comic relief from Brommy, and the love and support from Mamie and Sal bring an overall completeness to the story. While Lucian and Emma’s attraction can flourish in the isolated confines of Rosemont, bringing it into the real world will require courage and commitment which they accomplish but not without a little angst and self-discovery along the way to their happy ending. I finished this story with a happy sigh both times I read it, and it’s sure to remain a comfort read on my keeper shelf.
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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.