Desert Isle Keeper
Sarina Bowen’s Pipe Dreams is a thoughtful and emotional love story with the perfect blend of reality and fantasy to make it feel relatable while also still feeling like escapism, and I loved it. It has all the fun associated with a contemporary sports romance but also delves into some of the complex challenges faced by couples in second-chance relationships. While it is the third book in Ms.Bowen’s Brooklyn Bruisers series, they are all stand-alones and do not need to read in order.
Mike Beacon and Lauren Williams have a complicated history. They met and got to know each other over a period of six years working together for the professional hockey team, the Brooklyn Bruisers. Lauren was on the administrative staff in the front office while Mike was the team’s captain and one of their star players. He was married with a daughter at the time, and he and Lauren developed a solid friendship with an easy connection and genuine affection. They also were both very attracted to each other, but neither ever acknowledged or admitted their feelings – even to themselves – since Mike was married. It was a line neither ever contemplated crossing.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Mike’s marriage has been emotionally dead for years; so when his wife cheats on him, he accepts that his relationship is over and files for divorce. He now allows himself to recognize that he likes Lauren as more than just a friend, and he seeks her out never expecting that she feels the same. They fall quickly and madly in love, have a blissful year-long romance, and are planning their future together when Mike suddenly breaks up with her and returns to his not-quite-ex-wife with little explanation. (His divorce was a bitter and lengthy process, but hadn’t been made final during that year, when he was with Lauren and his wife was in a relationship with someone else. Neither considered it cheating, but the public was less forgiving labeling Lauren as the ‘other woman.’)
Lauren was devastated by the unexpected and abrupt breakup. She immediately transferred out of the Bruisers’ office, and has spent the last two years staying as far away from hockey as possible. She won’t even watch a game or follow the team’s progress, because it is too painful to be reminded of Mike. When the team suddenly needs someone familiar with the organization to provide temporary administrative help, Lauren is the only available option. She’s asked to return to the team, and she reluctantly agrees knowing she will see Mike, now a widower and single father.
When Lauren does see Mike again, it is more painful than she imagined. She’s haunted by memories of their time together and still loves him through the haze of her anger. She doesn’t realize that Mike never stopped loving her but felt he needed to get back with his wife. He regrets not explaining why he ended their relationship and feels guilty for hurting Lauren, and he wants and needs to make things right again and, hopefully, reclaim what they had before. He commits himself to fighting for her forgiveness and for her love knowing he has a steep hill to climb before she will ever absolve him or be able to trust him.
Mike is not afraid of a challenge, and he sets out to pursue her with single-minded determination but also with compassion and patience. He mans up and acknowledges his mistakes without trying to make an excuse for his behavior, and he never attempts to dismiss Lauren’s heartbreak or her anger. They slowly and painfully excavate their past, and although the process is gut-wrenching and emotional, there is also laughter and light-heartedness along the way that reminds them of how good they were together. They share an intense chemistry that has not diminished in the years apart, and he is not above leveraging that attraction. If wooing were a super power, Mike would be a superhero.
The only black marks against him I can find are his reasons for not explaining why he was breaking up with Lauren when he did. His decision was bone-headed, but he does explain his thought process – or lack thereof. He is so charming that I can give him a pass, but I understand why it might be difficult for Lauren to forgive and forget.
When I read the synopsis of Pipe Dreams, I was initially hesitant to read it because I am a bit squeamish about second-chance romances where the breakup and time apart are painful. But I decided to give it a try, because I think Ms. Bowen is a phenomenal writer and I trusted her to mend my heart if she broke it. She did, and Pipe Dreams demonstrates that romances that include some of the messy and complicated realities of relationships and life – including divorces that take forever – feel more relatable, and this makes the reading experience more powerful and satisfying. I feel like I was with Mike and Lauren on every step of their difficult journey, and I felt every emotion – the good, the bad and the ugly cry. I experienced those bittersweet moments when they began to heal and realize there was a possibility they could find love again, and Pipe Dreams will make the most cynical reader believe in second chances and happy ever afters.