This book was really hard for me to grade. In fact, I wish I could give Rome two grades: A solid B for the story, and because of some pretty wince-inducing writing and a reliance on the same-old-same-old wish fulfillment clichés, a paltry D for execution. In the end, I settled for an average of C.
Cora Lewis can handle guys who are rough around the edges. As a professional body piercer working at the Marked tattoo shop, she’s surrounded by men who fall far outside the range of conventional. Indeed, her one “normal” relationship ended in disaster when her fiancé cheated on her. Now she’s sworn to stay out of any relationship that doesn’t promise her a happily-ever-after with a guy who’s “all-in”.
Medically discharged from the army, Rome Archer has no idea what to do with his life. A warrior with no more war to fight, his struggle with PTSD and a lingering grief and anger over the death of his younger brother alienate him from his family and friends. Add in the guilt he feels for having survived when so many of his fellow soldiers did not and the last thing Rome needs is the tiny, pixie-like Cora giving him a hard time for his bad attitude. But since she works at his brother Rule’s tattoo shop, it’s almost impossible to avoid her.
After Rome gets a distressing call from the war front, his attempt to drown his troubles result in a necessary designated-driver rescue from Cora. For various reasons, Cora determines the best place for Rome to sleep off the booze is in her bed. Before she can get out of the room, Rome, barely conscious and thinking Cora is a living teddy bear, traps her beneath a massive arm where he finds her the next morning. Before a single word can be spoken, the two give in to a spontaneous moment of passion. Sadly, in their sex-addled state of mind, they neglect to take necessary precautions, and I don’t have to tell you what happens next.
Cora believes Rome is exactly NOT the kind of guy she’d be able to make a life with, but she’s willing to give him a chance given her current predicament. For his part, Rome truly believes he is too damaged to be any good for anyone, but he’s not one to shirk his responsibilities. They agree to a tentative truce so that they can find out of they have more in common than great sex.
Told in alternating first-person points of view between Cora and Rome, there are things I did like about the story. Cora and Rome’s initial interactions are openly hostile, with nary a hint of insta-love in sight. Even after they give into their sexual attraction, they both hold serious reservations about their compatibility. They know that they need time to get to know each other before committing to anything. I liked this level of realism. Too, both characters possessed real character flaws; Cora’s in the form of being too quick to judge and her refusal to open up her heart again, Rome’s in his stubbornness to deal with his family issues head-on and his massive hero complex.
Harder to buy, however, was the idea that a woman as (self-proclaimed) savvy as Cora and a guy as world-wise as Rome would have had unprotected sex. The first time they forgo the condom, I chalked it up to the completely unplanned nature of their encounter. However, it happens more than once, which usually means instant wall-banger for me. But for the sake of finishing the book, I had to give this eye-roll inducing stupidity a pass.
Rome is the third installment in the Marked Man series, and I have a feeling the story would have benefited greatly had I read the other two books. I was never sure if or how Cora and Rome had known each other before the opening pages. Too, Cora’s big hang-up about getting involved again is the result of being heartbroken by her ex. I had to take her word for it that the experience was sufficiently traumatic to turn her so completely off the idea of falling in love again, but I imagine if I’d read the other books I might have had more sympathy for this rather flimsy reason for keeping Rome at arm’s length.
Unfortunately, the heaping helping of author wish-fulfillment was a bit harder to swallow. Cora lives every girl’s fantasy, surrounded by hot, edgy guys who adore her and would kill anyone who dares look at her crosseyed. They’ve even given her a cute nickname – Tink, short for Tinkerbell – because she’s just that tiny and adorable. And, I guess, because Cora is just too pedestrian of a name to fit in with this crew.
Because the names are ridiculous. Honestly, there is not a normal name in the group except for Cora herself and her ex, Jimmy. She’s surrounded by guys named Rule, Jet, Nash, Rowdy, Asa, Brite, and Rome. The women don’t fair much better. Ayden, Shaw. Indeed, I believe the next installment features a heroine named Saint. Seriously?
This one is a personal preference thing and thus won’t be a problem for others. Cora is covered in tattoos, piercings and transdermal implants (I had to Google those – oh, my!). I personally couldn’t imagine her as being remotely attractive with all of the distracting body art. When she mentioned the small gauges she has in her ears, I found myself gagging a bit because I find that particular method of body modification to be grotesque. Again, my issue, but still an issue all the same.
One character flaw is exhibited by both Cora and Rome, however, and I hope everyone will find it as disturbing as I did. At a Fourth of July barbeque, Cora decides to stop drinking:
We finished eating and had a few more drinks; at least they did. I had to drive Asa back to the house and there was no way I was going to risk a DUI on such a checkpoint-happy holiday.
Say what? Cora will refrain from drinking and driving not because it’s the right – and legal – thing to do or because she doesn’t want to endanger herself, her passenger and other drivers on the road, but because she doesn’t want to risk getting stopped at a checkpoint and being arrested for DUI?
Rome isn’t much better. A few pages later, he’s imbibing at a bar.
I was on my Harley, so I should probably cool it with the booze. A DUI would just be the icing on the crap cake I was being served on a daily basis, but as the beer mixed with the potent bourbon from earlier, none of that seemed to really matter any more.
I truly hope this was simply a poorly chosen way to demonstrate that Cora and Rome won’t drink and drive rather than an expression of the author’s belief that it is okay to drink and drive as long as you’re really sure you won’t get caught.
Finally, the book could have used a very hard pass through editing. The writing was often clunky and awkward, with a whole lot of oddly constructed similes. At one point, Cora admires Rome’s body and his “endless amounts of lightly tanned skin that stretched over a canvas that looked like it had been carved of stone.” Isn’t canvas the covering that is usually stretched over some kind of frame? Too, barely two pages in a row passed without mention of a character’s unnaturally unique eye color. And they ALL had unique eye colors.
In the end, Rome features a readable if somewhat clichéd storyline. I’m half compelled to read the other books in the series, which says something. But I’m also not sure I’m ready for the slog through more of the same amateurish writing and over-the-top Mary Sueing.