Desert Isle Keeper
Serena Bell is one of my auto-read contemporary romance authors so I’m always excited to see a new release by her, especially if it’s the start of a brand new series. But there’s a little surprise for her regular readers because she’s set the series, Tierney Bay, in a familiar location. In 2015, she published Turn Up the Heat, a title that at this time is no longer available (but I hope may be self-published soon?) which made my best of that year list for its sexually intense romance between an ex-con and an aspiring chef, and it was set in Tierney Bay. So it’s a familiar locale for me but with brand new characters and situations in So Close to entice new readers into her enjoyable and entertaining stories.
Vacation destination Tierney Bay, on the coast of Oregon, sees its share of tourists, and Auburn Campbell wants to keep them coming to the Beachcrest Inn, where she worked as a teenager and now manages for the owner Carl who is hospitalized. Carl has promised that when he retires (and that’s looking like a distinct possibility) he’ll sell it to her and that’s the new future she’s envisioned for herself. After leaving her controlling ex back in New York, she’s reconnecting with her siblings and feeling settled for the first time in a while. Sure, she might feel a tinge of attraction to the sex in a suit who offers to buy her a drink at Bob’s Tavern, clearly a businessman just passing through, but the scent of his cologne, the same as her ex wore, is a sharp wake-up call that rich, arrogant men are not worth any more of her time.
Only, she can’t brush him off as easily as she’d thought when he turns out to be her boss’s grandson. Trey Xavier is in Tierney Bay to, in his words, “address the business and financial situation” of his grandfather and it isn’t good for Carl – and by extension, Auburn. Though Carl may have promised Auburn that she’d have the business when he retired, the truth is it’s not up to him. During a time that he was in debt, Trey bailed him out and is technically co-owner of the Beachcrest Inn so it isn’t only Carl’s to sell.
Trey has his own business problems, ones that require an immediate infusion of cash that can only be had by selling the inn to a property developer. Unless Auburn can come up with the down payment for a local bank to take a chance on giving her a mortgage, the inn will likely end up as a set of beachfront condos. Desperate to show Trey what a mistake it would be to sell, she makes a deal that he has to spend a week with her at the inn, to see it work its magic both on the people who stay there and the wider community in hopes that he’ll change his mind. He agrees to appease her and Carl, though he has no intentions of giving in. Yet as Trey and Auburn spend time together, the situation no longer seems so cut and dried, especially as they find themselves with a budding attraction to each other that leads to a heated affair. Can they find a way to a happy ending for everyone involved?
One of the things I love about Serena Bell’s stories is how she makes you care about the characters. She does this by showing all the aspects of their personalities, including their flaws. Trey appears at first glance to be a confident if smug businessman, all about money, and making more of it – or so it seems. But you see him trying to buy a house for his sister to replace the run down one she lives in. He bailed out his grandfather to save the inn. And you find out that his reasons for wanting to sell the inn now are not selfish, but rather of desperation (though he doesn’t want to reveal to anyone the real reason, one which makes the reader empathize with him and ups the stakes considerably). He doesn’t believe in love because his parents’ failed marriage showed him that love is weakness – and love doesn’t pay the bills. So he goes into the week with Auburn at the inn knowing full well that he will disappoint her.
Auburn is who you root for from the start. Having escaped a controlling ex, she knows now what family and friends and the safe haven of the inn mean to her and she’s not willing to give those things up again. She’s convinced that she can persuade Trey to let her buy the inn if she can just show him the emotional impact on the community and herself, not knowing the real reason he needs to sell. Along the way they connect in ways neither expected, which leads to emotional and physical intimacy in some sexy love scenes. But it’s only when Trey realizes that he wants a future with Auburn that he opens up completely and realizes that they will have to work together to come up with a solution to their dilemma.
There are several secondary characters who support Trey and Auburn (mostly their siblings), some of whom will feature in upcoming stories. As a nod to her fellow romance writers who like to go away on writing retreats, the author has a group of them stay at the inn as they wrestle with their plots and characters and scold Trey for not believing in love and romance, making for some funny moments (a bit like eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation). And the beachside town is a beautiful and idyllic setting that mimics the real ones along the coasts that rely on tourism dollars for their livelihood. I go into every Serena Bell novel knowing that her care and attention to detail will ensure a delightful reading experience and I’ve yet to be disappointed. So Close is a great start to what promises to be a wonderful series.