Ainslie Paton takes the tried and true friends-to-lovers trope and adds her own unique twists in Sold Short, a story of college friends and business partners Dev and Sarina, whose future plans find them at a crossroads.
Sarina wants to have a baby. She’s tired of waiting for the right man to come along and while she may have had some thoughts where her best friend Dev is concerned, it’s clear they will never be returned. She hires a male escort to help her get back into the dating game but soon realizes her best bet will be to go the donor route and starts making plans accordingly.
Dev is content with his current on again/off again no-strings-attached fling with a family friend, Shush. Their East Indian heritage means that arranged marriages are still a cultural norm, but he believes that they have an understanding that their fooling around doesn’t mean anything serious. When he finds out that Sarina is ‘practice dating’ and why, it leads to the realization that the friendship he thought was his rock is crumbling beneath him. Dev needs to man up and be the friend Sarina needs – or realize that this is his one and only chance to take things in a new direction.
There’s a lot going on in this story, though most of it does revolve around the relationship between Sarina and Dev. Dev’s traditional family and their expectations is a big part of the plot, especially when his younger sister ends up pregnant and isn’t sure who the father is. Part and parcel with Sarina’s wish for a baby conceived in the not so usual way, it makes for some interesting and emotional discussions as Dev comes to terms with all the things changing around him. He’s particularly jealous of the man he knows Sarina is dating (the male escort) though it takes him a while to figure out why when he’s been happily having his own sexual flings without thinking of how Sarina might feel about them.
Once Sarina and Dev realize something between them is changing, they no longer sleep with anyone else. When they do eventually succumb to the attraction that they’ve tried for so long to deny, the result is some steamy love scenes though it doesn’t immediately lead to a happy ending for them. It takes some time and some communication on both their parts to get over the bumps in the road and end up in the right place to stake out a future together.
Along with the interesting familial relationships (both on Dev’s side and on Sarina’s too as her family is equally invested in the thought of her having a child), the workplace relationship of Owen, Reid, Dev and Sarina has hit some bumps as well. Someone is poaching their talented staff, and getting to the bottom of it means exposing some truths of their own. These four have been invested in their company Plus, a software and app development firm, from the very start and they’ve gone through a lot together. They aren’t ready to give up their friendship and business success without a fight. I really enjoyed seeing them have their own viewpoints, their unique contributions to the company, and that they are willing to work hard to keep their team together.
The Sidelined series concludes with Shotgun Wedding, which will take the three couples from the earlier books in the series and give them a novella to follow up on the happy endings they got in their own standalone stories. I highly recommend the whole series as examples of Ainslie Paton’s skill in taking common romance tropes and turning them into unique and highly entertaining stories.