Desert Isle Keeper
Tools of Engagement
I never would have thought one of my rare DIKs would go to a romance with kids in it, but 2020 has just been That Kind of Year. Tessa Bailey’s Fix Her Up, the first in her Hot and Hammered trilogy, was my Best Romance of 2019 pick, and while Tools of Engagement doesn’t displace it in my heart, it does end up close to it – maybe near another vital organ like a lung.
Wes Daniels doesn’t flip houses, houses flip him. At twenty-three, he’s a former foster kid who’s lived in fourteen houses and a car. Now, he’s living in the house of his sister, a struggling addict, who has left him with her five-year-old daughter. Formerly a Texas bull rider, Wes gets on the crew of the Castle family renovation business in Port Jefferson, where he meets Bethany Castle and engages with her in an enemies-but-we-should-be-lovers relationship. Bethany, the decorator of the family, puts the effort into effortless. Her perfectionism, as she admits it is, verges into self-harm territory (verges – it isn’t anything that requires a content warning). When she quits the family business (as she’s planned since book one of the trilogy), Wes goes with her to work on “Project Doomsday”, Bethany’s own first house for renovation. Then Bethany and Wes end up in a house competition on a TV show, and in a relationship that schools them both about all their internal assumptions about themselves: Wes that he’s not a keeper, and Bethany’s that she’s “cold”.
Wes and Bethany prove that mature people can be sexy, too. It’s difficult to even do justice to Wes. He’s not just an observant man, he’s an observant person (a believable quality in a foster kid), but he never uses his emotional astuteness to be unkind; only to get authentically closer to Bethany, being the sincere flirt or the sincere supporter at just the right moments. Bethany’s self-criticism is both her downfall and her greatest asset; while she runs herself down with scrutiny, it also gives her the ability to see her own role in her relationship issues with Wes and fix them. Their relationship is a genuine enemies-to-lovers one, so brace yourself for some (metaphorically) bloody first interactions (Bethany bears a resemblance at points to Taylor Swift in a break-up-song mood), followed by some dynamite confessions of love (Wes, in particular, is fantastically eloquent in a non-pretentious way and says things like “there is nothing you or anyone could do to make me want to be somewhere I couldn’t hold you”).
Bailey uses alternating-third-person narration for this book very well. I’ve DNF’d books for using third-person PoV as an excuse to write litanies of ‘he said, she said, and then she poured the coffee’, but Bailey’s book has a distinct narrator; it’s just Bailey herself and not Wes or Bethany. Her powers of description are about average, but there are so many spikes of sharp humor and observation that it doesn’t matter. Her main characters come across as distinct and understandable without the crutch of first-person PoV.
I have to talk about the kid in the romance, Laura, though happily, she isn’t in it all that much. She’s mostly just a five-year-old, conveniently emotionally healthy child who is tolerable because she’s one of the book’s indispensable plot devices. She just holds tea parties and eats sugar while infringing almost not at all on Bethany and Wes’s sex life. I can’t even take off points from this book for the unrealistic depiction of children – I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if Laura had been portrayed as the traumatized time-consumer she’d most likely be in real life at her age and with her background.
Tessa Bailey books are very hot, so if you’re the sort of person who prefers romances in which the vagina is referred to as a ‘secret garden’ instead of a “pussy”, this will not be your book. The heat takes a while to arrive, however, and I was definitely checking the page count at certain points wondering when they were going to ‘do it’, but it comes – and so do Bethany and Wes.
Tools of Engagement needs no renovations and is move-in ready for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.