Desert Isle Keeper
Work for It
A smile and a tear – that’s what you’ll produce as Talia Hibbert scores another win with Work for It, the angsty but deeply romantic story of two men who fall in love in spite of their emotional scars.
Olu Keynes is a tart-tongued but handsome man who has been numbed emotionally thanks to a forced outing by his drug addicted ex and a childhood with an emotionally abusive father. He’s often overcome by self-loathing, anxiety and an icy state of non-feeling. Olu has tried to use one-night-stands to paper over the void in his life, but nothing’s working. Deciding to shake himself out of his torpor, he volunteers to pick elderflowers at Fernley Farms for a pound per kilo, renting a house and settling into life in a small village.
The self-described ‘ugly’ Griff Everett is an introverted gentle giant of a loner. The locals treat him like a pariah because his mother practiced witchcraft and didn’t care to hide it; she and her suicide are still an object of gossip in the village to this day, and so Griff keeps his head down and his love life to himself, working at Fernley and tending the plants with love and care. The only person who really hangs around him is his best friend Rebecca, but that suits Griff fine; he understands plants better than he does people, after all. It’s in Bex’s company that he first sees Olu and is stunned; he’s the most handsome man Griff has ever seen in his life.
When Griff and Olu bump into one another again at the local pub, Olu’s tart tongue and Griff’s shaky social skills put them on rocky ground – and they become fast enemies. But hate turns to pining, which turns to tentative romantic affection as the harvest goes on. But can Griff accept Olu’s past? And can Olu accept Griff’s secrets?
Talia Hibbert remains the absolute monarch of slow burn romance; it takes these two almost a hundred pages to even hold hands, and every bit of that progress is well earned by both characters as they work through the walls they’ve built between the world and themselves.
Griff and Olu have realistic emotional scars. They’ve had tough lives, but aren’t fully bogged down by the grief and anxiety that fill their lives. Griff is a little warmer, a little more vulnerable than Olu, but is still struggling with his mother’s suicide as well as the gossip her reputation has brought into his life, still practicing bits of the magic she used to teach him, taking whatever scraps of respect the job he’s good at gives him while his boss behaves abusively. Olu is tart, bitter, and angry – apt to push others away. But Griff determinedly worms his way into his heart and – bit by bit, day by day – becomes indispensable and treasured by Olu. It’s a delicious and sweet process, not to mention a spicy one; the love scenes all have Hibbert’s classic steaminess.
As always, Hibbert works beautifully with her small English village atmosphere, down to the small-minded, snobby inhabitants who look down on those who dare to be different, who are othered, with small words and nasty looks.
Hibbert has well-situated this book within the continuity of two others. Olu is the brother of Elizabeth Olusegun-Keynes from Undone by the Ex-Con and the best friend of Theo from Bad for the Boss; Lizzy, her husband Isaac, and Theo pop up here (and Lizzy is pregnant, which is a minor plot point), though you don’t need to have read either book to enjoy their existence in the story.
As with all Hibbert novels, the banter is real and perfect and enthralling. And it’s not just about Olu and Griff. Olu becomes friends with his saucy war widow landlady Maria and this is just as important a building block in his healing as his relationship with Olu. So, too, is his relationship with Lizzie. And Griff and Bex have one of my favorite romance novel friendships of the year going on between these covers. They’re all wonderful, vital parts of who the two men become as time goes on and they get a little gumption and a little patience (in which order? Well, you’ll have to read it to see).
Work for It is moving, sexy, touching and honest; a total treat that comes highly recommended.
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