Desert Isle Keeper
Yours to Keep
I’ve been a fan of Lauren Layne ever since I read Only With You back in 2014. (According to Goodreads, I’ve read seventeen of the author’s books which is a good indication that she a) writes a lot and b) is one of the authors whose new releases will generally catch my attention). But I hadn’t read anything by her recently (too many books, not enough reading time) so I decided to dive into her latest release, Yours to Keep, the second book in the Man of the Year series. It’s got a familiar-sounding plot – sporting hero gets injured and goes back to his home town, only to fall in love with the girl next door. But in this author’s hands it gets that extra special something that makes it a home run.
Carter Ramsey, famous baseball player, is about to grace the cover of Citizen Magazine as Man of The Year – and it’s an unhappy coincidence that he won’t actually be playing his sport when it happens because he’s been sidelined by an injury to his throwing arm. His career dreams of winning the World Series look farther away than ever. When his twin sister Caitlyn calls to encourage him to come home to Haven for some family time and recuperation (on the heels of his mother doing the same) Carter decides to do just that. She’s also co-chairing their ten year high school reunion, which doesn’t thrill him, but he knows he’d be a big draw to get others to go. And when she tells him that his high school sweetheart Felicity will be there, and that she’s newly single? Suddenly going home sounds very appealing.
Olive Dunn may not have a decorating gene in her body, but helping her pregnant best friend Caitlyn with posters for their upcoming high school reunion is a no brainer. Plus she’s a teacher at said school, so showing enthusiasm for anything related is a given. Upon arriving home covered in glitter she discovers someone moving into the vacant house next door and though she doesn’t recognize him at first, when she goes over to introduce herself she realizes that the golden boy of Haven, Caitlyn’s brother Carter, has returned. She and Carter had been lab partners in high school but had run in different crowds. Popular and good looking Carter had had the popular and good looking Felicity as a girlfriend and ordinary, sometimes weird, sometimes too loud Olive had wished them well. But Carter seems a bit bruised around the edges now, and his not-so-perfect self intrigues her. Rekindling a friendship – a real one this time – is easy. And truth be told, there’s an interesting new attraction springing up between them. But can the girl next door compete against a second chance romance?
What brings me back to Lauren Layne’s books over and over again is her characters. She has the knack of writing people with whom you can identify. Whether they are going through complex life situations or just hanging out with their friends, they are people you can empathize with and that you can see being your friends. I love that in this particular story, Olive’s natural, friendly nature puts Carter at ease from the first moment they meet each other again and that he comes to realize how valuable her friendship is, even as he discovers that he’s attracted to her, too. Their banter is super funny and Carter appreciates that Olive hasn’t changed – she’s not starstruck by his fame and he has no worries that she might have any ulterior motives other than helping him feel comfortable and giving him a sympathetic ear when he shares his career concerns with her. Olive on the other hand finds that behind Carter’s ‘perfect’ exterior is a generous, kind hearted and decent man – it’s no wonder she finds herself sexually attracted to him too.
This is a slow burn romance, with their friendship taking center stage for the first half of the story. Plus, the appearance of the ex-girlfriend complicates things. Carter and Felicity had broken up because they’d been going different ways after high school, and Felicity had gotten married and has since divorced. Felicity proposed a pact when they broke up, that if, ten years after high school, neither of them were married, they would marry each other. Olive’s reaction to learning about that:
He finally brought himself to look at Olive, whose eyes were comically wide. “Please tell me you didn’t agree to that.”
“You did!” Olive said with a delighted laugh. “Oh my God. Oh my God! That is too good. I didn’t know that sort of thing happened outside of terrible movies! A marriage pact!”
“I was eighteen,” he said under his breath. “And I’d already hurt her. I didn’t want her to start crying again, and…”
“And?” she managed through a laugh, wiping her eyes.
“Well honestly, I thought I’d be married by now! And she married the Hollywood guy, so I chalked the whole thing up to childhood crap and forgot about it.”
Obviously, the couple that is going to end up with the HEA is clear by this point, but the author does a great job of weaving this extra person into the story, and turning the expected ‘second chance romance’ that could have been on its head in favour of a couple you really want to root for.
This is a small town romance, so you get plenty of scenes with the community and all sorts of quirky locals, plus sweet moments with Carter and his family. And it’s a baseball romance too, but instead of the major leagues it’s the high school playing field and Carter teaching Olive how to play so that their teacher team doesn’t suck in their games against neighbouring schools. Baseball has defined Carter’s life for so long that not being able to play – and the possibility that he’ll have to retire – is also a focus of the plot. How he deals with that, and leans on Olive for her advice and guidance is part of what makes him realize his future is with her. Even skimming through the book again to write this review has made me want to read it over from start to finish. Plenty of laughs, sexy scenes and heartwarming romance make Yours to Keep a Desert Isle Keeper.