Serious Play - Bonnie Dee, Summer Devon My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

Initially, I loved the idea of Serious Play because of the hero, Luke. I don’t remember reading about an ex-con hero before, which Luke was when the story begins. I’m a huge Bonnie Dee fan too and loved her heroes always. This is also my first collaboration read by her and another author, Summer Devon. Since I don’t read M/M, I didn’t read their earlier collaborations. After finishing the book, I can only say that I’m disappointed. The first half of the book was really good, but the second half wasn’t. The story just lost me there.

Luke is just out of prison on parole and looking for a job and a place stay. Since he was the model of a good prisoner, his parole officer recommended him to one of her close friends who owns a bar and needs a helping hand. Luke meets Mary in the office of her bar, ‘My Parents’ Basement’ for this job. Mary doesn’t have a lot of stuff helping her out so hiring Luke would be good, though she’s confused at the moment if she should let an ex-convict in. But because of her friend, she decides to trust Luke (for now that is). They have the spark flying around from the first meeting. Somehow Luke’s reserved but very honest demeanor attracts Mary. It also helps that he’s handsome as well. Luke thought Mary is one of the most beautiful women he has ever met and immediately wants her and it’s not just the fact that he has been celibate for these 5 years of prison. But, their social difference would never let him have her. Luke’s past isn’t very attractive. His parents broke up when he was young. He lived with his mother and sometimes grandparents and with poverty more often than not. And when there is poverty, the lure of easy money seems the only way. Luke shook hands with some people who are into selling drugs and so on. He never did drugs, at least not an addict. He also had a girlfriend back then, whose brother was the gang leader. But it was a convenient store robbery with the gang that did him in. Luke has been helpful always to the law and it paid back. Now, even though Luke despairs of ever having a relationship with someone like Mary, who definitely comes from money, he has no other option but to take this job and do best out of it for a time. He needs the money and the place she’s offering too.

Mary’s parents have always expected that she’d have some big job or the other, pass with a big degree and so on. So when she dropped out of collage and started this bar, they have been thoroughly disappointed and never missed a chance to tell her that. So far, Mary has survived and her bar is fast becoming a very popular haunt in the area. She needed the extra hands too since the only people she got apart from her was the bartender, Manuel, who helped her set up this bar and a good friend. Another young woman called Taylor worked part-time with them. Even though Mary is attracted to Luke and confused about trusting him (a handbook given by her parole officer friend which addressed the issue of ‘how to handle an ex-convict’, suffice to say, which was full of things to make one scared of ex-cons), she gives him the job the same day and beside the bar to live. Mary lives upstairs. She also lets Luke use her shower when he asks for it. No matter what, she just can’t keep Luke out of her mind and him staying with her won’t help her at all because Mary also knows nothing good would come of this attraction. At least, I thought she was smart enough to handle this situation but she wasn’t, alas!

At first, I found Mary a nice and hard working woman, who didn’t give into her family’s badgering and made her own life. I already liked Luke and his quiet ways, was totally into the attraction they seem to share (and the forbidden fantasy of employer and employee thing). They soon get into the business of running the bar, teaching or showing Luke around. Manuel and Taylor seem nice and helpful too. We get some ideas of the popularity of Mary’s bar. I was kinda bored about the detailed narratives about bartending but since the book is focused on one, it couldn’t be avoided of course.

The story was flowing well. Luke and Mary dance around their attraction, tries to get into the easy camaraderie but it never really comes out right. Because of their shared attraction, there’s always some awkward moment or the other, especially when they’re alone at night, cleaning up the bar all by themselves. I thought Luke was more into Mary than she was into him. Luke needed someone to hold onto, a place to belong. He was like a floating twig, out of prison and doesn’t fit into anywhere. Mary’s open and vivacious personality totally knocked him out. I really adored Luke and by the time I finished the book, I thought he definitely needed someone better. On the other hand, Mary wanted to get laid, of course, but she wasn’t zoomed onto Luke beyond the physical. I didn’t believe it till the end. On the edge or frustration, both physical and emotional, Luke decides to sought out some woman and get laid for the time being. One of the lawyers who frequents the bar and totally digs him fits his bill, no strings attached sex. He almost got on with it the hall behind the bar, until Mary happened upon them. Oddly enough, H’s OW being my pet peeve, I should’ve been mad at Luke but I totally understood his situation. I was kinda mad at Mary for taking umbrage on it because she was already trying to convince herself thousand times a day that Luke isn’t the type she should have any kind of intimacy with. So why be mad at him? Luke, poor babe, gets upset since upsetting Mary was the last thing he wanted to do. Then they decide to talk about the whole matter later and the next day, they end up kissing.

Mary’s family gradually learns of Luke’s past. At first it was her mother, who was constantly worried about her ‘lack of social life’ or boyfriends and dates coming and going. Mary has had boyfriends in the past and sometimes occasional dates but she’s not into one night stand kind situation. This is something I also loved about Mary and was annoyed when her family badgered her about the personal aspects of her life. She is a grown woman FGS; it was annoying, the length they would go to stick their nose into her private matters. Anyway, soon afterwards, Mary just decides there’s no point in dancing around and they give into their mutual passion. Up to this part, I loved the book. Then when Mary’s dad and the others learn about Luke (and guessed her involvement with him), I was sure trouble was coming their way. Especially, Mary’s lawyer father wouldn’t let her ‘ruin her life anymore than she had already done by being involved with an ex-con’. When she goes to plan her sister’s baby shower with Luke (it was good that she didn’t hide him like some guilty secret), her father totally goes beyond the boundary. I understand a father’s concern but to Mary’s father, it was no all concern but more about pride and the matter of their social difference. Luke defends Mary and it was apparent how possessive he was about her. But Mary wasn’t very happy about Luke’s show of possession. Even though she didn’t want to hide Luke, she didn’t want to flaunt him exactly. I began to feel a downer coming because I felt Mary wasn’t exactly proud of her involvement with him.

From sometimes, Mary was sensing that there was a theft going on in her bar. In the store room, the counts of various goods don’t match. At first, she let it go since it seemed small and she thought it was her fault or something. She was also totally absorbed with Luke and their ongoing sex life. She loved doing it with him. To Luke, she was everything and you could see from the way he would look at her, that he is already kind of worshiping the path she walks. There was no denying that he was falling and falling hard this time. On the other hand, Mary was still confused and I was totally getting annoyed by her constant ‘to do or not to do’. No, sex is of course ok but serious relationship... umm, let me think hard and good. Maybe I’m in love with him... ummm, maybe not... ummm... let me think... umm, what did that book on ex-con said about not letting them close to you... Let me look into that again!! Yes, trust me, that was what was going on inside her brain 24/7 where Luke was concerned. Then, one day, just before some important party, one of Mary’s expensive crates of wine goes missing and wham! She becomes suspicious of Luke. O.M.G. She lost me there, totally. I was just pissed, so pissed that at the first sign of trouble she thinks it’s him?! Wasn’t she just thinking that she has fallen love with him? It was so shockingly moronic, I felt kinda numb towards the book and couldn’t revive myself afterwards. I just couldn’t!!!

Luke, the poor babe, he was just ok with her accusing stares. To him, since he was out of prison, it was totally OK for her to suspect him. Oh, C’mon babe! What about the fact that you were working so hard for the past weeks to get her approval? To make her happy? Where is the trust in here? Mary starts avoiding him and poor Luke, he’s upset about the whole thing since its upsetting Mary. I understood how sympathetic he was towards her and the fact that she has worked hard for this bar to make a mark. What did Mary did? Nada! As he goes to his parole officer, a bit scared that Mary would report him (my heart just went out to him, so many insecurities about this relationship!), Luke finds out that a deal is waiting for him there. He made a secondary plan to find work in some construction farm a while back. Someone got an admission for him into this university where he can study and work on this subject. Luke knew who it was immediately since it would take him far away from Mary. He pays a visit to Mary’s dad but, upon this visit, he realizes it’s the best option for him right now. He always knew his involvement with Mary won’t bring anything positive. Maybe if he can earn a degree and can get a really good job, maybe then he can come back. Luke is hopeful about his life’s prospect and in despair about leaving Mary and losing her in the process, even after her accusation of him stealing from her. WHY Luke, WHY???? I just wanted him to leave her and get on with his own life!!

With being annoying, Mary proved to be a pushover as well when Manuel tries to put nonsense about Luke inside her brain; all negative things and succeeds too! I knew just then who the real rat bastard was behind this whole mess but she believes in Manuel’s nonsense. Can you see me losing interest? Actually, I lost it a while back… This was sorted out soon enough, so I don’t know why this part was even there in the book. Afterwards there were more misunderstandings about Luke’s moving out of the bar and breaking it off with her. I saw Luke thinking about her always but Mary, well, she was always so f*cking confused that my head hurt by the time this book finished!! She also took insult about Luke not telling her that it was her father who arranged the degree for him. WHY WOULD YOU TAKE UMBRAGE ABOUT IT B*TCH? You were the one who pushed Luke away in the first place!!! I couldn’t believe that they actually have anything real happening in the future. I couldn’t see the trust and definitely Mary doing the same thing to Luke again... and again. I just rolled eyes when they finally made up and spoke mush to each-other... that was just... ugh!!

The book ended with the HFN vibe and not HEA. I don’t really care for HFN, fool that I am I like my HEAs better. Overall, not good enough for me. 3.5 stars.

This ARC was provided to me by Carina Press via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way. thankyou