Stefan Talbot likes order and control. He approaches his life with the same meticulous precision that he uses to put paint on his canvas. Nothing good comes from chaos, and that is why he has refused to allow himself to get close to Jennifer Waters. They are like fire and ice. Though she is younger, her talent as an artist is unquestionable. But she lives her life like she paints—with wild, passionate abandon. It is intoxicating and terrifying, and he can’t get her out of his head.
Jennifer ran from Bliss to put Stef behind her. She had come to the mountain town seeking a mentor but found much more than she bargained for. Cool and distant, Stef was like a marble statue and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t break through his shell. She moved to Dallas to start over, but nothing is going as planned. When the art gallery where she works is robbed and a precious painting is stolen, Jen is accused of the theft. Jen is thrilled when her bail is met, until she realizes her savior is Stef and he has a few conditions. First and foremost, she has to return to Bliss.
Against the backdrop of the Winter Festival, Stef and Jen’s attraction catches fire. But the dark forces behind the robbery in Dallas have followed Jen home. A criminal syndicate believes she still has the stolen painting and they’ll kill to get their hands on it.
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I’m so glad to be back in Bliss, Colorado – a place where the community is as quirky as can be and loves to meddle in other people’s lives, but it’s also a tight knit group who has each other’s back and will do whatever needs to be done to take care of their own.
In their own right, Stefan Talbot and Jennifer Waters are intriguing and complex characters and the fact that readers are privy to both of their perspectives, including their internal musings, allows us to get to the heart of Stefan’s issues with relationships and commitment and the reasons behind Jennifer’s escape to Texas and the risks and complications that surround her as she comes back home and faces off with not only Stefan but the issues that also seemed to follow her home.
I do have to admit, though, that I struggled with Stef and Jennifer as a couple. As a man who thrives on order and control, Stef tends to demand obedience from those around him, especially Jennifer, even though he knows that she lives her life in ways that match her artistic nature and that stifling her creativity rids the world of her chaotic beauty. I just didn’t understand why Stef would want that to happen when it clearly defines who she is, and even when readers are given much needed reasoning, my buy-in was still a bit lacking due to certain situations and exhibited behavior, so while I could tell that Stef’s feelings for Jennifer were strong despite some of his actions, I wanted to feel like they couldn’t live without each other and that they had a bond that would survive anything and even at the end, I still wondered if they had what it takes to work through everything that happened and focus on what’s most important.
A lot goes down in One to Keep, which makes Stefan and Jennifer’s story about so much more than them figuring out if they belong together. There’s suspense, dramatics, and a whole lot of sexual tension as well as an air of danger that surrounds, not only Jennifer, but the entire town of Bliss, which makes the
secondary characters just as important as the hero and heroine, partially because Stef and Jennifer need their support to overcome what they’re up against but more so that through the townspeople, readers gain further insight into the ins and outs of the town and their views on King Stef, the Dominant, and his artsy submissive.
Despite my misgivings about Stef and Jennifer’s relationship, I loved revisiting this crazy Colorado town and its inhabitants, and I’m hopeful that some of the characters who were introduced in One to Keep and/or the ones readers learned more about have their stories told because there’s definitely some interesting dynamics that I’d love to see explored.
3.5/4 Poison Apples
Stef turned back to Jen. “Let’s move, Jennifer. I have a plane ready. We need to be at Love Field in an hour. I have an officer waiting to process you out.”
Jen’s head whirled. “Plane?”
“Yes, plane. We’re going back to Bliss.”
Cool, gray eyes slitted, and she could practically feel the will rolling off him. Stef was tense, and she knew it was a bad idea to push him, but she couldn’t help it.
“I’m serious, Stef. I’m not going anywhere with you.” She couldn’t go back to Bliss. Panic threatened to swamp her. He was here. He was right here in front of her, and her heart didn’t give a damn that he was a bastard. For the first time in months, she felt desire for something besides her art. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, go down that path again.
He got into her space, a move he’d perfected seemingly long before he met her. She held her ground. Even though he didn’t touch her physically, he seemed to surround her. Suddenly her whole world was Stef, his gray eyes, the heat of his body, his masculine, clean scent. He filled her every sense.
“I’m not going home with you.” She forced herself to say the words.
His lips hitched up. “At least you admit Bliss is your home.”
That wasn’t what she’d meant. Bliss, Colorado, had felt like home when she’d been there, but she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bliss wasn’t big enough for the two of them. “It’s your home. Hell, Stef, it’s your little kingdom, and you like to play the king, don’t you?”
“Yes, because everyone does what I say.” Stef’s low growl made her breath speed up. “Everyone in Bliss bows down to me. Have you been gone for so long that you forget Max regularly kicks my ass? And Nell and Henry are currently protesting my gardening practices.”
He was too close for comfort. She gave in and took a step back. She could see plainly that he was satisfied with her discomfort. “Don’t try to play the poor rich boy with me. You’re a puppet master. You like to pull the strings and see how people dance. Well, I’m not in your kingdom anymore, and there’s no way you can get me there again. So you can take your money and go back to Colorado.”
It was stupid. Even as she said the words, she wanted to take them back. She’d spent the last twenty-four hours terrified in a jail cell. She would have to be the stupidest woman in the world to turn him down, but she’d never thought around Stef. Since the moment she’d met him, she’d been a quivering mass of emotion and desire every time he entered a room.
“Stubborn thing. I’ll make it easy on you.” His hands caught hers, and before she could think she felt cold metal surrounding her wrists. He flicked the cuffs on with the cool precision of a man who often cuffed the women in his life.
“What are you doing?” She stared at her hands. At least this time they were in front of her. She preferred it that way. Damn, her life had taken a wrong turn when she could compare and contrast her experiences with men who handcuffed her.
“Taking you home, Jennifer. Whether you like it or not.”
He leaned down and picked her up. She was in his arms, nestled close to his chest. She looked up at the square, inflexible line of his jaw. His arms tightened around her, and she was caged more closely than she’d been in the holding cell. She had the suspicion that this time Stef would be harder to escape from than before. He kicked open the door and started down the hall.
Yep, like it or not, she was going back to Bliss.
NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Lexi Blake lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, and the laziest rescue dog in the world. She began writing at a young age, concentrating on plays and journalism. It wasn’t until she started writing romance and urban fantasy that she found the stories of her heart. She likes to find humor in the strangest places and believes in happy endings no matter how odd the couple, threesome, or foursome may seem.