An emotional friends to lovers romance full of risky secrets and late-night lessons in seduction.
Heartland by Sarina Bowen
Book #7 in the True North Series
January 28, 2019
Dylan is my best friend, and the only person in my life who understands me. He doesn’t mind my social awkwardness or my weird history. The only glitch? He doesn’t know that I’ve been hopelessly, desperately in love with him since the first day we picked apples together in his family’s orchard.
But I know better than to confess.
Now that we’re both in college together, I’m seeing a new side of him. College Dylan drinks and has a lot of sex. None of it with me. Until the night I foolishly ask him to tutor me in more than algebra…and he actually says yes.
But the cool morning light shows me how badly I’ve endangered our friendship. And I don’t know if anything will be the same again.
Universal Link: https://shor.by/Heartland
Sarina Bowen’s True North series is a world that I’ll never feel ready to say goodbye to, so when I saw that Zach, the youngest Shipley brother, was the hero of book 7, I couldn’t wait to head back to Vermont – a place that more and more feels like coming home.
Due to Zach’s age, I knew that his story would probably be a bit different than some of the other stories in the series, which also meant that he would be more apt to make quite a few mistakes, that he would need to learn from, as well as say and do things that would make me want to knock some sense into him. And, boy, was I right in this assessment, but because Bowen gives readers Zach’s point of view, she makes us want to give him the benefit of the doubt, wants us to wait for him to realize what’s right in front of him, and while it does take him some time to get out of his own way and to stop hurting Chastity, even if that wasn’t his intention.
It’s clear early on that both characters are a work-in-progress, and it completely makes sense, given their age and the new experiences they’re facing at college. But Chastity has to contend with even more challenges due to her past, and those issues are compounded by her unrequited love for Dylan. As a reader, I felt deeply for what Chastity had faced and what she continues to endure as she moves forward. But I also give her so much credit for truly experiencing all that life has to offer, and even if she’s a bit too innocent and Zach feels the need to protect her, the person he should be protecting her from is himself.
The emotions present in Zach and Chastity’s story are a bit overwhelming at times, especially when readers are given Chastity’s perspective and hear everything in her own words, but it also makes that much more triumphant when she and Zach figure out exactly what they want and go about making it happen.
Heartland most definitely has a friends-to-lovers’ plot line, but I also see it as a story of self-discovery, of figuring out exactly who you are and what you want your life to look and feel like. It’s a heartfelt story that both breaks and heals as Zach and Chastity work to realize where they belong and who they belong with, regardless of their past mistakes and issues.
4.5 Poison Apples
“So why were you having a bad day, anyway?” Ellie asks. “Man trouble?”
“Not exactly. It’s more like a lack of man trouble. I kissed my hot algebra tutor. And I wasn’t supposed to.”
Her big eyes widen. “Which hot algebra tutor? You never said.”
“He doesn’t work at the lab,” I say hastily. “He’s a friend. And he wants to stay that way.”
“Oh.” She looks deflated. “That is a bummer.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No.” She makes a face. “It would be nice, though. This year is kind of lonely. My roommate is a total bitch.”
“Oh, I have one of those, too.”
“Yeah?” Ellie’s eyes brighten. “Does yours steal your clothes and then lie about it?”
“Um, no. She wouldn’t want any of my things. We have singles, anyway. Just a common bathroom.”
“Lucky! She must be easier to stand, then.”
“You’d think.” I take a gulp of mint tea.
“My roommate took my brand-new scarf. With the tags still on! And when I called her out on it, she tried to gaslight me.”
“Gaslight?” I feel my cheeks flush like they sometimes do when I don’t understand the idioms that people use.
“You don’t know Gaslight? It’s a movie from the forties.”
“Ingrid Bergman,” says Dylan’s voice. “We haven’t got around to the classics yet.”
I startle, sloshing my tea over my hand. And when I look up, Dylan is right there. Clear brown eyes. Tousled hair. Tight, muscular body that’s clothed in a nice sweater and ripped jeans. A handsome face that I finally kissed.
Pain slices through me. Because I’m never going to get over him. There will never be a day when I look at Dylan and don’t wish for more.
“Can I talk to you for a quick second?” he asks, taking the mug and grabbing a napkin off the table. He wipes the tea off my hand.
“Now is not a good time,” I say quickly. Because I don’t want to cry in the coffee shop in front of my only new friend.
Dylan actually rolls his eyes. “Fifteen seconds, Chass. Give a man a break.”
“I’d talk to you.” Ellie raises her hand like a school girl. “Pick me.”
And that’s just what I need—another girl in my life who’s swooning for Dylan. Because that always turns out well.
“Fine. Fifteen seconds.” I jump to my feet. Let’s get this over with.
Dylan takes my arm and tows me gently over toward the bulletin board, where nobody is currently reading the flyers for meditation circles and ski equipment sales.
“Look, I’m sorry,” is his opener. “You’re avoiding me. Not that I blame you. I’m sorry things got so out of control.”
“Which things?” I ask warily. Because I don’t want an apology for fooling around with me.
“Pick one!” Dylan raises his hands. “All the things. I shouldn’t have been so inappropriate.”
“But…” I know Dylan was in a serious state of drunken depression when he kissed me. It’s not like I was expecting to hear those kisses made him as happy as they made me. But would it kill him to be a little less patronizing? “Dylan, I’m not twelve years old. It was just a kiss or two. I don’t think I’ll need a full course of therapy to recover.”
He blinks. “Okay. Good?”
“So did you really need to drag me over here to apologize a third time? Did you apologize to all the girls you kissed during Spin the Bottle in seventh grade?”
I heard about Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven only last year, by eavesdropping on Debbie and her buddies at another bonfire. I’d been transfixed by their tales of who’d kissed whom over the years and how often.
At thirteen, Spin the Bottle would have sounded like heaven to me. Seven minutes in a closet with a boy? I would have lobbied for eight. I was always the most inappropriate girl in the bunch.
Yet somehow Dylan sees me as some kind of innocent child.
“No. Good point.” He crosses his delicious arms and smiles at me. “You are in a feisty mood today.”
“Is that so wrong?”
“No.” He shakes his handsome head. “Not at all. Are we going to hug it out?” He opens his big arms wide.
Oh boy. I can’t resist stepping into them. And when he pulls me in, I experience the familiar hormone rush that always happens when I’m close to him. Rapid heartbeat? Check. Goosebumps? Check. My nose lands against his flannel shirt.
My mouth is mere inches from his, of course. But this time he has no interest in kissing me. It takes all my willpower to give him a squeeze and then step back.
“Be well, Chass. I’ll leave you to your tutoring session, even if you’re basically cheating on me right now. But we’re still making caramels this weekend, right? I told Griffin we could use six gallons of goat’s milk. Don’t make a liar out of me.”
“I won’t,” I say quickly. I might be slightly irritated at him, but it will blow over. My capacity to forgive him for not loving me back is basically infinite. “We’ll leave right after Friday classes?”
“You got it. And this is for you. Share it with your friend.” He pulls something out of his pocket. “More market research.”
He puts a little box in my hand and then walks away.
As always, it takes me a second to get over my hormone rush. I stand there blinking for a long moment until I realize Ellie is grinning at me from the sofa. So I go back over to her and sit down.
“Wow…” she says, stealing a glance at Dylan’s retreating backside. “Is that hot hunk of Vermont male your algebra tutor?”
“Yes.” My voice is gravel.
“And your future ex-boyfriend?”
“Nope. I’ll never get that chance. He’s my best friend, but…” There’s no tidy explanation.
“But you want more. I would if it were me.”
I nod, miserable.
About Sarina Bowen
Her Ivy Years and Brooklyn Bruisers books are hockey romance novels. These two connected series began breaking hearts in 2014 with The Year We Fell Down. See http://www.sarinabowen.com for updates.
HIM and US are the bestselling, hockey LGBT novels co-written with Elle Kennedy. HIM is also a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award.
For lovers of angsty snowboarders, Sarina also writes the Gravity series, featuring snow sports heroes.
Sarina enjoys skiing, coffee products and a nice glass of wine. She lives with her family, six chickens and more ski gear and hockey equipment than seems necessary.
She would be honored to connect with you at http://www.sarinabowen.com.