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Sweet Agony by Charlotte Stein

Back to You by Lauren Dane

Cover62583-mediumI liked this book much more than I expected to. As much as I love Lauren Dane's books and despite enjoying the first two books in the Hurley Boys series I was pretty sure I didn't want to read this story, but I am so glad I did.

Vaughan and Kelly married young and fast. Vaughan was just hitting it big as rock star, and Kelly was at the prime of her modeling career. Impulsive passion and a baby on the way had them rushing to the altar. While Kelly took marriage and parenting seriously, Vaughan, the hero, threw away his young marriage by cheating around on Kelly with a groupie. Eight years have passed and just as she agrees to marry another man, he decides to try to win her back. As much as I like the second-chance at love trope, coming into the book I really just wanted Vaughan to leave Kelly alone and let her move on with her life.

In Back To You, Vaughan has just finished a tour and is returning home to reconnect with his girls. As his brother prepares to become a father for the first time, Vaughan has slowly become aware how tangential a role he is playing in the lives of his own daughters.  He also never stopped wanting Kelly and never stopped thinking of her as his.  Vaughan wants to win her back so he can rebuild the family he wrecked before she marries someone else and closes that door forever. When Vaughan arrives at her door unannounced he discovers Kelly dealing with a medical emergency on her own, like she has had to do all along. Surprisingly at the right place at the right time for once, he is able to step in and accompany Kelly and his young daughter to the hospital.  After the crisis is over, he asks Kelly if he can continue to help out while their daughter recovers. Kelly graciously if somewhat skeptically invites him to move into a guest room in her house on temporary basis. That graciousness, causes a surprise schism in her relationship with her new fiancé Ross. Ross oversteps and overreacts exposing some strong and ugly opinions about Vaughan and the role he thinks he should have in the lives of Kelly's daughters.  Meanwhile Vaughan takes the invitation into her home for the opportunity that it is, but focuses first and foremost on  learning to be a real dad to his daughters.  

I really liked how Vaughan and Kelly end up dissecting their old relationship, killing it dead before establishing a new one. While Vaughan needs to prove to himself and to Kelly that he can be the man and father she needs him to be, Kelly has to show Vaughan the pain and anger he created when he destroyed their first marriage. That Kelly is able to finally trust him with all her emotions, even the ugly ones is something completely new for both of them. 

I loved that instead of forcing a "let's fall in love again" narrative or playing around with a love triangle, Dane wrote a frank but loving book about parenting, the sacrifices, the mistakes and the blessings of it. All the conflicts in the book come back to parenting in some way.  The narrative centers on the relationships between Vaughn and Kelly and their mothers, Sharon and Rebecca and the impact that played in their relationship. Vaughan's reformation, and commitment to becoming a better man come from a realization about how deluded he was about himself. He has to own up to all that he has missed and who he has hurt through his selfishness and immaturity. He finally has to face his own mother and tell her the truth about how he destroyed his marriage and how he let her think otherwise. His deepening admiration for the kind of woman Kelly turned out to be is rooted in learning how much work it took for her to rise above her pain from her own childhood and walk away from him in a way that did not deprive him of his children. 

I found the HEA believable. I believe that both Kelly and Vaughan have grown up, that they are committed to each other and that they will be able to find a way of making this relationship endure where their first marriage failed. And most of all I believe that they have what they never had at the start, a circle of friends and family that wants them to succeed and will support them at every step of the way.  This was wonderful way to close the Hurley Brothers trilogy. All the relationships were deepened.



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