Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler were a golden couple, heirs to a growing and successful grocery store chain founded by their grandfathers, until tragic car accident exposed secrets and a stolen inheritance tore their families apart. In the decade since Livvy and Nicholas have only seen each other 9 times, meeting for a secret yearly hookup. For one night, they express only the lust and need they still feel for each other before locking away all their feelings for each other again. On her 30th birthday, Livvy breaks the pattern, never sending the inciting text to Nicholas. and she then returns to their hometown of Rockville, NY after 10 years of nomadic living as professional guest tattoo artist. Even though their families would explode if they knew, Nicholas can't stay away.
"Talking's not usually what we do when we're together"
I loved this book. It is intense, affirming, full of sexiness and humor. One of my favorite things about this romance was that Livvy and Nico have to acknowledge the underlying reasons for why they fell apart the way they did. They had been young and passionate but they hadn't known each other as fully as they have aught to. At the end I wanted to do a little victory lap for Livvy and Nicholas for finally having the hard conversations necessary to build real trust and intimacy, not just with each other but with their families. Those family relationships are not magically restored and made perfect and serious obstacles remain but they have started doing the hard work they need to do build a life together despite their ugly family history.
All the secondary characters in this amazingly inclusive cast with the exception of Nicholas' villainous father Brendan were fascinatingly well-rounded. I was incredibly happy to discover that Livvy's best-friend and widowed sister-in-law, Sadia, a Pakistani-American single-mother would the heroine in the next book, Wrong to Need You, particularly after learning who her hero is going to be. I also loved Tani Oka and Maile Kane's unexpected friendship, which could have come come off as "Odd Couple"-like due to their contrasting demeanors, but instead showcased empathy, compassion and complexity. Through out the novel Nicholas and Livvy have to face that they didn't understand their parents marriages and relationships the way they thought they did, and that they might have to rethink livelong assumptions about their intertwined pasts. To that end I hope we see more of Nicholas's grandfather John, in future books, he provided needed perspective and was interesting figure, driven by his desire to do right by his old friend, dismayed by his son and hurting for his grand-children
"He'd tried binging on her in secret, stolen, isolated bites, telling himself that the small hit of excitement was enough.
It wasn't now."
I loved that Rai gives both Nicholas and Livvy serious yet distinct expressions to their emotional baggage. They respond to their familial traumas differently. While Livvy and Tani's depression and anxiety are front and center, Nicholas suffers more subtly, sublimating his emotions into over-exercising, self-denial and hints of disordered eating. I wish Nicholas's issues were given more direct attention but Rai does have him start addressing the root issues to his behavior in a way that felt genuine.
I can't wait to get my hands on the next book and I am delighted that Rai's highly-anticipated Avon debut is as sexy and passionate as its gorgeous cover. If you haven't read any of Rai's previous novels this new series is a fantastic place to start.
I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.
Hate to Want You was Published July 25th.