Laura Trentham‘s publisher kindly invited me to join the blog tour for her newest book titled Leave the Night On which will be coming out on August 1st, 2017, so naturally, I immediately downloaded the free arc from NetGalley in exchange for review. It’s part of the Cottonbloom series, which takes place in a Southern town split in two by a river: a Mississippi upscale enclave and a more rundown Louisiana side. This is the fourth instalment that sees a classy lady fall for a car mechanic from the other side of the tracks.
Even though the premise sounds quite cliché, I can assure you it isn’t. The female main character, Sutton, runs a clothing boutique and is engaged to marry. That is, until she disovers her fiance is cheating on her. While taking his classic car to a mechanic to have it detailed as a wedding surprise, she discovers a lace thong between the seats, which she knows belongs to her best friend since she is the one that sold it to her. Furious, she breaks up with him, and then comes up with the idea to give him a taste of his own medicine. Enter Wyatt. He and Sutton grew up together (and he harboured a secret crush ever since) and he is actually the car mechanic she came to so he is there when she finds the underwear. Angry that her fiance would treat Sutton so badly, he agrees to her proposal of pretending to be her boyfriend in order to get revenge. But of course, things aren’t as easy as that, and they soon develop feelings for each other. Will they be able to find a way out of this mess that they have created for themselves?
Obviously, yes. It is a romance novel after all. But I really loved the way that everything transpired. There is a lot more going on than what I just described, which makes for a full, complete story. Things progress quite naturally between Sutton and Wyatt and I especially love the way Wyatt goes about things. Sutton is at times a little naive and too stuck in her own head, needing Wyatt to give her a little push. I love their relationship and I was genuinely happy about how they ended up together. I won’t say more, I’ll just leave this excerpt here to entice you further:
Bree drew closer. Stuck between a devil she knew and one she didn’t, Sutton took a chance. Her voice was hoarse and begging and she didn’t care. “Get me out of here. Please.”
Without taking his eyes off her, he called out, “Yo, Jackson. Could you put the lady from the Beemer in the waiting room? Tell her Miss Mize isn’t feeling well and stepped out back for some fresh air.”
If his brother answered, she didn’t hear him. Wyatt put a strong, stabilizing arm around her shoulders and guided her around various pieces of equipment and mechanical parts to a door tucked away at the back of the shop floor. She stepped outside, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. The freshness of the air counteracted the bile rising in her throat.
Her knees wobbled as the stark reality of the situation and the fallout took shape in her mind. She glanced at the man by her side. What was Wyatt Abbott thinking right now? Probably that she was borderline psychotic.
A huge red barn sat behind the shop, and they passed from sun back into shadows. A body-sized punching bag twirled from a high beam as they passed by. That explained why the arm at her back was so solid. Her heels tapped on the wide-planked floor. The smell of weathered wood was overlaid by something sweeter. Honeysuckle, maybe.
No hay was stored in the Abbott’s barn. Two tarp-covered cars, the bottom curves of their tires the only part visible, formed a path to the back where a scratched up leather couch and mini-fridge sat.
“Sorry it’s so dusty in here. We like to keep the doors open if the weather’s nice because of the views and cross breeze.” He took a blue towel from his back pocket and wiped off a section of the couch, leaving yellow streaks of pollen. Getting a little dirty was way down on her list of worries and she plopped down, wrapping her arms around her stomach and leaning over so her forehead nearly touched her knees.
“You want a Coke or tea or something?”
She raised her head enough to see his big hand holding out a bottle. He shifted back and forth in his black work boots, the hem of his coveralls ombrèd black to grey with grease.
“It’s a little early for whiskey, but I’ve got that too if you’d rather.” He sounded so worried and unsure, she straightened, took the Coke and pressed the cool plastic against her cheeks and neck.
“You must think I’ve gone batty.” She rarely drank alcohol and never whiskey, but for a moment she considered it as a viable option, even though it was still technically breakfast. It was five o’clock somewhere, right?
“I think something really bad happened,” he said. “I’m not sure what, but I suspect it has something to do with the restaurant receipts and the underwear.”
“Oh God. The receipts.” Her mind hadn’t even circled back around to those, but everything notched into place like a puzzle whose missing piece turned up stuck on the bottom of a shoe covered with chewed up old gum and bug guts.
His late nights working. Breaking dates at the last minute. His distraction. How long had it been since they’d shared the same bed? Two months? Three? She’d put it down to the natural progression of a committed relationship and the busyness of their lives, assuming things would be better once they were living under the same roof.
Wyatt made a humming sound that was distinctly uncomfortable, and he pulled away. “Let me—”
She grabbed his coveralls. “No. Don’t you get it? That was her thong.”
He shifted to face her. “Is identifying underwear in a single glance your superpower?”
Despite her life crashing down, a shard of humor sliced through the shock, and her lips twitched. “Expensive underwear. The heart on the panties matches her tattoo. A special order.”
“You fiancé and your best friend?”
Put like that, she felt even dumber. “My life has turned into a cliché.”
“It’s a cliché because of how often it happens. Nothing for you to be ashamed of. It’s them that should feel like chickenshit.”
“You don’t understand how people like to talk.”
“I understand, alright. I just don’t care what people say.” The defiant edge in his voice spoke of his own pain and sorrows, but right now she only had room for her own. He was quiet for a moment. “You want me to get rid of her?”
Sutton sank back and took a swig of Coke, the burn bringing a different, more welcome, sort of tear to her eyes. “I need to talk to her. Confront her.”
“Yeah, but not hurt and crying. You need to prepare. Get mad then get even.”
Her initial impressions of Wyatt Abbott were from the viewpoint of a preteen girl. Back then, she’d been self-conscious of her skinny arms and legs and flyaway hair, and whenever she’d come to the garage with her daddy, Wyatt had made it his mission to tease her mercilessly.
What was he now? On the surface, she’d label him a good old boy. Fun, flirty, simple. Except, his gray eyes were anything but. Not flat like shale, but ready to spark a fire like a flint. Raw emotions provided a sharp awareness. Her memories of him urged her to be cautious with her trust, yet his jaw was set and his shoulders were rolled forward as if ready and willing to go into battle.
“Why?” she finally whispered.
“Why are you being so nice to me? You hated me as a kid.”
“Hated you?” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and tipped his head enough to shutter his intensity of his eyes. “I never hated you, in fact . . .” He shook his head.
“In fact what?”
“Not important. Simply put, unlike your fiancé and your friend, I’m not an asshole. If you don’t need me—”
“No, I do need you.” She stood but misjudged how close he was. They weren’t touching, but she could feel his heat and appreciate his strength. “I just . . .”
Wyatt Abbott was handsome, but even more potent than his looks was an intangible confidence and ease with himself. The man probably talked a different woman out of her panties every weekend. Would he cash in on her humiliation for a good story to tell brothers and drinking buddies? Did it even matter? Whether it was him or someone else, rumors would rush through the town like their river after a storm
Insecurities pinged between her head and heart, the message clear. Protect yourself. But surely, she could at least trust him to get her home. “I would really appreciate a lift home.”
He chaffed her arms like a coach might comfort a little kid after a loss. “It’ll be okay. You wait here while I handle your friend, okay?”
She nodded, and he strode back toward the garage. Highlighted in a shaft of sunlight, he hesitated at the metal door they’d ducked through and glanced behind him. A zing of warning—or premonition?—skittered down her spine.
Her life had been spun into chaos, yet in that moment, she felt connected to Wyatt in a way that terrified her. Then he disappeared, and she waited to discover out if her trust had once again been misplaced.
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