After serving time in prison and in the military, all for a crime he didn’t commit, Seth has an awfully big chip on his shoulder. But the girl he loved before everything went to hell has never left his heart — no matter how much he tried to push her away. He’s back now, though, and he’s determined to win her over again. But Rowan isn’t a starry-eyed sixteen-year-old anymore, and the walls Seth put up when he went to prison hurt her more than she’s willing to admit.
The Verdict: I knew going in that a major plot point was Seth having been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, but I had no idea how realistically it would play out. Not necessarily the golden boy, he’d been illegally street racing, after which a fight broke out that quickly escalated to involve a gun. It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with all the wrong circumstances working against him, and before he knew it, he was tossed into a cell to serve out a sentence for essentially having terrible luck. But unlike what we usually see in romances with a similar plot twist, Seth’s circumstances feel absolutely possible, like the kind of thing that happens to kids all the time, just victims of circumstance and a turn they didn’t see coming.
Seth’s short sentence was contingent upon his enlisting in the military, so the minute he was released, he traded prison orange for camouflage and was sent off to boot camp and war. Years have passed, and he’s nearly done with his enlistment term when his grandmother dies, sending him home to plan a funeral and oversee whatever estate she’s left behind.
Rowan is the girl Seth fell in love with as a wild teen, but when he and her brother were sent away to serve time, he was consumed with anger, and much of it was directed at Rowan. Ever faithful, she came to visit and sent him letters, but he quickly let her know that he wanted nothing to do with her, breaking her heart and leaving her feeling very much alone at the confusing age of sixteen. Sad and senseless as it was, this was another part of the story that made perfect sense from the side of gritty realism. The miscarriage of justice tends to breed anger and a sense of me-against-the-world, turning its victims against even those who would help them and darkly coloring their reactions to anything decent that’s left. Seth wasn’t an angel, but he was a decent kid who got screwed by circumstance and the system, and he took it out on the one person he could — the girl he loved.
Seth’s return to civilian life sets these two on a collision course that’s filled with conflicting emotions and white-hot attraction. Rowan’s never been a shrinking violet, and when faced with the guy who turned on her and left her alone to find her way in a world where her boyfriend and brother were both in prison, she’s not letting down her guard easily. He may have been the one eaten alive by anger, but she’s lived her damage, too, and she’s not going to make things easy on him. Watching these two navigate their new reality and the minefields that are left in their hearts makes for plenty of drama and emotion, and it was impossible to stop turning pages. Marquita Valentine has created characters that are wonderfully flawed and complex and put them in a true-to-life situation that would test even the strongest hearts. Finding their way through it and coming out on happily ever after side was an emotional but fun ride.
Next up is her brother’s story, pairing him up with prudish Piper, the only friend who stuck around when a teenage Rowan was separated from her brother and boyfriend, and I can tell you now that the November release date simply can’t come soon enough!