Half Moon Hill
Avon / April 30, 2013 / $5.99 print, $5.69 digital
You never know what destiny has in store . . .
A rugged loner and ex-biker-gang member, Duke Dawson is looking for some peace and quiet while recovering from an accident. But when Anna Romo comes wandering through his woods and into his cabin, she completely rocks his world. The last thing he expected or wanted was to find himself hungering after a woman whose eyes held hurt even deeper than his own . . .
Running from a troubled past, Anna is building a new life in Destiny. When she first meets Duke, she's terrified—but something about him calls to her very soul. The hard-bodied rebel is soon helping her turn her new home into a bed and breakfast, and close quarters quickly lead them into her bed. Their passion is palpable, but can she convince a man who has turned his back on life to take the biggest leap of faith of all and fall in love?
Half Moon Hill is the latest in Toni Blake's delightful Destiny series, and this pairing of bad-boy biker Duke Dawson with the sultry, sassy princess Anna Romo is what first-time love is all about: hot-to-the-touch chemistry, overwhelming feelings that can't be explained, and true connections that can't be defined. At this point in the series, the lively little town known for its summer garden parties and festive carnivals feels like home, but somewhere on the outskirts, hidden on a hill and tucked in the woods, are Duke and Anna, both of whom feel the need to escape. Little do they know that this is the very thing that brings them together.
Duke is reeling after the death of a close friend, compounded by the fact that he feels responsible, and Anna is reconciling her tragic, ripped from the headlines past as the little girl stolen from her family with the woman now rediscovering who she is. These are deep, painful issues to trudge through, and though Duke's a little gruff and Anna's overcoming a poor first impression as a spoiled interloper from the last book, both are strong characters now. Anna has an admirable spirit that won't let her fall, even when she isn't as confident as she appears, which also allows her to come across as human. And it's this endurance that challenges Duke as well.
“And the thing is... I've always liked myself. I mean, maybe some of my confidence was just about being brave and acting like I had it all under control so I could have it all under control – but some of it was real. And now... well, maybe I don't always feel quite as good about myself as I used to. I'm not as perfect as everyone else in Destiny. And I never will be.”
Duke hated the dejected look on her face and could hardly believe what he was hearing. So he just gave it to her straight. “Daisy, that's the craziest load of crap I've ever heard.”
Her jaw went slack, her eyes wide. “Huh?”
He narrowed his gaze on her, trying to think how to explain what he meant. “Look, you're fucking beautiful. And amazing.”
She still appeared just as confused. “I am?”
“You're smart, you're sassy, you're funny as hell, you don't let anybody push you around, and you know how to take care of yourself. So who cares if you don't know how to bake a pie? Your cobbler was pretty damn good, though. And who cares if you aren't a carbon copy of every other chick in town? You do your own thing and I dig that, baby. I like that you don't try to be like everybody else. I like pretty much everything about you if you want to know the truth. And you make a pair of cutoff jeans shorts damn sexy, by the way.”
There's something very refreshing about a drop-dead gorgeous heroine who is genuinely unassuming, who doesn't necessarily see the obvious beauty in herself that others do. And the parallel between Duke and the Phantom from The Phantom of the Opera—the novel quoted throughout at the beginning of the chapters—as a man scarred physically and deep within is overt, but Anna helps Duke see that who he really is, is worth so much more. The truth is, Duke and Anna aren't like every Destiny couple. But they're right for each other. Here is a heroine who is as scarred, as damaged, as the hero, and this balance allows them to be really well-matched.
Of course, with self-discovery comes trial and error. Anna is willing to allow her past to shape her but not afflict her, while Duke is still in the midst of his demons. Even as he opens up to her, he tries to run from Anna and holds a crucial piece of himself back that stops and starts their romance more than once.
It's nice to see Anna, misunderstood from her introduction in the previous book, come to care so much for Duke, to appreciate the hideaway they create working together on the home she's bought to turn into a B&B, and to keep Duke's secret that he's back in town but not ready to be part of society yet. These scenes allow them to bond, undisturbed and in their own world, and give way to a growing physical passion.
When the kissing stopped, he whispered, “Please what, Anna?”
And it was only then that she realized she'd said it loud enough to be heard. The word had seeped from her lips unbidden, and the truth was – she didn't even know what she'd been asking him for. Please let me love you. Please let me be there for you. Please be there for me.
And then – oh! She understood.
She was asking him for... everything.
But you can't tell him that. You can't put it into those kinds of words when he's shaken up, vulnerable. And maybe the words didn't need to be said anyway. Maybe she could just show him.
So instead she said, “Please... take me. I need you inside me right now more than I think I've ever needed anything in my life.”
Duke is resistant to the idea that he has grown dependent on Anna, that a woman so vibrant and beautiful would ever love a man so wounded. This push and pull, and give and take is what it's all about. By the end, it wrenches that wistful sigh from us, the one where we don't want the book to end, the one where we're completely satisfied, the one that delivers tip to tail a toe-curling, completely fulfilling romance.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Toni Blake's Half Moon Hill (out April 30):
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.