Aug 23 2017 8:30am

First Look: Gena Showalter Can’t Hardly Breathe (August 29, 2017)

Can't Hardly Breathe by Gena Showalter

Gena Showalter
Can't Hardly Breathe (Original Heartbreakers #4)
HQN Books  / August 29, 2017 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital 

I love a good Ugly Duckling story, and book four in Gena Showalter’s Original Heartbreakers series delivers the goods. In Can’t Hardly Breathe, we meet Dorothea Mathis and Daniel Porter.

After a childhood of torment for being overweight and uncool, and just generally everything the cool, beautiful kids were not, Dorothea is her best hype man, constantly finding it within herself to think positively: “Want change? You have to be the change.” Or “Be strong. Be brave. Stand up for yourself.” Her brightest moment was at the beginning of tenth grade when, in the throes of being bullied, Daniel stepped in and broke up the interaction … and told her, “I think you’re perfect just the way you are.” Sigh… Daniel was two years older and had been her lifelong crush. Over the summer his skin cleared up and his body filled out into a thing of beauty. But his teenage boy hormones ruled him, and he never knew Dorothea liked him.

She had two long-term goals: become a meteorologist, and have a large family. She’d always been fascinated by weather, in all its many forms, and the more kids she had, the more people who would be obligated to adore her. Now, however, she added a third goal: enchant Daniel.

Flash forward a decade and we meet adult Dorothea, divorced from a handsome meteorologist after working two jobs to support him through school. She moved back to Strawberry Valley to take over her mother’s hotel and comes face-to-face one morning with Daniel. He was returning from a run, and she was in the midst of cleaning his room. Signs of a raucous night of sex and pleasure were evident everywhere—from the panties hanging from a bedpost and used condoms in the trashcan—which makes the meeting all the more uncomfortable.

Sex kept him distracted from the many horrors that lived inside his mind. After many overseas military tours, constant gunfights, car bombs, finding one friend after another blown to pieces, watching his targets collapse because he’d gotten a green light and pulled the trigger... his sanity had long since packed up and moved out.

Adult Daniel had been an Army Ranger, part of an elite unit known as the Ten. His two best friends, Jude Laurent and Brock Hudson, shared the horrors that inhibited his mind. They kept him up at night and fueled his PTSD. So every couple of months he brought a woman to the hotel to, well, fuck it out of his system. But when Dorothea makes him an offer he initially refuses, he can’t get her out of his mind. So he pursues her... much to her chagrin.

He could smell the taint of war, could hear the faint echo of screams. He needed Thea’s scent around him, calming him, and not just from her soap, but from every piece of fabric and furniture he encountered. He needed the excitement of watching every corner, wondering when she would round it and finally enter his line of sight. He needed the joy of hearing her voice and seeing her face … her body, a bounty of softness. A treasure.

To Daniel, it seems so simple. Try, for once, to pursue a relationship that is more than a couple weeks long—although he still doesn’t intend to go for the long haul. She soothes his mind and brings him peace, so he wants to help her bolster her self-confidence and recognize that she is a beautiful, desirable woman.

His scars and trauma are visible and acceptable and attributable to war. Dorothea’s are deeper and less visible, yet no less real. Bullying altered her view of her young self, shaping the decisions she made as an adult. When she catches her husband cheating on her, everything changed. Everything. And she’s used the last year to find herself and bolster her confidence. That a handsome, sexy man like Daniel is hot for her certainly helps, but she sees her worth now as more than a temporary piece of ass.

It had been one tragedy after another for this precious woman, one rejection after another, and yet she’d never waved the white flag. That was courage. She possessed a soul-deep strength and a purity of character few others did, both of which mattered far more than outward beauty ever would. Even an outward beauty as magnificent as hers.

There’s a lot of angst in this story, which makes it frustrating at times. I mean, shit or get off the pot, right? One thing I’ve learned in life is that you can never tell what happens behind closed doors. By that, I mean even the most perfect façades can mask trouble. Beautiful people are not always happiest. Strong men are not impenetrable. And a smiling face can hide a world of pain and disappointment. 


Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Can't Hardly Breathe by Gena Showalter, available August 29, 2017:

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Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and this year her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.

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