This book has easily surpassed Crushas my favorite Crystal Hubbard book.
The very first chapter of this book immediately hooks you. It is a prologue introduction to the the penultimate chapter in the heroine, Cinder's, life with her abusive husband. It is effective because the events unfold as told by a bystander who happens upon a horrific scene of domestic violence. It sets up the rest of the story very well because you are as sure as Cinder is that her psycho husband isn't quite done with her yet.
So when Cinder moves away to a small town and starts to rebuild her life, a life that includes making new friends, creating new family and meeting a new guy, you are always aware...waiting for the shoe to drop.
Hubbard does a great job of letting Cinder open up by inches, letting us watch her blossom, and letting herself breathe a little easier. In the meantime her relationship with Gian is wonderful. He is strong, disciplined and super sexy. The romance isn't drawn out. Once Cinder realizes she is ready to actually try being with a man again she is really
ready. For his part, Gian is gone on her and makes no bones about it. He knows she is it for him and he is matter-of-fact about his pursuit and feelings.
Since Gian is an Alpha hero, both he and reader assume that he is the most protection Cinder will need when her ex shows up (as know he eventually must). But Hubbard does a very gratifying thing, I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that she doesn't allow him to come riding to the rescue. As a matter of fact, the ending of the book is just as fraught, surprising and tense as the beginning.
Outside of the well executed plot and the romance between Cinder and Gian, I have to say my most favorite part of this book are the supporting characters. Oh my, each of them is memorable and add so much to the texture of the story. Gian runs a traditional Japanese dojo where he teaches the various types of martial arts. His teaching staff consists of a great cast of characters who interact with each other wonderfully. At one point Cinder looks around and thinks of them as family and it makes sense. Hubbard has crafted them as a cohesive group that work with, laugh with and squabble with each other like a family.
Hands down, though, the absolute best secondary character is Cinder's friend Zae. She needs her own book stat! She is a great construct who has the best lines and a fully formed personality that is fun to read. She steals every single scene she is in.
And finally, if you are looking for a true multicultural romance it is here. Cinder is Black and Gian is Italian. But the book is populated with characters from the entire spectrum. Chip, one of the instructors is a sunny blonde from the deep south, Sionne is Samoan, Aja the weapons master is Japanese, there is a Russian/Ethiopian/Japanese character and Cinder's ex husband is Thai/Irish. The novel has a very Eastern feel as much of it is infused with Gian's philosophy of martial arts. And there is even a great scene where they participate in a Brazilian capoeira session.
The books loses a star because while I loved Cinder's empowerment, I found a scene or two where I felt the level of her martial arts skills were a bit advanced given the amount of time she had been learning. And I needed an epilogue in the worst way!
Great book. Highly recommended!