I really shouldn't be surprised when I read a book by Lorelei James and finish it and think to myself, "damn she did it again" but she always seems to catch me off guard, always seems to surprise me just a little bit more and always seems to make me fall head over heels in love with her characters. We "met" both Wynton (Wyn) Grant and Melissa (Mel) Lockhart in Roped In but we didn't get a chance to know them very well, but man do we EVER get the chance in this book. We find out that Wyn is funny and charming and unapologetic about his sexual past. We find out that Mel's life has been very interesting in more ways than one and in the past 6 months she's made some big decisions that only one other person in her life knows about and we also find out she, like Wyn, has enjoyed exploring her sexual side and she too will not apologize one bit for it (as well she shouldn't). We see two people who claim marriage, family and happily ever after isn't on their radar realize that it's pretty cool to have someone around when you need to share your load, when life hands you more than you can handle and when your secrets come back to haunt you. Most of all we see how easy it is to accept someone else in your life when that person understands you, doesn't judge you and flat out fits into your life in a way you never expected anyone to. Smart and sexy are a given in Ms. James' work, but this book is funny because these two characters are well...characters and they live life to the fullest and even when life throws a wrench into it, these two accept it and just keep on going.
"Come on Melissa. Let's see what kinda dirty, dastardly deeds we can get away with." "Deal. But call me Mel. "Mel? Nope. Sorry, No can do." "Why not?" "Mel is the name of a line cook. Saying, 'Suck harder, Mel,' or "Bend over Mel,' brings really different images to my mind than 'I'm gonna fuck you through the wall, Melissa."
See...funny and sexy all in the same damn passage!
From the start of this book it was so evident these two were in way over their heads with one another. They were counting on a "one and done" evening following the wedding of Sutton (Wyn's younger brother) and London (Mel's best friend) but circumstances arise giving them both the perfect opportunity to spend more time together and they jump on it. I had to laugh when Mel refused to sleep in the same room as Wyn (although she was more than okay with plenty of sexy times) because it threw Wyn for such a loop and because even when he didn't want to admit it, he wanted her in his bed and in his life. Mel had her reasons and while I questioned why she wanted to keep this secret from him, I could also understand it as well.
I loved how easily these two moved into a routine and the fact that Mel loved working on the ranch and helping Wyn and his brother, Cres out when they needed it most. (I will also say I am really excited about the possibility of Cres getting his own story next because well, Cres is gay and I will be all over that book in a heartbeat.) Seriously though back to Mel and Wyn, it was like they were two halves of a whole both in understanding each other and discussing their lives and even their sexual experiences with one another with ease and without jealousy or conflict. A breath of fresh air to me because while I don't mind a little drama in a romance sometimes there is just too much and I can do without it. Perhaps it is because these two were a bit older, somewhat settled or simply because they lived their lives without apology but whatever the reason I appreciated the grown up relationship they had going on and loved their off-beat "pet names" that they had for one another. That's not to say there wasn't a little drama when Mel's secret came out, but I will say that it was warranted drama, it wasn't a contrived plot device; it was real and most of all it was given the proper seriousness it deserved.
I love when an author can make me smile, make me wish my partner was close by for a quickie, make me sigh and make me laugh out loud and sometimes all in the same paragraph and Lorelei James has done just that in Stripped Down. While loosely connected to her Blacktop Cowboys series Stripped Down can absolutely be read as a stand -alone story and it is an excellent place to start if you haven't read this author before. If you have read her, well you are in for 100% pure Lorelei James magic!