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Let me first give you some background information about myself.  I am a Catholic school girl through and through.  I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through my senior year of high school.  (That’s thirteen years of daily prayers, by the way.)  I would go to the rectory with my grandma when I was young to help count the money after mass.  Priests were an everyday fixture in my life.  They are certainly not something I associate with a romance novel, so I just had to see where Jen McLaughlin was going with this.

The good news, for the faint of heart like myself, is that Thorn isn’t a priest.  He’s still in the seminary and has not taken any vows.  Thank goodness, because I don’t think I could have handled it if he were actually a priest.  But a lot of guys go into the seminary thinking they want to be priests, and then go on to get married and have children.  Not a big deal.  But still, it definitely has a forbidden romance vibe to it.

In short, I was blown away by this book.

If you want to get into details, here we go.

I did not expect to get such fully formed characters.  Rose and Thorn have pasts, presents, and futures.  They have a deep connection that goes back to their early childhood when Thorn was Rose’s brother Mikey’s best friend.

After Mikey died in a car accident many years ago, Thorn was lost.  He’d spent his teenage years drinking, getting high, and sleeping with a different woman every night.  Mikey’s death was a wake up call: something needed to change.  The quickest path to the straight and narrow was the seminary, in which he promptly enrolled after a life-changing conversation with Father John.

Now, eight years later, Thorn has completed his studies and is waiting to take his vows when he gets a call that Rose is in trouble.  Her relationship with the guy she’d been living with went bad, and she found herself forced to take a job at a strip club that also offered housing.  She didn’t want Thorn to know because she knew he wouldn’t approve, but he’s listed as her emergency contact and he’s the one who gets the call when an overexcited client attacks her outside the club.  This begins Thorn’s renewed interest in keeping his promise to Mikey.  The promise that he would take care of Rose no matter what.

One of the things I loved about this book was Rose’s resilience.  She hasn’t had a good life.  Her parents were abusive.  She’s had a string of horrible boyfriends.  She works in a strip club.  But she’s not ashamed of anything.  She’s not looking for handouts.  She would rather do what has to be done than ask anybody for help.  In so many books, we see the heroine accept the hero’s gifts without a second thought.  A house, a car, a whole new wardrobe.  And I get that.  But Rose?  She has trouble accepting a coffee pot from Thorn.  She’s that independent.  Rose is fine on her own.  She doesn’t need a man.  And that is so refreshing to see in a romance.

And what about Thorn?  This guy blames himself for so many things in life.  He’s been punishing himself for years, choosing a life that he knows will deny him everything that he wants.  He has so much restraint and so much respect for Rose.  He cares for her and legitimately wants what’s best for her, even if what’s best for her is a life without him in it.

I’m not going to say a whole lot more about this book except that I am still fanning myself over that bathtub scene.  I will definitely be checking out Jen McLaughlin’s other books!

Thanks to Netgalley and Loveswept for the ARC!

Final rating: 

★★★★☆

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