From the BLURB:
Bullied in high school, Dorothea Mathis's past is full of memories she'd rather forget. But there's one she can't seem to shake — her long-standing crush on former army ranger Daniel Porter. Now that the sexy bad boy has started using her inn as his personal playground, she should kick him out…but his every heated glance makes her want to join him instead.
Daniel returned to Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, to care for his ailing father and burn off a little steam with no strings attached. Though he craves curvy Dorothea night and day, he's as marred by his past as she is by hers. The more he desires her, the more he fears losing her.
But every sizzling encounter leaves him desperate for more, and soon Daniel must make a choice: take a chance on love or walk away forever.
‘Can't Hardly Breathe’ is the fourth book in the ‘Original Heartbreakers’ contemporary romance series, by Gena Showalter.
I loved Showalter’s paranormal romance series ‘Lords of the Underworld’, and I’d been meaning to read her contemporary romance stuff – but she has SO MANY BOOKS, it was hard to know where to start. When I randomly picked up ‘Can’t Hardly Breathe’ at the bookstore, I was excited to read so many of my fave romance tropes in the blurb – unrequited high-school crush between nerdy girl and hot bad boy, TICK! So I decided to give the fourth book in her ‘Original Heartbreakers’ series a try, even though the series started in 2015 and I was coming into it cold.
Ok. So. Total honesty – ‘Can’t Hardly Breathe’ is not technically “good”. The story is fairly outlandish, the exposition sometimes clunky and the dialogue occasionally recalls some of E.L James’s worst ‘Fifty Shades’ monologues … and yet, I still had fun reading it.
Dorothea Mathis was an outcast in high school, relentlessly bullied by beautiful cheerleaders and generally invisible to the rest of her classmates. What gave her a modicum of hope in those years though, was popular bad-boy Daniel Porter once showing her a kindness … and then ripping out her heart when she discovered him canoodling with one of the girls making her life a living hell.
Fast-forward to adulthood and Dorothea has taken over running her family’s inn, where army ranger Daniel is back in town and currently occupying a room … so he can take his one-night-stands somewhere more private than his dad’s house.
Daniel is helping his dad recover after a heart-attack, and trying to downplay the old man’s wish for his son to settle down, marry, and start a family. When Daniel realises the inn owner he’s renting rooms from is Dorothea from high school, he suddenly can’t get the woman with pin-up girl curves out of his head … or heart.
I was hoping there’d be a bigger focus in this book, on who Dorothea and Daniel were in high school, versus now. Dorothea had a pretty crushing experience, of seeing Daniel getting hot n’ heavy with one of the very girls who bullied her mercilessly – and I was kinda hoping that in their small town, a lot of these teen traumas would be revisited and picked apart, so there could be some closure. Also for Daniel to interrogate his history of loving and leaving, and not making the best romantic decisions, even as a teenager … Unfortunately, apart from a first-chapter prologue set in high school, the novel is very much grounded in the present day.
Dorothea is instead bogged down in a messy separation from a cheating husband, that is connected to a much bigger loss … a public warfare with her young sister, trying to keep the rundown family inn from going bankrupt, and a secret desire to finish her studies to be a meteorologist – yes, there is a lot going on. And a lot of it is stupid – the meteorology thing especially, is entirely designed for a stormy climax that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
At least the romance offers up a lot of good, steamy scenes and body-positivity discussions – as Dorothea has always been a big girl, she has body hang-ups around her weight and the scars she bares from a traumatic injury. Though I would have liked a little more discussion around this – especially because Dorothea has seen Daniel’s preferred one-night-stands, and they all tended to be thin … there was room in here for Showalter to provoke and poke at Daniel’s unrealistic beauty expectations too, not just Dorothea’s.
Overall though, the obstacles keeping these two apart are flimsy and stupid – like Daniel not wanting his dad to think he and Dorothea could have a chance of marriage and kids down the line.
Daniel is also said to be suffering from PTSD after quitting the army to start his own private security business, which – this must be the most lucrative business in contemporary romance for how many ex-Army heroes venture into that line of work. There’s really nothing to Daniel’s ex-army status, and it most definitely felt like Showalter shrugged and went with the most conventional romance hero job-trope and threw in a half-hearted exploration into PTSD.
But like I said … though this romance was perhaps quantifiably “bad” and not well-written per-se, I still found myself racing to finish and quite enjoying it. I may not venture back for book 5 (because that romantic pairing, as hinted at in ‘Can’t Hardly Breathe’ didn’t intrigue me) but I might tap back in for book number 6, at least.
So. Not “good” – but a nice little distraction nevertheless.