Sweet scorcher: "Taking the Heat" by Victoria Dahl

Book: Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl

Release date: July 28, 2015

Pages: 384

Publisher: HQN Books

Genre: Romance

Rating: ★★★★

All revved up for bright lights and steamy nights, writer Veronica Chandler chased her dreams to New York City. When she hit a dead end, reality sent her back home to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Saving her pride and her new gig—writing a relationship advice column!—requires some faking. No one can know the truth about her big-city flop or her nonexistent sex life. But the town's irresistibly rugged librarian is determined to figure her out… and give her hands-on lessons in every wicked thing she wants to know.

Gabe MacKenzie's heart might be in Wyoming, but secretly his future's tied up in his family's Manhattan legacy. Getting down and dirty with Veronica is supposed to give him a few memorable nights—not complicate his plans. But the thing about heat this scorching is there's just no going back… and it might be too hot for either of them to take.

I don't read a lot of capital R Romance section novels. Not that my bookcase is chaste: almost every book I pick up has some kind of romance element, and I have a few literary smut favorites, mostly by Megan Hart. But books with hot shirtless guys on the cover? That's brand new to me.

Taking the Heat is a seriously sexy read with some serious character development. Veronica Chandler suffers from major imposter syndrome. As Dear Veronica, she's ballsy, inappropriate and fearless, and gives no-nonsense advice that makes it sound like she's seen it all. But behind the high-maintenance facade that immediately turns mountain-climbing guybrarian Gabe MacKenzie off is a vulnerable, inexperienced and deeply sensitive woman. Gabe slowly uncovers the real Veronica, and the resulting sexual chemistry is explosive. But Gabe has secrets of his own that threaten any budding relationship.

"This was the thing that made people foolish and stupid and willing to give up everything. Just for this feeling of fitting together over and over and over. This was what people risked their souls for."
This book gave me so many feels. Veronica and Gabe's flirty banter was funny and cute. The love scenes were hot. I loved that despite the novel being heavily focused on the romance, each half of the couple had separate and full lives, with families, friends, hobbies and flaws they were working to overcome individually. Dahl created a rich portrait of two very realistic people. While Veronica struggles with her identity and standing up for herself, Gabe struggles with people-pleasing and trying to let everyone down easy, or not at all, even at the risk of his own happiness and sanity.

The dramatic final third of the book, when Gabe's secrets unfurl in dramatic fashion and the fledgling romance is put on the line, had me sobbing. Big, fat, ugly tears. I read until 4 a.m. and sobbed and saw no way out for the couple, no happy resolution. I won't spoil what happens, but it's so fitting and perfect and just right in every way.

Side note: This is Book 3 in Dahl's Jackson: Girls' Night Out series. I didn't feel like I needed to have read the other books to appreciate this story, but Veronica's badass friends, who are the subjects of the other novels, were such compelling secondary characters that I'm interested in finding out their stories. All the secondary characters were interesting, from Veronica's status-obsessed and emotionally distant father to Gabe's supermodel sister.

Taking the Heat isn't just about disdain turned to love, about passion or even about sex. It's about the people who nudge you toward your real self, who show you who you are, even the parts that are ugly and unlovable — and who love you anyway.