Jocelyn Butler lost her family in a tragic car accident when she was fourteen and spent the rest of her teen years in foster care. As soon as she graduated high school and gained access to her inheritance, she left her life in the States behind to reinvent herself in Scotland, her mother's homeland. For the past four years, she's been ignoring the demons of her grief, while only living for the moment, refusing to form any genuine attachments. Although a rather lonely existence, her strategy worked well for her throughout her college years, but now that she's graduated and her roommate has moved to London, Joss needs to finds a new place to live. She lucks out, locating a cute apartment rooming with a sweet girl named Ellie, but when she meets Ellie's brother, Braden, he rocks her world and threatens to tear down her carefully constructed walls.
Braden Carmichael is a wealthy real estate mogul and a man who is used to getting what he wants. From the moment he meets Joss, he knows he has to have her in his bed, but although her body responds to him, she proves to be a challenge to win over. Knowing how threatened she feels by attachments, he carefully constructs a plan that he hopes will slowly tear down her walls and get her to take a chance on loving someone again. He proposes a sex-only relationship to satisfy their intense mutual attraction, which Joss accepts, but the stubborn Scotsman is determined to know her down to her very soul and won't accept anything less. Will Joss run from his love like she usually does or will Braden finally get her to open up and truly let him into her life?
On Dublin Street is the first book in Samantha Young's contemporary romance series of the same name and one I've been looking forward to reading for some time. Jocelyn tragically lost her entire family when she was fourteen and has been mostly alone ever since. She recently finished college in Edinburgh, where she's lived for the last four years. Since her roommate moved to London, she's been looking for a new living situation. On her way to view an apartment, she chances to meet Braden when they both try to grab the same cab and then agree to share it. The gorgeous Scot is too sexy for his own good and gets Joss's body humming for the first time since she moved to Edinburgh, but she's determined to simply forget him. Joss ends up loving the apartment, and she and Ellie, the owner, instantly hit it off. She moves in, intending to keep to herself like she always has, but Ellie's sweetness and light draw her in without her even realizing it. Joss also discovers that Braden is Ellie's older brother, and she can no longer avoid him. Every time they're near one another, their sexual chemistry is combustible, but Joss stubbornly tries to ignore it, because she's afraid of getting too deeply involved with someone only to lose them. When Braden suggests a sex-only, friends-with-benefits type arrangement for three months, she can no longer refuse the temptation, but falling in love with him is out of question until she realizes it's already happened in spite of her best efforts to prevent it. At that point, Joss's fears drive her to push Braden away, but he's not so easily put off.
Jocelyn is the first-person narrator of the story. She had a great life with a wonderful family until her father, mother, and baby sister were all tragically taken from her in a car accident. She spent the rest of her teen years in foster care, and became a wild child, living on the edge and engaging in various vices to try to dull the pain. Then she also lost her best friend, something for which she blames herself. Ever since, she's refused to get too close to anyone out of fear of losing another person she cares about. When Joss aged out of the system at eighteen and came into her inheritance, she decided to move to Scotland, her mother's home country, to attend college. During those years, she also swore off men, not dating or being intimate with anyone. Now that she's graduated and her best friend has moved away, she needs a new place to live. Ellie's apartment is charming and so is the young woman. Shortly after moving in, while Joss is alone in the apartment, she decides to take a bath but completely forgets a towel. She discovers that Braden is Ellie's brother, when he walks in on her buck naked as she's heading for her bedroom. The attraction she'd felt for him in the cab, instantly heats back up, but she stubbornly tries to keep him at arm's length until he makes his proposal. Then for the next three months, they engage in a red-hot affair, but Joss continues to tell herself that it's nothing but sex until she can't ignore her feelings anymore. Running scared, she breaks things off, intending to never see Braden again.
It's strange how I can sometimes go for a long time without reading a particular romance trope or perhaps never having read it at all, and then coincidentally pick up two books in close succession that share a strong similarity. On Dublin Street was the second book in a row that featured a heroine who has lost her whole family, experiences panic attacks because of it, and who is reluctant to make plans for the future. However, the heroine of the previous book I read was more openhearted, not really detaching from her feelings, nor maintaining an emotional distance from her hero and others, and as a result, I related to her pretty well. In this book, my heart went out to Joss right from the opening pages of the book. Her short life has been filled with tragedy and sadness. I understood why she locked her heart and emotions up tight in her "iron box" as a kind of survival mechanism, and I know that everyone deals with grief differently. But there were times that she frustrated me with her obstinate nature, and consequently I didn't relate to her quite as deeply as I wanted to. She's so afraid of experiencing another loss that she isn't really living. I generally have a preference for emotionally strong characters, and admittedly Joss is strong enough to stand up to Braden when he's being a caveman. But IMHO, it also takes strength to allow oneself to be vulnerable. That being the case, at times, I felt like Joss was a somewhat weak character, because it seemed she would rather stick her head in the sand than deal with her emotions or let another person genuinely get close to her. If not for Braden being equally stubborn, I'm not sure Joss ever would have taken down her walls. I also couldn't help feeling like a lot of the drama was of her own making, resulting from her unwillingness to deal with her past, and when she pushed Braden away, I wanted to shake some sense into her. However, I grudgingly admit that it all kept me reading and the ending where she finally tells Braden something meaningful about her family, allows him to comfort and support her, and admits her feelings helped to make up for it. At that point, I felt like she was at least on the road to healing and would eventually be OK.
We only see Braden through Joss's eyes, and there were times I wanted a little more. In spite of that, I felt like I got a pretty good picture of who he is. He's a wealthy businessman who's mostly earned his fortune in real estate. He's also a bit of a man-whore with a bevvy of tall, blonde women following him around that he can have anytime he wants them. However, his sister refers to him as a serial monogamist, which is also true in that when he's with a woman, he's only with her and no one else. Braden has experienced some loss in his own life and has also had his heart stomped on, so he doesn't trust easily. Ellie is actually his half-sister, sharing a father, but he's found a stable family with Ellie's mother and the rest of her family. Being nothing like his usual type, Joss can't imagine what he sees in her, but he's obviously very attracted to her. He's a definite chest-beating alpha male, though. These types of heroes can be hit and miss with me, but in this case, I mostly liked Braden. Although admittedly his high-handed arrogance can be a bit much on occasion, I enjoyed the way that Joss stands up to him, so I felt like she could hold her own. Once he sets his mind to having her, nothing will stop him, which is something I could admire in him. I like a man in pursuit and although he has to play some head games with Joss to get her on board, I like that he's not easily deterred by her stubbornness. In fact, he's just as obstinate and doesn't let her hide, instead gently pushing her boundaries to get her to open up and admit that she does care. I think Braden is exactly the type of person Joss needed in her life to help her get back on track, so perhaps their perfect compatibility was part of why I still liked the story as much as I did even though Joss could sometime be a bit vexing.
On Dublin Street has become a fairly long-running series, with some of the characters seen in this book getting stories of their own. Ellie and Adam, Braden's best friend, have a secondary romance brewing in the background. They've been in love with one another for quite some time, but Adam seems to think that it might ruin his friendship with Braden if he allows himself to get more deeply involved with Ellie than just as friends. It takes a major health scare to get these two on track. I was hoping to read their story, and it looks like the author wrote the next novella, Until Fountain Bridge, to expand upon what's seen of them in this book. I loved these two and look forward to reading more about them. Down London Road, the next full-length novel is about Jo, one of Joss's co-workers at the club where they're employed as bartenders. She seemed like she might have an interesting story to tell, so I also look forward to learning more about her. Their other fellow bartender, Craig, an outrageous flirt, has his story told in the novella, On King's Way. Ellie's teenage sister, Hannah, a major bookworm, grows up to be the heroine of Book #4, Fall From India Place. Then there are several additional novellas and short stories, featuring Joss and Braden after their HEA.
Overall, On Dublin Street was a really good read. I seriously waffled on how to rate the book. A part of me wanted to give it five stars, and I almost did. However, I had a few misgivings regarding the frustrations Joss caused me, so I ended up making it 4.5. Even though Joss's personality is different from my own and perhaps not quite as relatable as other romance heroines I've read, I did at least understand where she's coming from. I also felt like she and Braden were a perfectly matched couple. They both needed someone who would call them on the mat when necessary, and Joss in particular needed someone who wasn't scared off by her neuroses and who loved her enough to be determined to break through her walls. The secondary characters are well-drawn, bringing just the right amount of flavor to the story. While there aren't a lot of what I'd call deeply romantic interludes, the steam factor is pretty high due to the initial sex-only nature of Braden and Joss's relationship, which was a plus. Some book sites have this classified as an erotic romance, and while there is a fairly strong focus on the sex, it isn't kinky or anything, so I decided to simply categorize it as a steamy contemporary. While it maybe didn't quite reach the pinnacle of absolute perfection for me, On Dublin Street was a very enjoyable read that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf, has put this author on my watch list, and makes me look forward to continuing the series soon.
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