Beckett Taylor is a very bad boy, who has done some pretty horrible things in his life, including murder, but it was all in the name of keeping his two brothers safe. Now that they're married and building their own families, Beckett is a lost soul. He goes to visit Eve, the only woman he's ever loved, but he knows he isn't worthy of her the way he is now. He asks her to wait for him, promising to return after he's done something good with his life. He then bids his brothers farewell and skips town. Driving aimlessly, Beckett winds up in a small seaside town in Maryland, where he opens a liquor store and puts down some roots. For the next five years, he becomes a counselor of a sort to the ex-cons, prostitutes, addicts, and other misfits whom he meets in the area. Still feeling like he hasn't yet made amends, Beckett has no intention of returning to Poughkeepsie any time soon, until he receives a call from one of his brothers. When he learns his sister-in-law has been kidnapped by new gangsters who are moving in on his old territory, Beckett flies home, prepared to face a murder charge and possibly even death itself to get Livia back. But the most difficult part of all may be facing Eve.
Having trained herself to be a deadly assassin, Eve Hartt is every bit as bad as Beckett ever was. She's done a lot of things she's not exactly proud of, but for reasons she felt were necessary. After Beckett left town, Eve tried to rebuild her life, taking on a respectable, if boring, job, but when she hears of a group of gangsters moving into Beckett's old territory, she has to find out what's going on. Beckett's family is hers too, and if there are dangerous people near them, she needs to keep them safe. It's a piece of cake for Eve to get herself hired by the head mobster, a flaky woman who's trying to prove to her ill father that she has what it takes to run his "business." Just as Eve is getting close to figuring the woman out, she kidnaps the wife of Eve's cousin in a bid to lure Beckett back to town. All bets are off, as Eve prepares to take down her employer to get Livia back. It's a move that could get her killed, but if she survives, Eve isn't certain exactly what kind of life she's capable of living. A handsome undercover police officer tempts her to give up her life of crime to be the woman she once was before she started killing people for a living. But when Beckett returns, he stirs up all the old feelings she'd tried so hard to put to rest even though she's still angry with him for making her wait five years.
Since finishing Return to Poughkeepsie, I've been trying to figure out exactly what it is about The Poughkeepsie Brotherhood that keeps me coming back for more. These are fairly dark, gritty stories, which is a theme in romance that sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't. While most readers are wild over Beckett (and I do like him too), I've fallen more in love with his brothers, Blake and Cole. Also, an alpha female like Eve doesn't usually work well for me as a romance heroine, because I prefer them a little (well, actually a lot :-)) softer and gentler. The rough love scenes between Beckett and Eve aren't precisely my cup of tea either. There are so many things about this book and the series in general that shouldn't work for me and yet somehow it does, not just in an I like it kind of way, but in an I love it and can't get enough of it kind of way.
The best reasons I can figure for this are, first, the uniqueness of the stories. I can't say that I've ever read anything quite like them in the contemporary romance genre. Second are the compelling characters who are presented in more of an ensemble cast. These characters just seem to grab me by the throat and don't let go from beginning to end, and if one isn't quite to my liking, there's always someone else to latch onto. Third, is the family drama, which is something I've always enjoyed in my reading. Even though Beckett, Cole, and Blake aren't related by blood, their sense of family runs deep and true. They're always there for one another, especially in their darkest times, they'd never let each other down no matter what, and they'd even die for one another. Last, and perhaps most importantly, is the emotional connection, not just in the romantic sense, but that runs throughout all the relationships in these books. More times than I can recall, I've felt adrift when reading a romance, but not so here. One of the reasons I read romance is to feel something, and I always get lots of feels when I read a Poughkeepsie story. So, even though on the surface, it seems like I shouldn't like them, they drag me in and keep me coming back.
Beckett is pretty much the ultimate alpha, bad-boy anti-hero. He's done some pretty horrible things in his life, including murder and being involved in nearly every illegal activity known to man. He did all these things, because he felt that in order to protect and financially take care of his brothers, he had to set himself up as the biggest baddie of all, so in the first book, we saw him as the gangster overlord in control of all the territory in Poughkeepsie. Return to Poughkeepsie begins with Beckett in a very dark and heart-breaking place, ready to kill himself. He'd devoted his life to protecting his brothers and now that they're both married, settled, and living happy lives, it's like he's lost his own sense of purpose. He doesn't know who he really is anymore. I'm glad that he decided to try turning over a new leaf instead. Even though he didn't feel like he'd done much anything important in the five years he was away, I think he make a big difference, at least in a few people's lives. He comes to the realization, though, that at his core, he's still the same person he was when he was running the underworld crime scene in Poughkeepsie. Of course, a family crisis brings him back home and drags him back into his old life, at least to some extent. Beckett is a very complex hero who is equally as unique as Blake but on a totally different spectrum. Where Blake is sweet and gentle, Beckett is a hard-core bad-ass. I don't normally go for guys like him, but I think I'm able to still like him because unlike most uber alpha heroes, he exhibits the right amount of vulnerability. It's enough to intrigue me and make me sympathize with him, without losing his hard edge. I love that Beckett has his limits, and that he's extremely protective toward women, children, and animals. He can't stand for anyone to be bullied or mistreated. Nothing will send him over the edge faster into alpha protector mode. That makes him redeemable in my eyes, and I do love him for it, but he's still too much of a dangerous bad boy for me to fall completely in love with him even in romance fantasy land. However, between his vulnerabilities and his own personal code of honor, I can see some goodness in his heart that makes me root for him to find happiness.
Eve is an uber-alpha heroine who is a great deal like Beckett. Several years ago, her life was ripped apart when her husband and baby became collateral damage in one of Beckett's illegal activities. After that, she became dead inside and put herself through commando training with the sole purpose of going after Beckett, infiltrating his organization, and taking him down. She ended up falling in love with the man instead. Even though Eve isn't my favorite kind of heroine, I could still relate to her on some level, probably for the same reasons I can relate to Beckett. She shows just the right amount of vulnerability. She feels that after all the horrible things she's done, mainly acting as a lethal assassin, first for Beckett and then for her own personal reasons, she doesn't deserve a traditional happily ever after ending. Not to mention, she feels like the woman who wanted that HEA died a long time ago with her husband and baby. I also can't help but admire her kick-ass abilities. She's a smart cookie too.
IMHO, Beckett and Eve have a very unusual relationship. In some ways, I kind of liked Eve better with Ryan (please don't throw rotten tomatoes at me ;-)), only because I felt to some extent he brought out a different side of her, the woman she used to be, and I thought he might have had a chance at helping her reclaim the part of herself that was lost the day her husband and baby died. Then again, maybe it's too late for that. I don't know. I just can't help feeling that Beckett and Eve are too much alike to be the perfect couple. I know they're crazy in love with each other, but it seems like a very broken kind of love that causes more pain than joy. Their relationship is ridiculously intense, skating perilously close to the thin edge of abusive for me and yet somehow not quite tipping the scales in that regard. It does make me a little uncomfortable, though, and I must say that I don't entirely get the beat-each-other-up brand of sex that Beckett and Eve enjoy with one another. It's not really my cup of tea, but I'll allow that because the emotional intensity I need for a love scene to work for me is there, I can at least, sort of, be OK with it. They can also occasionally take things down a notch to a level that is more understandable and enjoyable to me.
While Beckett and Eve might not be the ultimate romance hero and heroine for me, Beckett's brothers and their wives more than make up for it. I absolutely adore Blake and Cole. They're sweet and kind, while not being slouches when it comes to their own brand of protectiveness, which makes them sheer perfection in romantic heroes for me. Since the majority of the book takes place five years down the road, these couples have been happily married for a while and creating new lives together. Blake and Livia have a family now and their kids are adorable. Blake's music career has taken off, and they're very happy. When Livia is kidnapped by an enemy who's looking for Beckett, Blake comes close to shutting down again and retreating into his own head, but ultimately he showed his bravery and determination. I loved how that all played out. Cole and Kyle want children desperately, but are having trouble conceiving. Cole is pure sweetness and light. I love how he's Kyle's rock throughout all the challenges they face. The letter Cole wrote to Kyle was wonderfully romantic, and he says the most beautiful prayers. It's probably weird to say considering that this is a dark, gritty story, but authors of inspirational romances could definitely take lessons from Cole when it comes to prayers. Not only do beautiful words flow from him naturally, but he does it in such a non-threatening way. Anyway, I just love these two couples and can't get enough of them.
Like I said before, there are dozens of reasons why these books shouldn't work for me, but despite any slight misgivings I might have, these stories engage my imagination, keep me on the edge of my seat, and make me eager to get back to them when I have to put them down. When it comes to certain elements of the story, it might seem like I'm holding back praise, but honestly I'm not. I'm only attempting to explain the strange dichotomy of me simultaneously not liking certain things, but liking them anyway. I know I'm probably not doing a very good job of it, but just know that no matter how odd it is, this is the thing that makes these books so good. It's also, IMHO, the mark of an amazing author. Anyone who can make me like something I don't typically like is very talented indeed. With two winners in a row, Debra Anastasia has earned a spot on my favorite authors list, and I can't wait to read the next Poughkeepsie Brotherhood book soon.
Note: This book contains quite a bit of strong and/or crude language that may offend some readers. Also, it was very difficult for me to rate the sexual content. While the author doesn't seem to shy away from crudities, her love scenes (at least for the secondary characters) tend to be on the shorter side and don't go into a lot of details nor do they employ much in the way of explicitly sensual language. However, Beckett and Eve's love scenes tend to get pretty rough and include the use of a sex toy and asphyxiation, giving them a more erotic feel. There was also a brief mention of a finger at the back door in a secondary character scene.
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