Joy Moorehouse is a sweet, unassuming young woman whose family means everything to her. After her parents died, her older sister, Frankie, practically raised Joy, and now Joy is trying to pay her back by helping out at their family-owned bed and breakfast while also caring for an ailing grandmother. She hasn't been on many dates or had a real relationship. There simply wasn't time. But for years, Joy has loved from afar their lakeside neighbor who she only sees a few times a year, never believing her feelings would ever be returned or that it could become anything more than mere fantasy. Or could it?
Grayson Bennett has a reputation as a ruthless political consultant. When a candidate wants to get elected, it's Gray they come to for help, and he's done things he's not proud of to make sure his clients are successful. After spending his youth covering up for a mother who was a serial cheater and who broke his father's heart, Gray doesn't trust women, but Joy is very different from all the other women he's known. He's kept his heart locked up tight for so many years, he isn't certain if he can allow himself to trust again. But to have a woman like Joy in his life, it just might be worth the risk.
Long, short, or somewhere in between, I don't think J. R. Ward (in this case writing as Jessica Bird) is capable of writing a bad book. I've very much enjoyed everything I've read by her so far, and His Comfort and Joy was no exception. Even though it's one of her earlier works, written in a short novel format, the plot and character development was stellar. I loved both Gray and Joy, as well as the way in which their romance builds. It's both sweet and angsty, just the way I like it. The love scenes are a little steamier than most Silhouette books I've read and more closely reflect Ms. Bird style that's seen in her BDB books than some of her earlier contemporaries, which was a plus. I also liked the juxtaposition between the rural upstate New York setting and New York City. It brought an interesting flavor to the story. The supporting cast was superb too, and I found it especially impressive that the author was able to build their characters so well in this shorter format. Everything combined made this book a near-perfect read for me.
Gray turned out to be a complex hero. He has a reputation as a player both in business and his personal life. He works as a political consultant, and is basically a game-maker. If a politician wants to get elected to office, Gray is the man to make it happen, and as such, he sometimes treads into the gray zone to get the job done. In his personal life, he's known as a ladies' man who freely admits that it's not unusual for him to spend the night with a woman and then leave her in the morning, never looking back. Gray's family owns a house on the same lake near Joy's family home, so he's known her for years, but it hasn't been until recently that he's started to notice that somewhere along the line she turned into a beautiful and desirable woman. He begins to feel unfamiliar pangs of jealousy when she's around other men, but he's vowed never to marry and knows that Joy is not the type of girl who deserves a one-night stand. Gray carried around a lot of pain over his parent's broken marriage. He spent a large part his childhood and teen years, helping his mother cover up her numerous infidelities that broke his father's heart, so he has trouble trusting women to be truthful and faithful. Gray's views on women slowly begin to change when he gets involved with Joy and especially after he discovers her virginity in a moment of passion. IMHO, what he did after that was sweet if a little misguided. But despite that he still has trouble fully opening his heart up to her. His past has left him cynical and jaded, while his work in politics has left him feeling dirty and tainted, and he doesn't want to sully something as perfect as Joy by sharing that part of his life with her. Not to mention, he's just downright afraid that she's going to end up breaking his heart if he allows himself to love her. I loved Gray's character and how he has to go through this transformative process to get to a place where he can open his heart to Joy's love, but at the same time he takes so long to get there, it can be a tad frustrating. This is the one and only reason I ended up dropping one-half star from the rating, but I'll also admit that Gray's final gesture was so grand, he almost made up for it so that I waffled on whether to give it the full five.
Joy is a wonderful heroine, who is sweetness personified, and everything Gray needed to help him understand that all women aren't like his mother. Joy is deeply committed to her family. She and her siblings lost their parents in an accident when Joy was just a teenager, so her older sister, Frankie (Beauty and the Black Sheep) finished raising her. Together, they run a bed and breakfast in their family's old Victorian mansion. Joy went off to college and got a practical degree that she hoped would help her family and worked through college to foot the bill. Then she came back home to help Frankie with the family business and to take care of her grandmother who has Alzheimer's, so she hasn't had time to pursue her real dream of becoming a fashion designer or for any relationships. Even though she only sees him a few times a year when he's at his family's home on the lake, Joy has been in love with Gray from afar for years. She's just about to give up on her childish fairy tale notion of a romance with him when he finally starts to take notice of her. She knows he's not really the type to settle down, but she's willing to give him whatever he'll accept, until an aborted love-making session changes everything. Gray goes from a passionate alpha male to an almost coldly formal gentleman in a heartbeat. In some ways, he's now the perfect boyfriend always calling and taking her out, but never touching her passionately like before and unwilling or unable to open up and share his life with her, leaving Joy wondering what exactly they have between them. During this time, I had to admire Joy for her patience in dealing with Gray and for keeping hope alive that they could eventually turn things around and become the romantic couple she wants them to be.
As I mentioned before, the author fits in quite a number of supporting characters who are seen in other related books. Gray was previously seen as a secondary character in some of the previous books. Nate and Frankie, the hero and heroine of Beauty and the Black Sheep aka The Rebel, are still running the White Caps B & B and are planning a wedding in this book. Nate's best friend and chef, Spike, has joined them in the kitchen and as a business partner. He has an unusual physical feature that makes me wonder if he's somehow related to a couple of the brothers from the BDB. He'll become the hero of book #4, A Man in a Million aka The Rogue. I enjoyed the close relationship Joy has with her brother, Alex, who is still recuperating from severe injuries sustained in a sailing accident that killed his best friend. We discover that he's loved his friend's widow, Cassandra, for a long time, and she helps launch Joy's fashion designing career. These two become the hero and heroine of the next book in the Moorehouse Legacy, From the First aka The Renegade. We're also introduced to Gray's best friend, Sean O'Banyon who becomes the hero of The Billionaire Next Door aka The Billionaire. In addition, there's a brief mention of Cassandra attending a Hall Foundation fund-raiser, which of course, is the charitable organization run by Grace Hall of An Unforgettable Lady.
Overall, I had a really great time reading His Comfort and Joy. There's a certain sweetness in Gray and Joy's relationship that I truly loved, and if not for Gray's stubborn resistance to admitting that he was falling in love with Joy, it would have been an absolutely perfect read for me. In spite of that, it was still pretty awesome. I very much enjoyed all the character connections too. I'm already half in love with Alex, so I can't wait to read his book to find out more about him, as well as to see him and Cassandra get their HEA.
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