Tess Blakely is a small-town guidance counselor who is about to head to New York to take on a job in a new school there. Between the dating prospects in her little town being slim and her four very large, overprotective older brothers scaring off anyone who might be interested, she's still a virgin, much to her chagrin. Believing that she'll lack credibility if any of the girls she'll be counseling at her new school find out this bit of information, Tess is determined to lose her virginity before the summer is over. She's read plenty of sex books and is more than ready, but has no idea where to find a man. So she asks her lifelong best friend, Mac, to help her find a suitable candidate.
Jeremiah "Mac" MacDougal has been looking out for Tess for most of their lives. He's friends with her brothers, too, but all along, she has been his very best friend. Because of that, he's kept their relationship in a carefully guarded box, never allowing himself to think of her as anything more. He's not looking forward to her leaving for New York at the end of the summer and doesn't know what he's going to do without her. When Tess comes to him with her "problem," Mac reluctantly agrees to help, but he soon finds that no one he can come up with is good enough for his Tess. And on top of it all, he now can't get her out of his mind or his fantasies. When he counter-proposes that he be the one to fulfill her wish and she agrees, he quickly finds out that he can't get enough of her. It was only supposed to be a temporary summer fling, but Mac realizes there's never been anyone else who understands him the way Tess does, and he wants her by his side forever. But she's still set to leave at summer's end and how can he ask her to put her dream on hold to stay when he actually envies her for taking this leap?
Prior to picking up Pure Temptation, I'd only read two of Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerd books. The first was just OK for me, and the second, while much better, still didn't quite reach keeper status. That's why when I picked up this book, my expectations weren't particularly high. Maybe that was a good thing, but no matter what, I think I would have felt the same about it. Pure Temptation ended up being a delightful little hidden gem of the romance genre that I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm a huge sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope, and in this one, the hero and heroine have been the best of friends for most of their lives. Since early childhood, they've been having adventures, confiding in each other, and having all sorts of fun together, while studiously avoiding any sexual thoughts about one another even though they recognize each other's attractiveness. That all changes when Tess makes losing her virginity, before heading off to a new job in New York, her latest summer project. When she drags Mac into it by asking for his help finding a suitable man to take care of her "problem," he eventually decides that he's the only man for the job. If there's anything I love more than a friends-to-lovers story, it's one in which the virgin heroine discovers that the best man to deflower her is her best friend, so this book had tons of appeal going for it right out of the gate.
Tess is the only girl in a family of five children. Her four very large older brothers have guarded her so zealously over the years, they scared off all her potential suitors. Between that and living in a small town, she now finds herself a twenty-six year old virgin, who no longer wants to remain innocent. She's always dreamed of getting out of the shadow of her brothers and finding adventures out in the world, but she ended up as the guidance counselor at Copperville High School. Now she has an opportunity to start fresh with a new job in New York City, but she fears that if the girls at her new school ever find out she's still a virgin, she'll have no credibility with them at all. So, being a person who makes lists, does research, and is always prepared, she's been studying sex books and has made losing her virginity her summer project, but it has to be a secret so that her brothers don't find out. The only person she can trust is her best friend Mac, so she asks him to help her find a man. But when he proposes he be that man, she realizes he genuinely is the perfect person for the job. I really liked and related to Tess. I wasn't sure if I would, because I often don't fully understand heroines who are in a hurry to lose their virginity. But in Tess's case, I understood her pretty well. I also thought it was a fun twist to have her educating herself on sexual techniques beforehand. It made her a very confident lover who still has an underlying sweetness about her that I loved.
In contrast to Tess, Mac is an only child, and as a consequence, he feels pressured to someday take over the family ranch his parents poured all their hard work into. He almost envies Tess going away to New York on an adventure while he's stuck in Copperville, and he's also not looking forward to having his best friend so far away. Although Mac is also friends with Tess's brothers, she's his very best friend and the one he trusts the most. When she comes to him with her project, he's surprised that's she's still a virgin. He's always avoided thinking of her in a sexual way, but her merely bringing up the topic is making him hot and bothered for her. That's why he realizes pretty quickly that he doesn't want anyone else doing the deed but him, and luckily Tess agrees. I absolutely adored Mac. IMO, he leans toward being a beta hero. He's kind, sweet, and considerate, and he's a total dreamboat lover. He's not really bothered by the fact that Tess has been reading her sex books and may even know more than him by now. I loved how he took things slow and easy, investing time in romancing her a little beforehand and insisting they not rush things, and I also loved how he kept checking in with her throughout their first time together to make sure she was still on board and wasn't having second thoughts. Mac was just about as perfect as a hero can get in my book.
Overall, Pure Temptation was an awesome read. Mac and Tess are perfect for one another. They have the solid foundation of their friendship upon which to build their HEA, which is always a plus. Throughout most of the book, I could really feel that friendship in their easy and open communication and their willingness to do anything for one another. Once they become lovers, they're totally in sync with each other in much the same way. This made the first ¾ of the books pretty much sheer perfection for me. The last ¼ started to falter just a little, when a misunderstanding separates them. This part came very close to making me drop a half-star off the rating, because in all honesty, it could have been cleared up with a candid conversation, which is something they didn't have any trouble with before having sex. But after thinking about it, I realized their emotions were now all tangled up in it as well, which might have made it more difficult to express themselves. Not to mention, the final pages were excellent, leading to character growth, especially for Mac, as well as a super-sweet, emotional ending. So ultimately it was a definite keeper for me. Their colorful families, particularly Tess's brothers who all seem to think the best way to handle problems is by beating them into submission, added some fun humor, so all in all, Pure Temptation was a pure delight to read.
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