Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: ”…I could tell you a thousand times that I hate you, while one I love you was right there in my head all along.”
Letty Carmichael barely escaped high school alive and now is safely enrolled in college. She is shocked to see one of her tormentors sitting in one of her classes. Scared for her life, Letty races for safety only to fall and hit her head. When she wakes up in the nurse’s office, she discovers her once tormentor is the one who brought her there.
Tate Sullivan, champion wrestler, is ashamed of the way he and his friends treated Letty in high school. He will do anything to make amends and when they are partnered up for a class assignment, he grabs hold of the chance.
The more time Letty spends with Tate, the more she sees the intelligent, romantic, sweet guy he’s always kept buried. Attraction blooms, but can Letty truly forgive Tate for his actions in the past? Or is this nothing more than an elaborate scheme on his end to finish her off for good?
I’ve always been a fan of Stein’s writing. I love how she writes awkward, unconventional relationships with vulnerable characters whose wants, needs, and desires are slowly teased out in a flurry of dialogue and sexual exploration. In Never Sweeter, Stein takes it to a new level, offering forgiveness, redemption, and a second chance to a reformed bully and his former victim.
I’ll admit I went into this book with some trepidation. I wasn’t a huge fan of book one in this series with it’s odd narrative and insta-love premise. Also, after reading the prologue to this one, it was hard to imagine Stein could possibly redeem anyone who did the things he did to another human being. But she not only managed to redeem Tate, she made it seem realistic and relatable.
Told from Letty’s point of view, Stein digs deep into the psyche of both characters, pulling their emotions into the forefront. We feel Letty’s fear, pain, and anger over her former treatment and the fact that her bully dares to not only show his face at her school but in her class. She’s furious. She’s blinded by anger. She has worked so hard to overcome the scared, fearful girl who walked with her head down and always looking behind her back for the knife always aimed at her back and seeing him brings it all back like it never left.
“There was something about the way he was behaving that set her nerves on edge. As though his awareness of her was a ghostly presence around him, invisible to everyone else but clear as day to her.
He knew she was here.
She knew he knew she was here.”
Tate Sullivan was not at all like I was expecting. Reading the prologue and Letty’s memories, I thought I would see a bold, brash boy whose cruelty was the result of some deep, dark, angsty secret. I thought the story would follow a well-known plotline of the sweet, innocent girl who gradually awakens the anti hero’s conscience while healing his black heart; causing him to emerge anew from his chrysalis of hate. That doesn’t happen here though and frankly, I shouldn’t have expected it to. Not from Charlotte Stein.
Instead we get an enigma. It doesn’t take long for us to see the Tate of today is far different from the Tate of yesterday. He is a quiet, intelligent, thoughtful young man with some interesting bouts of insecurity. He gives us moments of sweetness, humor, sexiness, and romance-all focused around Letty. His regrets are plentiful. He eventually gives voice to his reasons for his actions in high school and I appreciated they were nothing more than a stupid, insecure boy wasn’t able to stand up to his equally stupid friends.
“It felt like I was trapped behind glass watching a really shitty version of myself operating my body.”
Communication is at a premium. Tate takes his time to gain Letty’s trust; showing his remorse and commitment to making amends. Her happiness is his happiness. He acknowledges that he knows she won’t ever truly forget what he did to her but hopes he can help lessen the pain. The notes they pass between them offers a whole new level of intimacy, allowing them to speak more freely, giving a voice to all their thoughts, questions, and growing feelings they aren’t comfortable saying verbally..
“I know there’s nothing I can do to erase this. I wouldn’t want to erase it, or act like it never happened, or pretend that it’s not in your heart as well as right here under my hand. I get that this is always going to be there, saying you should doubt me. But I’m gonna work every day on making it easier for you to ignore. I want you to believe in me, and I got all the hours in the world to help that happen.”
All Stein books are guaranteed to have sensual, intense, and fun sex scenes; often opening with a deliciously earthy masturbation scene. (See last week’s Smex Scene Sunday post). I love how Stein uses their class project, Sex in the Cinema, to help introduce the attraction at a slow, steady pace. Letty realistically struggles over her changing feelings for Tate. She is disgusted and confused that she may not only like him as a person but may actually be physically attracted to him. The sexual tension heightens with each new interaction.
She closed her eyes and it was all she could see—the soaps suds slowly trailing over those taut curves, making everything glossy and golden. The glimpse of the dark shape between his legs when he turned a little, heavy-looking and as shocking as he had suggested, and most important, fucking private. She was intruding on his privacy in the grossest possible way—a realization that made her cheeks heat.
Doing all of this was bad enough.
But doing it to Tate, of all people.
She didn’t find him gross at all, but she also didn’t find him attractive. So what was going on here? Was it just curiosity? Surely anyone would wonder about that thick, dark shape between his legs. And his butt was pretty spectacular. It was probably just natural to find yourself hypnotized by it.
Never Sweeter is a sweet, emotionally gratifying second chance romance that gives readers an intriguing hero and heroine who must deal with a painful point of their past if they are to move on with their future. Though I enjoyed the story overall, I did have two issues. One was the mobster angle. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t understand what the purpose was behind that. I also wish the story hadn’t ended so abruptly. I would have enjoyed an epilogue to assure us that Tate and Letty will be okay. Regardless, Stein didn’t disappoint and I am looking forward to book three, Never Better, set to release October 2016.