This book starts with an author’s note that to paraphrase states this book is tragic, can stand alone and has lots of triggers.
Let’s get the content warnings out of the way first- domestic abuse, child abuse, and animal abuse. Although most of this happens off page and we just read about the after effects. If you want specifics, please feel free to reach out to me directly.
I have read every single one of the Winston Brothers books. I have been invested in Scarlet/Claire and Billy since the very beginning. Why is he so standoffish? Why is SHE so standoffish. Although throughout the previous books in the series you learn a bit more about Scarlet and why she might be the way she is.
Each chapter starts with a quote from a book. The opening to Chapter 7 got me good.
“If you don’t receive love from the ones who are meant to love you, you will never stop looking for it.” – ROBERT GOOLRICK, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: SCENES FROM A LIFE
Beard with Me really delves into the origin of their story. It is told entirely in the past and is dual point of view. This book is very heavy in to the Iron Wraiths. Which makes sense as Scarlet is the daughter of their leader. I think that in previous Winston Brothers books I was able to kind of block out the connection with the motorcycle club, but that is not possible here.
Scarlet is 14 and trying to distance herself from the Wraiths. Billy is 16 and trying to stay connected to his family and keep others out. Their paths cross and Billy isn’t nice to her. At first. Then it gets better. And they build a deeply emotional bond.
If you’ve read Creed by Kristen Ashley, there are some similarities. Young people (or in this case, one young person) in bad situations and one is trying to be the protector. I loved it.
Scarlet is scared and doesn’t know she deserves more from life. Billy is mad at the world, particularly his dad and brother Jethro. I picked some quotes to share with you.
Scarlet about Billy
For one thing, in my experience, crushes were nice. I’d had a few and they always left me with warm, light feelings in my stomach and a smile on my face. But not with Billy. Being around Billy felt more like being crushed. He was so heavy, so noble, so stern, so honest, and entirely too good-looking. Truly. He was too good-looking. He’d end up in the movies or something, I was certain of it. But you made him laugh, and that felt good. True. True.
And another one
But this time I didn’t want to look away, because this time it was more than just the outside. I was seeing Billy’s strength and vulnerability, and amazingly they were one and the same.
Billy about Scarlet
She laughed, like my answer surprised her and she truly thought it was funny. Her smile was big and open and beautiful, and I gaped at it. How could she laugh with such sincerity when she was hurting so bad? How did she do that? “Scarlet,” I whispered, her name spilling out. Pushed by a sense of urgency that made no sense, my feet shifted me closer and my hands were out of my pockets, cupping her jaw. Unable to help myself, I swiped away those tears. I needed it. Her skin was velvet, warm and so soft. “Please.”
This one is kind of spoilery but out of context, I think it’s fine.
My days and nights had been spent absorbed in thoughts of Scarlet since… well, since I first heard her sing, I reckoned. Granted, the direction of my thoughts had taken a winding road, but looking back, it seemed inevitable that I’d end up here, loving her. I loved her and she was gone.
For the majority of the book I was like, oh this isn’t so bad. Just a fairly typical story about angsty teenagers falling in love and then not working it out. But then the epilogue. It devastated me. I read it on my lunch break and didn’t want to go back to work. I wanted to go home and get in bed and wrap myself up in blankets and just be sad. I was grumpy at work for the second half of the day. Penny did not lie when she said it was tragic. It isn’t what I would describe as a cliffhanger at the end. It kind of feels complete. But also knowing that there is another book of Scarlet/Billy that makes it a little easier to feel okay with this book.
All in all, I absolutely loved this story. It’s tragic yet we, the reader, know that somehow Reid is going to bring them together and give them the HEA that they desperately deserve. No Winston Brothers book is complete without at least one joke from Cletus about his meat sticks and Penny delivered on that as well. This was a solid entry to the series, and I continue to be amazed at how much Reid has grown as an author over the years. I am really looking forward to the next book in this series.