Before I even talk about the story, I want to talk about the content warnings. The author’s note at the beginning of the book mentions “non-graphic references to sexual assault, death, and trauma.” And while I applaud the author and publisher for putting that in there, I don’t think it is enough. There is also emotional abuse and extreme slut shaming. There are at least two scenes that were incredibly upsetting and I think that other readers may have a hard time as well. In my opinion the scenes aren’t graphic with genital parts being described, but they are graphic in other ways.
Now back to the actual story. Liya is an engineer, at least according to the blurb. If her actual job is described in the book, I missed it. The hero, Jay, is an attorney. They meet when her parents organize a dinner to meet with him and his mother to discuss an arranged marriage. Liya is mad about this and flees. The next day Jay is introduced as someone who is helping her job stay afloat. Cue up the enemies to lovers plot.
Liya is brash and rude at times. She has lived a hard time- her emotionally abusive father is terrible and Liya was molested at 15. This is a huge plot point of the book. She told her parents of the abuse and they didn’t believe her. Her tight knit community sees her as a whore and has ostracized her. She is determined that Jay will only ever see and believe the “bad” version of her so she keeps him at arm’s length. The whole “the community thinks I am a whore” aka slut shaming aspect was too much for me.
I found the book to be super uneven. There were moments when Jay was a great caretaker (he helps her get home after a thing happens to her, he loves his family, and he is at times patient with Liya). But there is also a scene where he basically forces a man who nearly assaulted Liya to apologize and bring her flowers. I can tell you with certainty that if a man nearly assaults me, the last thing I want is to see him in my office begging for forgiveness. I was not able to fully trust him to be a good partner for Liya after that.
This is a complicated book that left me with complicated feelings about it. I LOVE seeing “unlikeable” heroines in romance. I want more of them. The family aspect in this book was strong and I liked that. But a lot of the other plot didn’t work for me, making this a book I would not recommend. I think I would be willing to try the author again, but only after some trusted friends read it first.