I received this book for free from Forever Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Justified by Jay Crownover
Series: Loveless TX #1
Published by Forever on June 25, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Western
Source: Forever Publishing
The New York Times bestselling author of the Marked Men series delivers a romance about a rugged Texas sheriff who must protect the woman who was once his sworn enemy...
Case Lawton comes from a family of criminals. So as the sheriff of Loveless, Texas, he's determined to do everything by the book--until he's called to Aspen Barlow's office after a so-called break-in. The last thing he wants to do is help the woman who cost him custody of his son. But Aspen isn't the heartless lawyer Case remembers, and he starts to question his long-held grudge...
Aspen is scared for her life, and Case is her last hope for protection. But to get him on her side, she'll have to reveal the painful truth from all those years ago. Now, as they work together to track down a dangerous criminal, Case and Aspen learn to trust each other. And as the threats escalate, it becomes clear there's a thin line between love and hate... because there's nothing Case wouldn't do to keep her safe.
Even though I don’t really read a lot of NA, Jay Crownover is an exception. I haven’t read all of her NA Marked Men series, but I’ve really liked what I have read, NA notwithstanding. So when I saw that she had a new series getting started, and was able to snag a copy of it at BLC in New Orleans, I was all over it.
And just like with her NA books, Jay Crownover had me feeling everything. I had a discussion while in New Orleans where I mentioned that romantic suspense was one of only a few tropes I don’t read a lot of, and should probably give more of a chance to. This book came at the perfect time, because it reminded me of how good romantic suspense can be when it’s done well.
Case Lawton and Aspen Barlow hate each other. Well, Case hates Aspen, anyway. She doesn’t really hate him, but she recognizes and respects how he feels, so she avoids him. But it sucks, because when she moved to Loveless in high school, Case was the only one who would be her friend. He was the only one who didn’t call her “weird girl”, and the only reason she didn’t feel completely alone.
When she moves back to town after leaving for college, he’s so unbelievably cruel to her that my heart ached. I could feel exactly how hard every word landed on Aspen, and I really didn’t know how they were going to move on from it.
But move on from it they did. This wasn’t exactly forced proximity, but they are thrown together quite a bit. Since Case is the sheriff of Loveless, he has to investigate when someone starts trying to kill Aspen. And they’re really trying to kill her. There’s no easing into it, or strange things that could be someone trying to kill her, or could be her imagination. No one attempts to gaslight her or teller her that she’s imagining what’s happening to her. And no matter how Case feels about Aspen specifically, he’s professional enough to do his job and immediately start investigating.
This was a slow burn, and it was delicious. Both Aspen and Case are trying to not only figure out who is trying to kill Aspen and why, but also trying to overcome some pretty hardcore family issues. Case’s father was the sheriff, before Case was finally able to run against him and get him out. Conrad was the worst kind of bully, only prosecuting his own enemies, letting his own cronies do whatever they wanted, whether they were domestic abusers, drug dealers, drunk drivers, or anything else you can think of. He used the town of Loveless as his own personal brothel and playground. Everyone knew what was happening, but no one was able to stand up to Conrad, so it just kept happening. Even once Case won and took over the position of sheriff, the town was unsure of him. They recognized that he was objectively a better sheriff than his father, but change in small towns is slow, and he was still the fallen golden boy. As such, he wasn’t just immediately accepted and lauded for the changes he was trying to make.
Aspen has had the opposite experience. She was the weird girl when she arrived in Loveless, then she left for college and came back. Marrying into one of the wealthiest families in town meant she was suddenly accepted, no longer the weird girl, no longer made fun of or excluded. But now that she’s divorcing her husband, the town is back to looking at her suspiciously. None of them know the truth of her marriage, of course, but that doesn’t matter to most of them.
Working together to figure out who’s after Aspen pushes these two together and forces them to work through their issues with each other. There is a lot of genuine hurt and hard feelings on both sides, and it’s a lot to unpack. And they really put in the work to do that unpacking. The relationship is a slow burn, but it feels earned. By the time they get together, I was completely on board, and I believed that they were exactly where they should be. They were lovely together, and once it happened, they didn’t waver.
The resolution of the mystery wasn’t what I expected, which is a lot more than I can say for most romantic suspense, and I loved it. It was twisty and unexpected and completely nuts, and I hope that continues in this series. Which I will be reading. While this book does stand on its own, there was a thread introduced at the end that I want to follow.