Title: Just a Kiss by Denise Hunter
Summer Harbor Series Book Three
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Contemporary, Christian, Romance
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Riley Callahan’s plans to reveal his secret feelings for his best friend are ruined when his life is drastically altered in Afghanistan.
Watching the love of his life falling for his brother was enough to send Riley straight to boot camp. But over a year later, he’s officially a marine, and Beau and Paige are no longer an item. When Riley’s tour in Afghanistan is up, he intends to confess his feelings to Paige and win his best friend’s heart once and for all.
But all that changes when an IED takes the life of a comrade and leaves Riley an amputee. Now he’s heading home, injured and troubled. His plans to win Paige are a distant dream. She deserves so much more than the man that’s left. All he can do now is put some healthy distance between them. But upon his return he discovers his family has arranged for him to stay with Paige.
Paige is a nurturer at heart and happy to take care of her best buddy. By all appearances he’s adjusting miraculously well to his disability. But as the days pass, Paige begins to see that the smiles and laughter are just a mask for the pain he’s hiding. He has nightmares and mood swings, and his unwavering independence keeps him from accepting help from anyone, including her. To make matters worse, her job is in serious jeopardy. The animal shelter that she’s poured her heart into has lost its funding, and she has three months to come up the money needed to save it.
As the weeks wear on with the two in such close proximity, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into unchartered territory. Why is she suddenly noticing his corded arm muscles and the way his lips curl at the corners? Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?
The final installment in Denise Hunter’s heartwarming Summer Harbor series, Just a Kiss is a sweet yet realistic romance between two longtime friends.
Riley Callahan is finally planning on telling his best gal pal Paige Warren he is in love with her when he returns from his tour in Afghanistan. However, his homecoming is nothing like anyone expects when he is injured in an IED attack and he comes home with part of his leg amputated. Trying to put on a happy face for his family and friends, Riley is dismayed to discover he must live with Paige during his recovery. Despite his best efforts to fool everyone, Paige is quick to realize that Riley is struggling and she grows increasingly concerned over his nightmares, mood swings and all around frustration. Needing someone to fill in temporarily at the animal shelter where she works, Paige convinces Riley to take the position. Spending so much time in close proximity does little to help the growing tension between them since Riley is trying to ignore his feelings for her and Paige is confused by her sudden romantic interest in her best friend. When their emotions are too strong to ignore, Paige and Riley decide to date but will Riley’s unresolved issues from his wartime experiences ruin their chance at happiness?
Despite his plans to tell Paige how he feels about her, Riley no longer feels like he is capable of taking care of the woman he loves. His daily struggles to accomplish everyday tasks is taking a toll on him and he does not want to be a burden to any woman, including Paige. Frustrated and angry over his circumstances, Riley is barely getting through each day and his nights are plagued by recurring nightmares of the IED attack. Getting his prosthesis bolsters his flagging confidence, but it does not take much to send him plunging back into despair. Instead of facing his problems, Riley makes another impetuous decision that shatters their burgeoning romance.
Paige is no stranger to heartbreak or betrayal but Riley’s friendship is the one thing she can always count on no matter what. Hurt by his decision to join the Marines, she has faithfully kept in touch with him during his deployment and she is eager for him to return home. Dismayed yet not surprised by the changes in him, she is a little hover-y as he adjusts to his new circumstances. Paige has complete confidence he will emerge stronger than ever, but she cannot help but be concerned over his lack of progress in some areas. Her sudden awareness of Riley as a man rather than just as a friend takes her off guard and initially, she keeps her feelings to herself since she is afraid to lose their friendship. But when it becomes apparent to her that Riley is attracted to her as well, Paige is ready to take their relationship to the next level. She is completely stunned when Riley pulls away from her just as their romance is beginning and Paige is thoroughly brokenhearted by his shocking announcement.
The relationship between Paige and Riley is slow growing but their longstanding friendship provides a firm foundation for their fledgling romance. Both Paige and Riley have plenty of emotional baggage from traumatic events in their lives and neither of them have worked through these issues. Due to her somewhat dysfunctional childhood, Paige longs for family and although she is very close to the Callahan’s, she never quite feels like she fits in. She has a giving heart and she is sometimes just a bit too trusting of people who have hurt her in the past. Riley’s feelings of inadequacy due to his war injury cause him to back away from relationships. He is also struggling to find a new career since he is convinced he cannot return to his previous job as a lobsterman. However, his biggest problem is his refusal to get treatment for his PTSD and his underlying depression. Reverting to past behavior, Riley runs from his troubles instead of facing them head on and only time will tell whether his kneejerk reaction will help or hinder him in the long run.
With a gentle undercurrent of faith and a realistic storyline, Just a Kiss is a moving story of healing and love that is fast-paced and engaging with a wonderful cast of characters. Denise Hunter saved the best for last and this highly anticipated romance is an emotional conclusion to the Summer Harbor series. Riley and Paige have to overcome some seemingly insurmountable obstacles but this just makes their romance that much more believable. Longtime fans will be delighted with the outcome of a storyline that has played out in all three books while newcomers will find it very easy to jump right in with this installment. A beautiful end to a fabulous series that I highly recommend.