Note: This ARC was provided by the author via Social Butterfly PR in exchange for an honest review.
"This." His fingers caress the back of mine, still pressed against his cheek. "Feels nice." He opens his eyes slowly. The weight of them on me is almost suffocating. "It's never felt nice before."
"Because it's never been you before."
If I'm being completely honest, it wasn't Lance Romero's story that I was hoping would get told when Helena Hunting announced she was writing the next full-length novel in the Pucked series. Yeah, I was all about Darren Westinghouse and his very mysterious relationship with Charlene Hoar. Now that I've finished reading his story, however, I'm a Romance convert. Romance, as in Lance "Romance" Romero. The guy clearly had a reputation for being the energizer to all the bunnies chasing him and his teammates, but as the series has progressed, it was becoming obvious that there was so much more to this defenseman than meets the eye. His affair with the team's trainer was something I originally thought would go in one direction, but thank goodness it didn't because I seriously want to smack Tash, aka DO NOT FUCKING REPLY, and I'm just glad she was never given a last name. I know that sounds weird, but someone like her doesn't deserve anything more than that four-lettered nickname of hers and it would be insulting to even rank it among all the other four-lettered words I have a penchant of uttering.
Lance Romero is damaged. He knows it and his ex knows it and she has no qualms using and abusing that knowledge to get him to do her bidding. He's tried cutting ties with her before, but he keeps coming back every time she crooks her proverbial finger at him. When he walks away from her yet again, he searches for a release for his aggression and ends up on the receiving end of injuries that lead to aches and pains which require him to see a massage therapist. For someone who doesn't like being touched, Lance is already antsy about having to lie prone to the machinations of some stranger. Except this person's touch doesn't leave him cold. Instead, Poppy O'Connor makes him feel a warmth he doesn't remember experiencing at any other point in his life. Her touch soothes something deep within Lance, and soon, she becomes more. There's something familiar, though, about Poppy, almost as if he should remember her significance once upon a time in his life. She's quickly becoming significant in the here and now, but can he convince her to stay for the long haul when his past threatens to wreck everything?
Alex Waters is my sentimental favorite because he was my first, and Miller Butterson is the one who makes me laugh the most. Then there's Randy Ballistic who's just the hottest in the bunch, and of course, there's Darren Westinghouse, the one I'm most curious about. But Lance Romero? Yeah, he's the one who took a piece of my heart because it broke for him while I had his story on my e-reader. Pucked Off is probably the most serious and angst-driven book in the Pucked series, though there's some comic relief courtesy of Violet Waters, who we can always count on to inspire a snicker or two out of us. Lance's early years were filled with guilt over what happened to his younger brother and abuse--both physical and mental--at the hands of his mother. It's easy to see why he's the man he is now--a man whose brokenness calls to someone like Poppy O'Connor. I love how Poppy never tries to fix Lance; she accepts him for who he is and tries to offer him support and understanding where he thinks he doesn't deserve it. Poppy was exactly what Lance needed and she came back into his life at the absolute right time.
From stealing kisses to the whole gummy bear addiction, to his aggression masking his insecurities, Lance was this multi-layered complexity, but God, how can you resist someone like him? And Poppy was sunshine and all good things, and it was like what they had was a love story that took more than a decade to continue. Poppy got Lance in a way no one else could or, at the very least, not to the extent that she was able to. She didn't let him do whatever he wanted with and to her; it was a matter of her wanting it too. See, I loved the whole "want or let" aspect of their relationship, but at the end of the day, it became about "need" and how much they needed one another in their lives and how Lance already had the family he needed in the form of his best friends--both his teammates and their girlfriends. If the other books brought tears to my eyes because of too much laughing, this one had me tearing up because of how much I empathized with Lance and how much I applauded Poppy for sticking by him. I still want Darren's story, but I needed Lance's. Pucked Off was a five-plus-starrer and then some. ♥
Read my reviews for the Pucked series:
Pucked (book one) - five-plus stars - My Review
Pucked Up (book two) - five-plus stars - My Review
Pucked Over (book three) - five-plus stars - My Review
Forever Pucked (book four) - five-plus stars - My Review
Area 51 (deletions and outtakes) - five stars - My Review
Get Inked (crossover novella) - five stars - My Review
Pucked Under (novella) - five stars - My Review
Pucked Off (book five) - five-plus stars - My Review (posted above)
Release Date: 21 February 2017
Date Read: 19 February 2017
Learn more about Helena Hunting.