Sebring by Kristen Ashley: A Review
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
It’s no secret that Kristen Ashley is one of our favorite romance novel divas here at Lady Smut. We even had the pleasure of hosting her on the site last month when Lady Smut Blogger Elizabeth Sa Fleur (with an assist from yours truly) chatted her up. (Didja miss it? Check out Pink Jimmy Choos and a new series from Kristen Ashley!)
At that time, we spoke a bit with Ms. Ashley about her new release Sebring, the final book in her erotic romance series, The Unfinished Heroes. Personally, I’ve been anticipating this book for a while and believe me, it was worth the wait.
Look! A blurb!
Nick Sebring has issues. Born feeling like an outsider in his own family, growing up under the shadow of a brother who could do anything, Nick isn’t that great of a guy. But when this culminates with Nick lashing out to hurt his brother through the woman he loves, Nick turns inward and makes some decisions about the man he intends to be.
And as he does this, he falls in love and truly learns the man that he’s grown to be.
When his love is murdered right before Nick’s eyes, Nick knows he has to avenge her. He knows how he’s going to avenge her. And he has no qualms using Olivia Shade to exact that vengeance.
Olivia Shade has grown up on the outside of her family too. Her problem is that they don’t want her outside. They want her all the way in, right under their thumbs. She pays the price for seeking escape and learns her lesson—she’ll never see a dawn where she wakes up free.
Then she meets Nick Sebring, and even as she fights it, the hope that died years ago starts to blossom. She can find love. She can have a man of her own. She can be happy. She can be free.
Olivia hopes while Nick schemes.
However, as Nick peels back the layers of all that is Olivia Shade, he finds something surprising. He understands its fragility. He falls in love with its beauty. He seeks to protect it.
But he forgets to protect his Livvie from one thing: Nick Sebring.
Nick Sebring started out as little more than a troublemaking prick in the first book of the Unfinished Heroes series, Knight. At the end of that book, he was sent home to Hawaii to be proverbially smacked into shape by his father, but soon after returned to Denver. Since his return, he’s been slowly working his way to redemption with varying success, nearly ruining a bad-guy takedown in Creed, popping up to been the portent of doom in Raid, and making an off-screen appearance in Deacon as his shit came to a bloody head and his brother Knight and his friends (you guessed it) Creed, Raid, and Deacon, had to come to Nick’s rescue. They arrived in time to save Nick, but were too late to save Hettie, Nick’s FBI partner and lover.
Since that horrible night, Nick has spent four years laying the tracks for his revenge. Now he’s ready to make the first move. And Olivia Shade is the unknowing pawn through which Nick is going to destroy The House of Shade and its king, her father, the man who ordered Hettie’s murder.
The Shade Family has held Olivia under their murderous thumb her entire life. The one time she tried to run away she paid an excruciating price…and learned new depths of betrayal. Since then, Olivia has existed but she doesn’t live. She breathes, she eats, she goes to the movies, she runs the legitimate side of the House of Shade, but she doesn’t hope and she doesn’t believe and she doesn’t live.
Until she meets Nick. They start a purely physical affair after hooking up at an exclusive sex club (that, unknown to Olivia, Nick owns). They continue to meet every night in a hotel room where they battle for dominance of their sexual union. But Nick sees glimpses of the true Olivia, glimpses that so intrigue him, he pushes for more and more until he’s drowning under the pull of Olivia’s true, vulnerable self. Until revenge for his murder love is no longer Nick’s primary motivation.
Nick was now drowning in the mystery of Olivia Shade. Which meant he had no choice but to solve it so he could surface. And maybe survive.
Olivia is dying for freedom. In her family, she is little more than a pawn; a tool for her homicidal, border-line insane father and her sociopath of a sister. The painful price paid for the mistake of thinking her life was hers to determine drove home the lesson that she is there to do as she is told. Her secret affair with Nick is the first time she’s had anything or anyone for herself in years. As her feelings for him grow, so does the near constant fear that her family will discover their affair and do horrible things to Nick to once again drive home to Olivia that she is owned by the House of Shade forever.
And I stared at the ceiling knowing I’d lost. But all could not be lost. I couldn’t endure it again. And I wasn’t going to let another man endure it. I allowed myself that moment of him pinning me to the bed, his body my whole world, my legs wrapped tight around his hips like it was my right to hold him to me.
Nick’s made mistakes, some that have been paid for in blood, but he’s fought hard to repair family breeches, build a (somewhat shady) business of his own, and become a man other men in his world respect.
Back in the day, Nick Sebring had been known as the incompetent, unprincipled wastrel younger brother of a successful man…He was no longer any of that. What he was was a dark horse. No one had expected anything of him except, perhaps, the frequently earned title of baby daddy and an early death due to his own folly. But now, in our world, he was respected and even feared.
Nick’s driven and focused on his revenge and prepared to use Olivia to achieve it, regardless of how his end game (killing her father) might impact her life. Which makes his attraction to Olivia at first inconvenient and a then a growing and significant problem. He’s intrigued by Olivia from the moment she turns his plans upside-down by taking the reigns and making the first move to make them fuck buddies. He expected her to be the cold, stone bitch of her reputation, not a hot lover who makes each of their early assignations a sexual tussle for dominance and makes him laugh whenever he cracks her shield enough to glimpse the real Olivia.
Olivia Shade was not made of stone. She was warm and soft, smelled good, and her sheet of straight black hair felt like silk. And if he was another man, he knew her green eyes had the capacity to brand ownership. He knew it because, as they held his while he thrust into her, he had to fight giving over to it.
As he reveals her scars and unveils the fragile depths of her heart, Nick is torn between avenging his beloved–or saving the love of his life.
Olivia Shade was not a mystery…Olivia Shade was something of an exquisite beauty not allowed to be what she needed to be. Beauty bound. She was not a ghost who could be seen. She was a hostage in a lavish cage…It was not his job to set her free. It had nothing to do with him. She was not his end game. He had to let her be…He had the power to save her from one ugly thing that infected her life…He was going to save her from Nick Sebring.
Olivia’s ice-cold demeanor is her only protection against her crazy, violent father and a sister who’s always looking for new ways to use and manipulate her.
I didn’t give anything away in any way, not ever. I didn’t raise my voice. I only allowed the minutest reactions to show on my face, to leak from my eyes, to set in my frame.
Despite being raised in a gangster’s criminal world, there’s still an innocence to Olivia. Even after all she’s suffered, she can still be appalled and surprised by the depths of evil to which her father (and later his sister) stoop. Outside their orbit, Olivia has no problem asserting herself and certainly not with a sexual partner. But that’s all she’ll allow herself to have–meaningless sex with nameless partners. She’s been crushed by so much betrayal and abuse, she no longer bothers to hope for a life that involves more than just surviving–or a man who could ever make her safe enough to take a chance on happy.
But she still can’t walk away from Nick. Despite knowing better, he makes her hope. He makes her want to believe.
And that tingling in my throat hurt so bad, it felt like it would strangle me, knowing how bad I wanted that, and using his words–knowing how down deep in my soul I could never risk it. Which meant I could never have it. Not with him. Not with anybody. But that pain wasn’t about anybody. That pain was about not having it with Nick.
Sebring is a painful book, but in that way that Kristen Ashley has perfected that makes you love the pain.
“If you let whatever you got inside you loose, you’d make a man incredibly happy. You’d be a dream he couldn’t build. You’d be everything…You should find one you can trust who knows nothing for certain in the world except you’re his everything.”
When he stopped talking, I turned my head and drew in a slow, deep breath, taking him in, my nose brushing his skin, knowing, the day I died, my last thought, my last feeling, the last scent I’d experience was going to be the memory of that breath. Drawing in what I wanted but could never have. Drawing in Nick Sebring.
I’ve really enjoyed The Unfinished Heroes (my favorites are Raid and Deacon) and Sebring is a great closing for the series. We started out with Nick being a dick in Knight, so it’s fitting that we end with Nick shedding his dickishness and coming into his own in Sebring. But this is just as much Olivia’s story, a severely wounded woman who has survived unspeakable horror but somehow kept her battered core from being completely poisoned. It’s this woman who slowly allows Nick to rekindle her lost hope and who, by doing so, ultimately alters the course of Nick’s revenge until neither one of them can avoid taking the ultimate risk–to believe irrevocably in each other.
Enjoy the exquisite pain.
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Singer, writer, editor, traveler, vodka drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense and can be found at www.kierstenkrum.com and regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.