Deacon has an ugly history, a history that broke him, leaving him a ghost of a man. Out of necessity, he left the normal world to descend into the criminal world and found he fit. So he stayed. Cold as ice and living off the grid, Deacon has no intention to connect, not with anyone.
Then he returns to some remote cabins in the Colorado Mountains and finds they have new owners. One of them is Cassidy Swallow, a young woman willing to work hard to live her quiet dream in a house by a river surrounded by aspen and pine.
Suddenly, Deacon finds he’s at war. Cassidy’s pull for him to connect is strong. He fights it, but he loses, always coming back for more. But when he does, he gives her nothing.
From the first time she sees him, Cassidy knows Deacon is dead inside. She knows he’s the kind of man who could destroy a woman. But one night when Deacon’s control slips, Cassidy takes a chance.
He might break her. He also might be her dream come true.
“Not easy, fightin’ your pull. Wantin’ to be right here. Knowin’ I was no good for you. Prayin’ you’d get a man so when I’d come back I’d have a reason to stay away.”
Some fires don’t ignite at first contact, it might take some time and patience to get that first spark and see it turn into a bright flame, but once it starts burning, you feel its heat all the way down to your bones, seeping in, infusing you with its warmth, and making you wish it’d never lose its glow. That is the way I see the story of Cassidy and Deacon. A slow burning romance igniting over almost a decade in time, this is a love story that is not designed to set your pulse racing, or make you feel like your heart has gone through a spin cycle. This is a story to warm your heart, soothe it, give it hope, and it stands to show that the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is not always correct.
“… cabin eleven was home to me for a few days every year, the only home I had, ‘cause you were there.”
We meet Cassidy in her early twenties—a young woman fresh out of college whose dream of living a quiet life and running a small group of cabins for hire in the midst of the Colorado wilderness has taken her away from her family in Oklahoma and made her invest all of herself into making her vision a reality. The cabins are run down, her live-in boyfriend is no help at all and a constant financial liability, her daily life revolves entirely around fixing the cabins up, improving them, caring for them and her patrons, leaving little time to do much else, and yet Cassidy never loses motivation. Her little business remains a constant source of pride and fulfilment because in the middle of “rock, pine, aspen, columbine, fireweed, wild iris, and glacier lily” is exactly where she has dreamed of living ever since her parents took her there on a skiing trip when she was thirteen years old.
“I had a near-overwhelming urge to go to him and wrap my arms around him. Tight. And maybe never let go. For eternity.”
Shortly after buying the cabins, she meets John Priest, her first visitor—a man whose emotionless face and rugged looks scare her at first, but also seem to draw her inexplicably to him. Five months pass before she sees him again, and when he returns, Cassidy is single and living alone in the middle of the Colorado mountains, her heart a little bit more lonely than the last time they saw each other, but her dream still driving her forward and her business slowly thriving as a result. And so for the next four years they maintain a routine—John Priest always showing up unannounced, always renting the same cabin, and his sporadic visits never lasting more than a few days—but as much as Cassidy tries to get closer to him, to break though the ice with small acts of kindness and friendliness, he remains an impenetrable, unmovable mystery.
“We don’t change. You’re a good woman, Cassidy. But we don’t change.”
Until one night changes everything. Changes them both. And Cassidy finally meets Deacon, the man behind the ghost that is John Priest. They do not get to know one another by probing each other with endless questions, instead allowing their bodies and their hearts to lead the way. Cassidy still knows very little about the man now sharing her bed every night, or how long he would eventually stick around, but her every instinct tells her to trust him with her heart. To risk it all even for a fleeting chance of being happy in his arms.
“I knew down to my bones I couldn’t bear a life of longing for him, wondering how it could have been if he gave me what he was offering me right now at that moment. The chance to get in.”
And this is where this story becomes quite a departure from any previous Kristen Ashley romances. The slow pace, coupled with a very unique balance between the main characters, is what makes this story so realistic and relatable on so many levels. The physical aspect of their relationship is what moves the entire relationship forward, deepening their intimacy, strengthening the trust between them. Deacon’s job still frequently takes him away for prolonged periods of time, testing that trust, but he always returns to Cassidy, and she always welcomes him back.
“In this bed, out of it. Naked or not. No boundaries. All in. Nothin’ held back.”
As Deacon slowly disengages himself from his old life, there are demons from his past that he cannot let go of, thus risking everything he has built with Cassidy. This is a story about trust as much as it is about love—a man learning to trust himself with a woman again, a man needing time to become ready to accept what is right in front of him, and a woman who gave him just that—time—guiding him out of his own darkness simply by loving him no matter what and trusting her own heart with him. Cassidy’s patience and persistence made her one of the strongest heroines I have ever had the pleasure of finding, the true measure of her character being her ability to forgive, to risk her own heart time after time because she recognized something rare in Deacon, and she held onto that dream until the very end. I greedily wished we could have delved even more into her pain at times, as those moments of sorrow would have added a further facet onto a truly magnificent female lead.
“… there would always be a part of me that would long for him. There would always be thoughts in the back of my mind plaguing me, haunting me, making me wonder, if he let me in, even just a little, how it could have been.”
It seems that Kristen Ashley can do no wrong in my eyes because I keep falling in love with her stories book after book, connecting with the characters heart and soul. I love stories that focus on less-than-perfect heroes, good men who have made mistakes in their lives, who do not trust or give their hearts easily, and I especially love when these stories also explore the connection between love and trust in a relationship, specifically relating to the sexual aspect of that relationship. I read this book in one sitting, and it felt like I took one breath and didn’t exhale until the very last page.
And I probably should have mentioned that the characters are into bondage… Can these stories get any better?!
“Love is trust, Cassie, you taught me that.”
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Unfinished Hero – Recommended Reading Order and Purchase Links
(standalone stories with interconnected characters
Knight: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Creed: My Review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Raid: My Review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Deacon: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
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Kristen Ashley grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana, and has lived in Denver, Colorado, and the West Country of England. Thus she has been blessed to have friends and family around the globe. Her posse is loopy (to say the least) but loopy is good when you want to write.
Kristen was raised in a house with a large and multigenerational family. They lived on a very small farm in a small town in the heartland, and Kristen grew up listening to the strains of Glenn Miller, The Everly Brothers, REO Speedwagon, and Whitesnake.
Needless to say, growing up in a house full of music and love was a good way to grow up. And as she keeps growing up, it keeps getting better.
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