Blurb via lindawinfree.blogspot.com: A lifetime ago Mark Cook's pregnant wife vanished, taking everything and leaving an empty, aching hole in his life. Since then, as penance for his failure as a husband and father, he’s refused to allow himself to live. Refused to lay his sleeping heart on the line for any woman.Enter Tori Calvert, his best friend's baby sister. Suddenly, against his will—and against his better judgment—that same damaged heart seems determined to reawaken. And Mark's not sure he can withstand the pain.
When she was a teenager, a vicious attack ripped away Tori's very essence as a woman. Finally she feels ready to focus her existence on something other than her job as a rape crisis counselor. And to step outside the shelter of her loving, protective family. She trusts Mark more than any man, yet fear holds her back. Fear that even the healing light of love may not be enough to banish the shadows of the past.
First off... yet another amazingly beautiful cover. This entire series is just gorgeous.
What did I like?
All of the books in the Hearts of the South series have been true emotional heartstoppers. But only this one and His Ordinary Life have struck me as completely relationship-focused. Both characters have played central parts in the series to date; each with their own role to fulfill. Mark "Cookie" Cook was the consummate playboy, easygoing, noncommital. But every now and again, Winfree would give a glimpse behind his persona and let us know that there was something more brewing there. Tori Calvert, Tick's younger sister, played the victim, inasmuch as she was raped as a teenager and then had the misfortune to be SPOILER a cop-turned-serial killer's girlfriend *END SPOILER.
Winfree did a wonderful job of growing each of these characters, both separately and together. We learn the reason behind Cookie's refusal to be involved in a relationship, and we see Tori grow into a woman who is willing to risk both a physical and an emotional relationship.
We get to revisit old friends Tick and Cait and feel the joy and sorrows in their lives as well. But Winfree wisely keeps the focus solely on the main couple. Winfree's writing has gotten better with each book in the series. Written with emotion aplenty, but no excess verbal diarrhea, we revisit Mark's past and not just see, but feel how he was as a young man. I also appreciated his remarks about needing recuperation time since he's 'almost 40.' Thank you, Ms. Winfree! Sheesh! You'd think every guy could just do it again and again well into their 50s, the way some books are written these days. But it was handled with joy and laughter and acceptance here.
I also liked that when Mark and Tori finally got around to making love, as a violent rape victim, she had a tough time with it. She couldn't do it with him on top. She couldn't climax during intercourse. But it wasn't a huge sticking point, majorly dwelled upon. Their relationship had come so far - they talked it out, and handled it together.
I like that Winfree's heroes aren't afraid to cry. Not in a Brockmann dramatic way (which is also great), but in their own quiet way, that requires just that extra bit of support from their women.
What didn't I like?
Hmmmm.... not a whole hell of a lot. Tick butting in and not accepting his best friend in Tori's life did get to be a tad old after a while. Granted, he knew Mark's background, and why he was such a man-whore, but still... at some point he needed to let go. Tick had his own issues to deal with in this book, however, and made his opinion known only rarely. But he really was just trying to protect his sister, given her history. So it was forgivable for the most part. I'm reaching. I really did like everything about this book.
You can buy Hearts Awakened (Book 6 - well, book 7 if you count What Mattered Most, the 'prequel'), and the entire Hearts of the South series here.