*****5 ‘Milk & Cookies Redemption’STARS*****

I am addicted to the ‘innocent ex-con’ storyline.  I can’t get enough.  Add in a dirty talking alpha with an attitude problem and I’m a goner.  Jackie Ashenden’s newest entry into the Texas Bounty series checked all those boxes and then some.  I was in Alpha Jerk Heaven.  A story of childhood friendships and harsh life lessons, I was hooked from page one where we see that the past can be a happy joyful memory used to fill the holes in our hearts – but we can never go back – and now it’s time to move forward.

“She was a milk-and-cookies kind of girl and he was a booze-and-strippers kind of boy.”

Rush Redmond (H) has a huge chip on his shoulder.  Convicted for a crime he admitted to but didn’t commit, he was locked away for years taking painful secrets with him – secrets that ate at his soul, day after day, week after week, year after year.  As he learned the rules in the game of prison survival of the fittest anger and bitterness became his best friends and constant companions.  Upon release freedom is bittersweet – he’s still carrying secrets and guilt and has no illusions life is going to be easy.  Fair warning:  Rush is a damaged Alpha*hole.  While his crass, rude behavior irritated me at times, I couldn’t wait for his redemption.  The very heart of his bad behavior illustrates an insight into his anger and pain.  It’s not fun to watch at times but it is completely a part of his growth and eventual acceptance of his circumstances and provides the vehicle for him to move forward, forgive and find happiness.

                “But caring wasn’t something he did anymore, not after prison, and he didn’t need her hanging around reminding him about all those times when another person had mattered to him.”

Ava St. George (h) lost more than anyone ever guessed when Rush was sent to prison.  The boy turned man was her best friend and confidante.  Social inept Ava is left with her emotionally unavailable father and turns to her dream of following in her deceased mother’s footsteps – becoming a police officer.  For years it’s all she lives and breathes despite her father’s protests; as long as she has the badge she doesn’t need anything or more importantly anyone else.  When Rush is released from prison old feelings start to resurface at the same time new information on her mother’s murder leads her straight into Rush’s arms – begging for a favor.  It’s not long before Ava realizes the ‘old’ Rush is gone.  And the ‘new’ Rush?  Sweet innocent Ava’s not sure what to do with him.  A rookie cop, Ava still has stars in her eyes and a ‘do-good’ attitude; her social ineptness lends to her innocent naiveté while her life’s experiences show us she does have some backbone.  She may be a sweet, shy, somewhat naïve rookie cop, but her strength and understanding with Rush is a powerful thing.  When she’s pushed to the brink to use that backbone, Rush is that catalyst, and although it takes some buildup in the story to see it – I was happy that we did see it.

“And it was only because she knew how incredible his smile had once been when it reached his eyes that she realized how much it had changed now.”

One of the things I love about Ms. Ashenden’s books is the power exchange dynamics.  Well, that and her luscious grumpy alphas.  While Rush is all controlling dominant alpha male, seeing his interactions with Ava and his decent into love give you the chance to see how powerless he is in the face of his deep emotions – as much as he tries to control his life it keeps spiraling in the face of this anger, self-pity and loathing.  Sexual dynamics play into this as well (and whew! they’re hawt together!) and even though he doesn’t relinquish control in the bedroom it is clear that the reins are transferred on occasion to Ava emotionally and it holds Rush hostage at first.  He’s mean, he says ugly things.  It’s knee-jerk-reaction, that’s who he’s evolved into in the last 8 years.  But maybe, just maybe Ava’s loyalty and love will help him heal and show him the fall is worth it.  I appreciated that Rush’s character stayed true throughout the book.  He didn’t magically become a nice guy overnight – or a nice guy at all.  He’s had eight years to cultivate his bad attitude and it takes time and understanding from Ava before we start to see the light.  Don’t get me wrong he has growth but its Rush style growth – this is a man that’s never going to be the ‘nice guy’.   The small peeks into his heart and softening with Ava turned my heart to goo.

“Gimme a taste honey.  Just a little one.”

At the same time, watching Ava struggle with her feelings of inadequacy and fear of emotional abandonment were heartbreaking.  Growing up without her mother and a father who treats her like an acquaintance instead of a daughter has damaged something very fragile in Ave – her sense of worth and value.  On the same token as Rush, she’s had years to develop and grow these feelings and Rush Certainly doesn’t help her in the beginning – he’s way too wrapped up in his own head.  This imperfect hero and his girl stole my heart.  I honestly love Rush for his alpha*hole ways – I totally understood where he was coming from and even agreed with him now and again.  I applauded his personal confrontation of his demons so that he could move forward in his life.  He and Ava have a lot stacked against them including their mutually disapproving families, but that just made me root for them harder.

“One thing you’re gonna have to learn about me is that I never, ever do what I am told.”

I understand hardcore jerk alphas aren’t for everyone.  Even when I hated the way Rush treated Ava, I still understood why.  That until the ‘why’ was resolved he literally couldn’t move on.  That’s the story here for me.  Who Rush was when he was released was not who he was destined to be.    And for all the times I wanted Ava to be, perhaps, a bit stronger, that’s just not who she was at that time either.  Grumpy jerky Rush paved the way to Ava’s empowerment and growth as a woman.  Really, that’s what I love to see – the hero and the heroine inspiring (even if it starts out in anger) and encouraging growth and love in each other.  Anger, irritation, jealousy, gulit, heartbreak, sadness, healing, hope, forgiveness.  Love.  It’s all in these pages and I adored the journey – every page.  I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

“But he should have known Ava wasn’t just another woman.  She never had been.”

*ARC provided by Loveswept via NetGalley and does not effect my rating or review.*

K’s Category: 3rd date, multiple novels read by author to date.

Characters: M/F

OM/OW: No

Sex: Yes, descriptive

HEA: Yes

Standalone: Yes, although this is book 3 in the series, you can read it without any significant plot/story line issues.

GOODREADS

AMAZON US

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