Audio Review: Games of the Heart by Kristen Ashley

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Title: Games of the Heart (The ‘Burg #4)
Author: Kristen Ashley
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense
Narrator: Rachel Fulginiti
Length: 21 hours 36 mins, 600 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis

From the balcony of his house, Mike Haines can see the quiet, commonplace beauty of the Holliday farm. But what he remembers is the little sister of his high school girlfriend, Dusty who grew up there. As a teen, Dusty had gone off the rails but when she was a kid, she was sweet, she was funny and she had a special bond with Mike. But after high school, she took off and Mike never saw her again. Then tragedy strikes Dusty’s family, she comes back into town and Mike thinks she hasn’t changed back to the sweet, funny girl he knew but instead continued to be selfish and thoughtless, leaving her family alone to deal with their mourning. So he seeks her out and confronts her in an effort to understand what went wrong and to force her to sort herself out.

He finds out quickly he’s wrong about Dusty Holliday. Very wrong. And right after Mike discovers that, the bond they had years before snaps back into place in ways he would never suspect.

But Mike Haines had a bad marriage then he played games of the heart for a good woman. And lost. In order to protect himself and his kids, he’s cautious, he’s careful to read the signs and he’s not interested in finding a woman he has to fix.

Then he learns what happened to Dusty and he thinks she needs to be fixed. He swings, he misses and in this new game of hearts, for Dusty, Mike just got strike three.

Grace Review
Story: 5 stars
Based on what went down in At Peace, I have being dying for Mike Haines’ story.  I know Vi ended up with the right person for her, but that didn’t take the sting out of what she did Mike. Unintentional, but nevertheless heartbreaking.  After a failed marriage, I wanted more for him.  He deserved a happy ending too.  But I had no idea that happy ending would come from his ex-girlfriend’s sister.  Eep!  Ok, before you get a judgey like I initially was, keep in mind that the two relationships happened more than a decade apart.

As a teenager, Dusty was just Debbie’s (his girlfriend at the time) little sister, but a fun girl to hang around.  Their age difference was such that he didn’t develop feelings for her.  Teenage hormones and Debbie being a bitch, created distance between Mike and Dusty’s friendship.  With Dusty taking off from the ‘Burg to carve her own life path, that distance grew further.  It wasn’t until Dusty and Debbie’s brother Darren died, that a new connection was even made.

The initial reunion between Mike and Dusty doesn’t start off on the right foot, as Mike makes some bad assumptions about Dusty, not the only time this happens in the story, based on information from her conniving sister.  However, these two quickly make up in the most passionate of ways.

While the backstory about Dusty made me leery and nervous for some serious heartache, I loved her from the get-go. She’s a straight shooter and was honest with everything Mike threw at her. Despite the distance between their homes, her’s being in Texas, they both make a solid effort to make a go of things.  That is until some old diaries are found and Mike makes another bad judgement call.

Although the struggle to get them on the same page was a little frustrating, I totally stood by Dusty’s decisions, which is a bit unusual for me.  But what was even more surprising, was who stepped in and why the did, in order to make things right with Dusty and Mike.

Back in the same town together, the relationship really took off, and I fell in love with them as a couple.  I loved how the were respectful of Mike’s kids, and had each others backs when people tried to drive them apart.  And there were a lot of people that attempted to do so.

*Debbie – this woman was a piece of work!  She was so upset about Mike and Dusty’s relationship, she made irrational decisions that impacted her whole family.  I get jealousy, but Debbie’s actions were downright embarrassing.

*Bo – Dusty’s ex.  This guy needs to buy a clue, because he just doesn’t have one.  I worried about his stalkerish tendencies, but his bark seemed bigger than his bite.  And he’s on the receiving end of one of the funniest phone calls – this being as Mike is fucking Dusty.

“You got me and you gotta know you got me when I’m buried deep in Dusty, fuckin’ her hard, she’s facedown in bed, lovin’ every stroke, and I know this because she’s purrin’ for me like a cat.  And when I make her come, she’s gonna say my name.  So with that, you gotta know you are done.”

*Audrey – Mike’s ex wife.  This lady put Mike through the ringer, emotionally and financially, and its not until Mike has someone else that she wakes up.  Too late honey!

Aside from the drama of these former ex’s, Mike and Dusty struggle to secure her family’s farm for a evil land developer that Debbie joined forces with.  Dusty’s fight to save that land and ultimately her family’s future, further built my admiration for her.  With her brother’s wife being near catatonic following his death, Dusty steps up big time, serving the role of mother, a helping hand on the farm, and sounding board for her brother’s sons and Mike’s kids.  All this while still managing her pottery business.  Did I mention that I loved her?  Yeah, she is all kinds of awesome.

The suspense in this story was more mild than the previous books in the series.  However, both Mike and Dusty felt a threat coming.  They, nor I, knew what was coming.  And when it did, the level of dread was deep.  SO to Layla, Mike’s dog was a key part here.

While this was Mike and Dusty’s love story, I felt the kids from both families played a huge role in the story.  Hell, two are the focus of a epilogue that had grinning like a Cheshire cat.

This story hit me on so many levels, not just because of Mike and Dusty’s love story, but how both of them handled the challenges of the teenagers around them.  Too many heartwarming moments to count, but I loved each and every one of them.

In the end, while they initially played some games, they proved they were stronger together than apart, fighting every challenge along the way.  At the same time, they served as role models for the youth around them, securing a better future for everyone, that was truly beautiful.

Performance: 4.5 stars
Like all the previous KA narrators before her, this one did not disappoint.  She kept me engaged in the story, and delivered all of the emotion this story deserved.  I’m always impressed when a narrator can switch from one dialect to another, but I think it takes even more talent to switch the age of the voice.  The narrator deftly switches from the adult voices of Mike and Dusty, to the youthful voices of the teenagers, Fin and Clarisse (Rees).

Overall: 5 stars
This story hits on everything I love about Kristen Ashley:

A beautiful romance story.
Strong character development, from the leading characters all the way down to Mike’s dog, Layla.
The importance of family and protecting them at all costs.
A story that’s both entertaining, yet relateable.
Emotional speeches (my favorite being Fin and Kirby standing up to their Mom).

Bring all of these things together, with not one, but two love stories, and you have a winner.

– Grace

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