THE KISSING GAME – Marie Harte
Seattle, Washington – The Present
Axel Heller sits inside Ray's Bar after punching out three troublemakers outside. He watches the black waitress, Rena Jackson. He wants to talk to her, ask her on a date, but fear holds him back. He has felt this way for nearly a year. Now his friends, who are mutual friends with Rena or his employees, tell him he had better act now or he will lose her. He was unaware his feelings were so obvious; however, the thought of losing her without ever trying to gain her finally spurs Axel into action. A German immigrant, he has dual citizenship in the U.S. While his mother was loving, his father wasn't. His mother died six months ago, and he has an ongoing estrangement with his father and older brother, who remain in Germany, so Alex bears a heavy load of pain, doubt, and distrust. Here in Seattle he has built his own auto body and auto painting shop, employing several men, all of whom have earned his trust, but he wants more.
Rena Jackson is a bartender/waitress/hairstylist who loves romance and is irate that the huge, burly, extremely handsome Viking who frequents the bar seldom speaks little more than a sentence to her. He is frequently in fist fights, but most importantly, he has never asked her out. This is her last night working at Ray's Bar, for she is opening her own hair stylist shop. Tonight, Axel finally approaches her. He asks to speak to her, and seeks privacy to do so, in a closet of all things, where he says if she can resist one kiss from him, he will leave her alone. If not, she owes him a date. It is a mind-bending, lust-inducing kiss, but Rena is wary. She wants a forever man, and she is not sure she can trust Axel.
Lust keeps this tenuous relationship together. Both have doubts about each other's intent and their own misgivings about themselves. Axel still plans to have her as his woman before Valentine's Day. He has also incited the wrath of a local white supremacist group's leader who wants revenge. Characters from the author's many books fill the pages and add many perspectives on the story which involves not only love and relationships, but also racism and family disputes. The romance is very visceral, amusing, and emotional on both sides and develops new difficulties as the story continues. It is a different type of romance readers will enjoy.