Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“The fact of the matter was, Aiden Shaw, had become my kryptonite.”
Enter A.S. Teague into my life about six months ago (I think) with The Hardest Route. I’m a sucker for a good sports romance. Add in an unexpected baby, slow-burn romance, and cancer scare plus a hunky, adoring hero and I’m sold. Teague had me quickly with the first book in this series of standalones.
Several months later, she’s giving us The Hardest Hit, the story of Aidan Shaw and Melanie (Mel), the best friends of Brooke and Griffin, the main characters from The Hardest Route. Here’s the thing, though. I wasn’t sold on these two after reading that book. Yes, Mel is Brooke’s “second,” and Aidan will always have Griff’s back. But Aidan seemed immature and, at times, Mel seemed too bossy in that story. I wasn’t sure I would love this book as much as the first one. Boy, was I wrong. Mel and Aidan’s story is a heart-wrenching, slow burn of a tale about two people who don’t believe they are worthy of a deep abiding love but who actually find it in each other. Teague reminds us that we should look for love, find it, and hold on to it tightly with both hands no matter how much time passes.
“Every time I saw her, it was like it was the first time. She was the brightest spot in the room.”
From the outset, you should know that I loved this book more than The Hardest Route. With the first book, I loved Griff and Brooke, but I thought, at the time, that Teague convoluted their story with <spoiler alert> Brooke’s cancer scare. I thought she could have brought them together using their existing story. Again, my opinion only. As such, I thought it a bit contrived, and I gave it a 4-star review. I still loved it; I just thought the story could have been revised a bit more.
This one, though, has my heart. This has everything to do with Teague’s development of Mel and Aidan. In the first book, Aidan seems supercilious. He seems out for a good time oftentimes at the expense of others. However, in The Hardest Hit, we find out that it is simply a facade, a protection against the deep rejection of his family. His humor is a tool to keep people at bay. In this book, we find out that he accidentally impregnates his ex-college girlfriend with twins. Even though Aidan knows from the start that Mel is the woman for him, she puts distance between them because she recognizes that Aidan needs to be a father first.
Here is where the slow burn occurs. Teague fast-forwards the story seven long years later. Mel and Aidan have always existed in each other’s orbits, given their best friends are together. However, circumstances constantly complicate their ability to be together. Aidan makes promises he can’t keep, and he disappoints Mel because he chooses to lie to her about his reasons (his boys) and he keeps that portion of his life from her. This makes it difficult for the two of them to be together. Until tragedy strikes. Then, Mel finds a front and center spot in Aidan’s life. Through this tragedy, these two develop a relationship and eventually a future. But, again, tragedy strikes. Will they find their happily-ever-after?
So, yes. This book grabbed me from the beginning. For one, there weren’t any contrived plot twists in this book as I felt there were in the last one. Reading Aidan and Mel struggle and fall in love with each other was the best part of this book. However, the emotional depth of these characters is the jewel in its crown. Aidan’s family has created scars on his soul, and he uses humor and affability to hide behind it.
Mel’s past as a foster child makes it difficult for her to believe that people will stay in her life, and Aidan’s constant breaking of dates, unfortunately, highlights that brokenness in her. These two have broken parts, and for some of the story, they accidentally push on the bruises of those broken parts, making it difficult to be together. Once, they recognize the brokenness in each other, however, together they begin to heal. They find completeness. And this depth of love shines through the story. When Aidan finally lets go of his anger and disappointment in his family, incorporates Mel into his life, and begins moving forward, we see his abiding love for Mel, and it’s beautiful to read. Similarly, Mel’s support for Aidan and acceptance of him, of his innate soul, breeds a relationship that will make the reader jealous. Once these two let go of the past, this story soars off the page.
“I didn’t deserve her. I didn’t deserve her loyalty or her devotion. And I sure as hell didn’t deserve her smiles and laughs. But I was a selfish bastard who had always felt inadequate, even when I’d been on top of the world. And I was going to take what she was willing to give me, whether I thought I was worthy of it or not.”
Add to all of this the ancillary characters from The Hardest Route, along with a few new ones (Griff, Brooke, Allie, Owen and Landon (Aidan’s sons), Quinn, Shane, Trav, and even the villain of the story, Shay). These characters are necessary to Mel and Aidan’s story. I’m hoping we will see a book with Quinn’s story and a certain red-headed sister. Without these characters, this story wouldn’t feel so well-rounded and developed. Each of them simply adds another layer to Teague’s masterpiece
Mel and Aidan do get their happy ending. It takes a majority of the book to get there, but there is beauty in the time it takes for them to find completeness in each other. I laughed, I cried, and I cheered through this story. And I think readers are missing out if they don’t read A.S. Teague’s The Hardest Hit.
“It was there that I realized I finally knew what it felt like to have someone who was completely on my side. I squeezed her even tighter, determined that I wasn’t letting her go ever again.”
In love and romance,