Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
There is something special about Layla Hagen’s brand of romance. You can depend upon it to warm your soul. Since Hagen has moved into the world of the Winchester family, she shows what she does best: crafting stories with heroes and heroines that we can trust to get us to that happy ending with a little bit of strife, but a whole lot of loving. Hagen’s newest book, Just One Kiss, gifts us with all of that and more.
Using the single mother trope for this book, Hagen takes one of the Winchester family’s requisite playboys, the “flirt,” Ryker Winchester, and she places him directly in the life of her single mother heroine, Heather. As far as Ryker is concerned, it is “interest at first sight.” Heather finds herself in a bar at the end of a relationship. Her ex humiliates her publically and Ryker steps in to end it. She catches his eye, but he is unable to get her information as his new guitar becomes damaged in the altercation. Days later, Heather returns to the bar to find Ryker as a way to thank him for his help, and there are instant sparks between these two. Ryker “shoots his shot” and they embark on the journey of falling for each other. The complications of this story lie in Ryker’s day job as a financial wizard and Heather’s worry that she’s moving too quickly into a relationship, putting her daughter’s happiness at risk. This worry causes her to put up walls against Ryker, yet he is determined to win her and her daughter over.
Ryker is Hagen’s usual hero. He’s stalwart, dedicated to his family, and persistent. He’s a “good guy” with no intention of hurting Heather and her daughter, Avery. For a “playboyish” kind of guy, he falls quickly for Heather. However, he really has no intention of stepping back. Instead, he works diligently to win Heather’s heart. His family is important to him too, so he tends to be the family member who worries about his sisters. He is the type of hero that Hagen tends to craft easily.
As the heroine, Heather’s concerns are valid. This is a woman who has been burned by the few men in her life, including her daughter’s father. Yet, Ryker’s magnetism is too much for her, and she falls easily under his spell. What this causes in Just One Kiss is a constant doubt and internal censure as she fears moving too quickly with Ryker. She, however, continues to fall fast. There is never any real concern that Heather and Ryker won’t end up together. Hagen wants us to think there could be an issue, but it isn’t profound enough. If I have any criticism about Just One Kiss is the sense that the inciting moment in the story is seemingly greater than it actually is. Sometimes, it reads as a bit too manufactured. I know it’s necessary for story-telling, but it should feel more organic. For example, Ryker never questions his interest in Heather. Not ever. When the inciting moment occurs and Heather and her daughter leave, it doesn’t feel natural because we know Ryker will chase her. He loves them too much. For this to be more effective, more self-doubt from Ryker throughout the story would have made it more impactful, I think.
Just One Kiss is a sweet tale of a man and woman who find each other when they aren’t expecting it. Ryker and Heather’s chemistry flies off the page, and their happily-ever-after is expected from the start. If you love romance where the characters love family and fall deeply for each other, then you’ll want to read Layla Hagen’s brand of romance, specifically Just One Kiss.
In love and romance,