Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
By my estimation, Elizabeth SaFleur’s newest book in her Shakedown Series, Tough Break, is her slowest burn, angstiest book ever. If you’ve read any of her earlier books, then you know that “steam” should be her middle name. Her characters imbue physicality whether it’s found in a BDSM room or a bedroom, SaFleur has a knack for titillating her readers. Tough Break, however, has a severity and seriousness to it that makes steam secondary to the gravity of her characters’ stories. Phoenix’s journey has been a fraught one. In the book before this, Tough Luck, it’s clear that her past is an anchor that weighs heavily on her present. Circling her is Deacon, the hero of this book. As the owner of Shakedown, we find out from the outset of Tough Break, that he has loved her from afar for quite a bit of time. Unfortunately, the incidences of Phoenix’s past have influenced her perception of love and life. With the two of them at a crossroads, Tough Break becomes a tug of war of dissonance. For most of this book, Phoenix and Deacon struggle against each other with Deacon pouring out his adoration through words and actions and Phoenix viewing those words and actions through the lens of her past. This is a tough read in its examination of Phoenix’s pain, in her stubbornness to accept Deacon’s love, and in his constant need to love her. Consider this book like a merry-go-round, where you wonder when the characters will hop off and choose a different ride.
What I found important about SaFleur’s characterizations and the story is its insistence on staying true to their characters. It would have been simple for SaFleur to have her characters fall madly for each other early in the story. But she can’t if she stays true to her characters. She crafts Deacon with an infinite supply of grace and patience. He patiently waits for Phoenix. He is the consummate gentleman, and there is an elegance in his craftsmanship. And Phoenix cannot run into a relationship with Deacon given her traumas. To alleviate the torturous cycle of their coupling, SaFleur intertwines some mafia-esque story. This alleviates the pain SaFleur unknowingly (or maybe knowingly) crafts in the slow-burn romance between Deacon and Phoenix. As such, this story feels heavy because it takes much of the story for Phoenix and Deacon to find their resolution. And even at the story’s end, their coupling feels more steadfast than steamy.
I am always in awe of a writer who transcends their usual, who listens to her characters and creates a space for whatever may happen. Elizabeth SaFleur’s Tough Break holds the magic of a SaFleur story, but it is also saturated with an earnestness that feels very different from her other books.
If you’ve been waiting for Phoenix Rising and Deacon’s story, SaFleur certainly doesn’t disappoint, but don’t expect this to be more of what you expect from SaFleur. Instead, be ready for each turn of the page to wrench out your heart, hoping for a happily-ever-after. SaFleur certainly makes you work for it in Tough Break.
In love and romance,