Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Jessica Peterson’s calling card for the romance world is socially conscious romance. Every story reminds us that there are diverse ways to love. If you’ve read any of her stories, you know and love her insistence on focusing on these types of issues. It never feels preachy; instead, it serves as a reminder that romance can be “more.”
With her newest story in the North Carolina Highlands series, Peterson takes a more traditional approach to romance with tinges of her social consciousness. In this one, she points to toxic masculinity and the ways that it causes men to struggle with feelings. And she does this deftly through a second chance, surprise baby filter. What you gain from reading Southern Playboy, Rhett’s story, is a journey of a man and a woman who love each other but can’t seem to find a way to be together without sacrificing the things they value.
Southern Playboy follows Rhett, the youngest Beauregard sibling. Rhett is a professional football player striving for the pinnacle of football: the championship. With retirement on the horizon, he’s given himself one year to meet a goal he promised his father before his death. The issue is he’s lost that loving feeling for football. He continues to take the actions necessary to grab that championship ring: soul-crushing workouts, a highly scheduled life, and a strict diet. What happens, though, when he receives a surprising phone call, telling him he’s the father of a two-year-old? That structured life becomes messier, and the emptiness he’s been feeling on his journey towards that championship starts to fill with his love for his child.
To help him through this adjustment, he asks his ex-girlfriend who he reconnected with at his brother’s wedding to be his nanny. Amelia has lost her job teaching and is trying to find her way. Drawn to Rhett, she agrees to be his nanny, even though she knows it isn’t the best idea. She and Rhett are still attracted to each other, so she worries about professionalism. As Amelia and Rhett spend more time together, it becomes difficult to deny their attraction. When they finally fall into their attraction, their relationship becomes complicated. Will they find a future together, or will one have to sacrifice herself for the other’s future?
Jessica Peterson notes in her acknowledgments that she struggled with this story, and I can’t help but wonder if it had more to do with its more traditional bent than the other books of this series. The tension of her characters isn’t necessarily on their ability to love each other. Rather, they struggle with letting go of values that they decided for themselves earlier in their lives. Beyond that, in a way that is different from Beau/Annabel, Samuel/Emma, and Hank/Stevie, Amelia and Rhett feel more traditional in the context of romance. There is a little deviation: I love that Rhett cries quite a few times undermining his toxic masculinity. While there are these smaller discussions about societal ills (education and children and definitions of masculinity), I think people might be surprised at how Rhett and Amelia are the most traditionally romantic couple, by my estimation, in this series. And I can’t help but think that might have caused Jessica Peterson to believe the structure and development of this story to be a struggle.
What it is is a FANTASTIC read! What’s not to love about two people who clearly want and love each other, but seem to think they cannot find common ground? Rhett is a typical Beauregard, thick-headed at times. However, once he realizes Amelia is irreplaceable, he does everything to be with her. You cannot help but love how they love each other. Add in adorable Liam and the rest of the Beauregard clan, and Southern Playboy absolutely steals your heart.
If you’re looking for a fantastic read right now, jump into this book ASAP.
In love and romance,