Former pageant queen Stella Varland doesn’t trust beauty anymore after her divorce. Her appearance betrayed her and led to brokenness, so instead of being beautiful, now she tries to make beautiful things, but she always falls short. So she keeps her passion for art to herself and focuses on her interior design work. But if she doesn’t get another job soon, she’ll be stuck living with her parents. Contractor Chase Taylor is determined to live a life of no regrets after losing his fiancée. Now he lives life at full speed, striving to see how much he can accomplish. He knows if he slows down, he’ll fall apart. So he returns home to Bayou Bend to renovate the town’s old theater and is shocked to discover that the designer for the project is his old flame, Stella. Forced to work together, Chase and Stella battle their chemistry and past as they struggle to compromise and work together on a vision for the theater. Their wills clash as they attempt to hide their brokenness—and their unresolved feelings for each other—until Chase discovers the hidden parts of Stella, while losing her trust in the process. A near catastrophe, a fire, and a small-town gossip mill finally force Stella and Chase to realize that they have a choice—to hold on to the shards of their pasts, or surrender their fragmented pieces to the One who makes a beautiful masterpiece from their brokenness.
Stella, a former pageant queen turned interior designer, is trying to heal after a nasty divorce and an accident of her doing that caused a homeless shelter to burn to the ground. Trying to rebuild her reputation in her small town of Bayou Bend, Louisiana, she gets hired on to renovate a local historic theater. Shortly after arriving for the first day of work, she's stunned to discover that Chase Taylor, an old flame of hers, happens to be the contractor for the job! Chase is trying to do his own healing after losing his fiancee in a car wreck. This project seems like the perfect thing to lose his mind in... until he finds he has to answer to the girl that once had such a strong grip on his heart. A few chapters in, the novel reveals there's more to the story between them than the general "it just didn't work out". In fact, that bit of "more" is something Stella never quite got over, which she quickly makes clear to Chase.
Chase tries to do his best to keep an upbeat, professional attitude in the tense workplace, but after awhile he pulls Stella aside and reminds her that the past should be the past, which can be addressed at another time, but they were hired to do a job so they should maintain a little bit of work ethic. He begs for a truce, to which she reluctantly agrees but of course time proves that he's interested in more than just a bland truce. He wants to revisit that old romance of theirs. Stella, however, is not so down with the idea... at least not at first. She's hiding just how deep those emotional wounds run -- from both Chase and her ex-husband. So much pain that she's developed crippling anxiety that occasionally causes her to experience black outs.
Chase, bless him, was patient with the girl but lordy, Stella got on my last nerve for most of this story. Her misfortunes, while definitely unfortunate, are not all that uncommon in today's world but MAN she liked to play the special snowflake card. I got tired of constantly hearing her talk about how no one could understand her, no one could help her. It also felt like every other phrase out of her was unnecessarily cryptic. Her backstory did not warrant all that! And on top of it all, that girl just holds onto a grudge too long. You're really going to hold a grown man accountable for a stupid mistake he made as a teen, a mistake that didn't leave anyone killed, raped, maimed or otherwise irreversibly damaged?
I also ended up feeling bad for Chase a lot of the time. Stella seemed to put him in a lot of no-win scenarios. If he tried to acknowledge her emotional fragility, behaving like a perfect gentleman and giving her her space, he was accused of toying with her. If he made a bold display of his true feelings, he got the "you're just like every other man" rant spit at him. Personally, I say cut your losses at anyone who gives you that much run-around. Especially when you quote Alice In Wonderland and they respond with "Oh, you saw that movie?". Yeah, my inner booknerd cringed.
There is some emotional growth in these characters as the story progresses but man, is it an uphill climb watching them get there! As a whole, this was just a so-so fluff read for me. I wasn't particularly moved by this couple (as you can probably guess from my ranting above lol) and the writing style itself didn't strike me as especially strong or alluring. Just your middle of the road easy breezy read for a chill afternoon's amusement.
FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com kindly provided me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.