What if You & Me

This second, standalone installment to Roni Loren's Say Everything series is a tantalizing contemporary romance about love's fragility. Andi Lockley is a podcaster sharing true-crime stories about predation on women. It's one way she copes with PTSD after dating a serial killer. But flashbacks hit whenever she considers romance. Her doors are always locked: To intruders. To men. To love.

Hill Dawson never wanted a fresh start. He loved firefighting, his culinary duties for the crew and his ex-fiancée. But a fire stole his leg, his friend took his girl and his future is now takeout for one and sleepless nights plagued by flashbacks.

When someone breaks into Andi's house, she runs into Hill's arms--literally. "Bearded, broad, [and] probably prone to growling in bed," her neighbor Hill is the first man Andi has trusted. And, even as "a cheap imitation" of his heroic self "with missing parts," Hill can at least still offer safety.

What ensues is a provocative friends-with-benefits practice in healing and navigating consent beyond one all-encompassing yes or no. Loren (Yes & I Love You) presents characters who talk through their anxiety, trauma triggers and desires. Andi's horror movie obsession ("The women save themselves") and insistence that society must stop gaslighting women out of being wary of men add a refreshing feminist slant. Loren nails romantic description (Hill's "melted butter and molasses" voice) and every suggestive moment hits ("Listen to your gut. Or you know, parts lower than that"), making What if You & Me an endearingly sexy story about comfort in intimacy. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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