I've loved romance novels since...like forever. I read across most subgenres of romance. I also write fantasy/paranormal and new adult romance.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Never Sweeter is the second book in Charlotte Stein's Dark Obsession series. I haven't read the first yet, but I have read several of her other novels and novellas. I adore her voice. She writes in an almost stream-of-consciousness, neurotic way. But it works for me. It so works. You can get inside a character's head, usually the heroine, and feel her awkwardness and blossoming joy.
I'm not sure I would have read this book if I didn't already really like Stein's other stories and trust her as an author. The premise is that Letty, a college student, runs into her high school bully, Tate, when he takes a class with her. Yeah. The hero used to bully the heroine.
While enemies-to-lovers is one of my favorite tropes (and this has a little friends-to-lovers too), this felt a bit different. I had to grit my teeth at first. But, again, because I trust the author, I kept going. I'm glad I did.
Years after the bullying stopped, but not the effects certainly, Letty winds up in the same class with Tate, titled Sex in Film, and he now wants to talk with her. They even get paired in a semester-long assignment.
There is so much tension in each scene as Letty runs from Tate, finds that he helps her, and begins to explore a friendship, of sorts, with him. Tate is apologetic and wants to make amends and show her that he's a different person and she didn't deserve any of how he (and another guy at school) treated her.
There is also a bubbling, brewing sexual tension between them. It is heartbreaking to see Letty struggle to trust and believe that she is attractive and that the guy who had hurt her would ever be kind to her. While it's told in third person, we don't get Tate's POV, so we never get to see what he really thinks of Letty. We're left with how he treats her.
I'm trying very hard not to be spoilery because reasons, I suppose. I will say that Tate's arc is impressive and the romance worked for me. The dude gave some very good grovel. He may not be redeemable for every reader, but for me, he was.
The smexy scenes were crazy hot. Letty gains in confidence and it is lovely to see. It seems to be both due to Tate but also a growing sense of herself as strong. She also has a supportive friend Lydia who lives across the hall from her. (Yay, female friendships in romance!!) I loved how Letty worked at letting herself trust Lydia too. She needed an ally and Lydia was a great one.
So, potential trigger warning for bullying. We get one instance of seeing it in the prologue, but otherwise Letty brings up certain incidents. I believe that Stein wrote a compelling story that understands the depth of the harm that bullying can do.
It was a helluva place to start for a romance. I found myself gripping my Nook, making all kinds of faces as to whether and how it would all work out. It's a well-written romance, so it does. But there's a lot of angst, both for the characters and as a reader.
I highly recommend this story and any of Stein's backlist. We are friendly on twitter but that did not influence my review.