I am so, so, so excited to be participating in the blog tour for Tessa Bailey’s Make Me. God, this book. I’m not sure I possess words adequate to describe how it made me feel. But, I’m gonna try…
In addition to my review, I have a quick author interview with Tessa – you’ll want to check this out. 🙂 I also have a bonus playlist for the Broke & Beautiful series AND the entire first chapter of Make Me. (Which will inevitably be enough to Make YOU want to buy this book.) 😉
Thanks for stopping by today! Don’t forget to check out the giveaway while you’re here!
Make Me by Tessa Bailey Construction worker Russell Hart has been head-over-work boots for Abby Sullivan since the moment he laid eyes on her. But he knows a classy, uptown virgin like her could never be truly happy with a rough, blue-collar guy like him. If only she'd stop treating him like her personal hero—a role he craves more than oxygen—maybe he could accept it. With the future of her family's hedge fund on her shoulders, Abby barely has time to sleep, let alone find love. And her best friend Russell acting like a sexy, overprotective hulk any time their Super Group goes out in public definitely isn't helping her single status. But after a near-tragedy lands Russell in her bed for the night, Abby's suddenly fantasizing about what he looks like shirtless. Chest hair and tattoos—who knew? As Russell struggles to keep Abby at a safe distance, she begins to see through his tough-talking exterior—and acknowledge her own feelings. Now she's ready to turn the friend-zone into foreplay…and make him lose control.
Series: Broke & Beautiful #3
Genres: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Format: eARC, 192 pages
How I got it: Edelweiss
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Construction worker Russell Hart has been head-over-work boots for Abby Sullivan since the moment he laid eyes on her. But he knows a classy, uptown virgin like her could never be truly happy with a rough, blue-collar guy like him. If only she'd stop treating him like her personal hero—a role he craves more than oxygen—maybe he could accept it.
With the future of her family's hedge fund on her shoulders, Abby barely has time to sleep, let alone find love. And her best friend Russell acting like a sexy, overprotective hulk any time their Super Group goes out in public definitely isn't helping her single status. But after a near-tragedy lands Russell in her bed for the night, Abby's suddenly fantasizing about what he looks like shirtless. Chest hair and tattoos—who knew?
As Russell struggles to keep Abby at a safe distance, she begins to see through his tough-talking exterior—and acknowledge her own feelings. Now she's ready to turn the friend-zone into foreplay…and make him lose control.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting off writing a review for this book. So much so, I’ve actually read the book TWICE now. I’m still at a loss for how to review it in a way that does justice to it and explains just how much I LOVED this book. Both times.
When I found out I was approved for a copy of this book, I full-on freaked out. I was at work, but I saw the email literally just as I’d sat down at my desk to eat my lunch. Perfect timing, right? I thought so. Along with my salad, I devoured 30% of Make Me while hoping no one would dare interrupt me because it was THAT GOOD. After work, I drove straight home, ordered a pizza because there would be NO cooking and poured a glass of wine. Then I dove back into the book, stopping only long enough to answer the door when the pizza guy showed up. It was THAT GOOD.
I’ve waited for Russell and Abby’s story since the first moment they laid eyes on each other in Chase Me. (Pretty, so pretty. *melt*) I knew there was something special there and I couldn’t wait to finally read it. Russell wasn’t the only one being teased during the first two books. 😉 The reality is, I loved it more than I even thought I would.
Russell was that perfect combination of alpha male and vulnerable guy. I loved how he looked out for Abby – even if he did go a little overboard from time to time. He always had the best of intentions and it was obvious he would rather cut himself open than do anything to hurt Abby in any way. There were some great big moments between these two characters, but there were also so many small, perfect moments when you could see just how much he cared for her in his every expression and action. That’s why I loved Russell so much. In a time when it seems the male characters in books are prone to sleeping around when they can’t have the person they really want, it was so damn refreshing to see a guy who was pining away for a woman instead of jumping into bed with another. I loved getting inside his head, too. On the outside he’s this gruff construction worker, but inside he’s so reflective and insecure and constantly thinking. He just totally melted my heart in a way I didn’t quite expect. He did have a complex about money and a fear that he’d never be enough for Abby, who grew up in an extremely wealthy family, and that wore on me after awhile, but I understood why he felt as he did. He was also wrestling with demons from the past. He was a wonderfully complex and lovable character.
Abby was fantastic in her own right. I love that Tessa’s women are always strong and don’t NEED a man to fix them or save them or make them whole. Abby was smart and sassy and I grew to love her over the course of this series. I found her just a little odd at the beginning when she admitted she didn’t have friends and was actually interested more in that than roommates. But then I stop to think how this rag tag group wouldn’t ever have come together if it hadn’t been for her and that desire. Thankfully they did. But, I digress. Abby was a little awkward and dealing with things professionally she didn’t really need to be handling. She was also grappling with her newfound attraction to Russell, her best friend.
Russell and Abby together? Pure freaking gold. I adored them as friends. I shipped them from the very start of the series. I had to see them together. I wanted to see how his gruff, blue collar self would mesh with her virginal, clean self. I mean, I knew it would be magical because it’s Tessa, but still. 😉 I loved how these two played off each other. Friends to lovers stories are always one of my favorites so it’s no wonder this one hit me as hard as it did. As expected, things were smoking hot between them. I loved how Russell, who wanted nothing more than to protect Abby in all things, had this darker desire to claim her in the bedroom (or, you know, on the beach). It all went along so well with the lovely paradox that was Russell. Of course, their coupling was not without drama, but it wasn’t overly angsty (though I did cry a couple tears – Russell’s vulnerabilities had a way of breaking me).
Make Me made my heart happy. It’s just that simple. It was satisfying to see Russell and Abby paired off. It was just as great to get another dose of Roxy and Louis and Honey and Ben. I loved the friendships – that bromance, man! It gets me every time. This book was funny and sexy and had some truly emotional moments. I think I highlighted roughly half the book because there were so many wonderful words. (And more than a few seriously HOT ones.) While it was mostly light-hearted, Make Me certainly had its fair share of feels. At least for me.
I’ve loved every single one of the books in the Broke & Beautiful series, so this whole experience was bittersweet to me. On one hand, it was wonderful to get more of Russell and Abby and see how they were together. (AMAZING.) On the other, it means the series is over. (Sigh.) I love the super friends group and know they’re in good hands now. (And that epilogue?! Nothing has ever been more perfect.) I’ll definitely be looking forward to Tessa’s checkins with them. The Broke & Beautiful series was special to me. It’s hard to say goodbye. I’ve laughed and cried with these characters. Believe me when I say there will be many rereads of this series going forward.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
How do you write such incredible men and women (and unique sex scenes) over and over again? I mean, seriously. What’s your inspiration? (Whatever it is, your readers are eternally grateful!)
Well, thank you! I appreciate you saying so! I’ve always had a tendency to take triumphs, tragedies, rejections, etc. straight in the gut. I’m very good at projecting the opposite, but those feelings are all housed somewhere inside me. And I think my characters are all little creatures sprung from those imprisoned feelings. I don’t think that’s necessarily unique to me as an author, I just know my gut is my character generator! As for the sex scenes, beats me. My brain has been perving out since grade school. I love thinking about people having sex—always have, always will. Haha!
Do you write to music? Share playlists for your books?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do! I created a playlist for the Broke & Beautiful series as a whole because I really did go back to the same set of songs while writing the three books. All songs that remind me of my early twenties in New York City or call the Super Group to mind.
(Kim’s note: I took the liberty of making a Spotify playlist from the Broke & Beautiful series songs. Enjoy.)
I know from spending time with you in Baltimore and Cleveland that you’re a Tumblr fan. What are some of your favorite sites for, *ahem*, research?
Oooh. That’s like asking someone about their porn preferences. Which I probably also discussed with you in Cleveland/Baltimore. I tend to overshare. British Filth is probably my favorite. It’s an English gentleman named Matt and he…pleasures himself while saying all manner of glorious things. It’s all audio and it’s life changing. Lack of Privacy, Erotismo-Italiano. Anything that features Bruce Venture (aka Bruce Almighty).
What’s next for you?
SO MUCH. I have a new Brazen series starting in December called MADE IN JERSEY. It revolves around the lives of factory workers in suburban New Jersey. It’s sex-ay as heck. I’ve written two books in that world and I know (hope) readers are going to love them. I also have two more Crossing the Line books, featuring my anti-heroes, coming up. AND a brand new series that I will be announcing soon…(Mysterious wink)
And now, most importantly… is Russell based off someone you know in real life? If so, a) is he single and b) can you put him on an Amtrak train and send him to me in DC?
HAHAHA. Hmm. Well, I wouldn’t say Russell is based on one certain man. But my father runs a construction crew and the workers are all Queens guys, born and bred. They definitely prodded something in my brain and made me want to write kind of this brash, assertive man who is also a deep thinker with insecurities. They did some work at my house recently and it was a study in how men interact with one another. I just gobbled it up, while pretending I was working. One of them was/is super devoted to his girlfriend and would run off to go pick her up at work, like he was just dying to lay eyes on her. That devotion is definitely a Russell quality. And no, if I find an actual Russell, he’s all mine! 😉
Day one hundred and forty-two of being friend-zoned. Send rations.
Russell Hart stifled a groan when Abby twisted on his lap to call out a drink order to the passing waiter, adding a smile that would no doubt earn her a martini on the house. Every time their six person “super group” hung out, which was starting to become a nightly affair, Russell advanced into a newer, more vicious circle of hell. Tonight, however, he was pretty sure he’d meet the devil himself.
They were at the Longshoreman, celebrating the Fourth of July, which presented more than one precious little clusterfuck. One, the holiday meant the bar was packed full of tipsy Manhattanites, creating a shortage of chairs, hence Abby parking herself right on top of his dick. Two, it put the usually conservative Abby in ass-hugging shorts and one of those tops that tied at the back of her neck. Six months ago, he would have called it a shirt, but his two best friends had fallen down the relationship rabbit hole, putting him in the vicinity of excessive chick talk. So, now it was a halter-top. What he wouldn’t give to erase that knowledge.
During their first round of drinks, he’d become a believer in breathing exercises. Until he’d noticed these tiny, blond curls at Abby’s nape, curls he’d never seen before. And some-fucking-how, those sun-kissed curls were what had nudged him from semi-erect to full-scale Washington monument status. The hair on the rest of her head was like a…a warm milk chocolate color, so where did those little curls come from? Those detrimental musings had lead to Russell questioning what else he didn’t know about Abby. What color was everything else? Did she have freckles? Where?
Russell would not be finding out – ever – and not just because he was sitting in the friend zone with his dick wedged against his stomach – not an easy maneuver – so she wouldn’t feel it. No, there was more to it. His friends, Ben and Louis, were well aware of those reasons, which accounted for the half-sympathetic, half-needling looks they were sending him from across the table, respective girlfriends perched on their laps. The jerks.
Abby was off-limits. Not because she was taken – thank Christ – or because someone had verbally forbidden him from pursuing her. That wasn’t it. Russell had taken a long time trying to find a suitable explanation for why he didn’t just get the girl alone one night and make his move. Explain to her that men like him weren’t suitable friends for wide-eyes debutantes and give her a demonstration of the alternative.
It went like this. Abby was like an expensive package that had been delivered to him by mistake. Someone at the post office had screwed the pooch and dropped off the shiniest, most beautiful creation on his Queens doorstep and driven away, laughing manically. Russell wasn’t falling for the trick, though. Someone would claim the package, eventually. They would chuckle over the obvious mistake and take Abby away from him, because really, he had no business being the one who’s lap she chose to sit on. No business, whatsoever.
But while he was in possession of the package – as much as he’d allow himself to be in possession, anyway – he would guard her with his life. He would make sure that when someone realized the cosmic error that had occurred – the one that had made him Abby’s friend and confidant – she would be sweet and undamaged, just as she’d been on arrival.
Unfortunately, the package didn’t seem content to let him stand guard from a distance. She innocently beckoned him back every time he managed to put an inch of space between them. Russell had lost count of the times Abby had fallen asleep on him while the super group watched a movie, drank margaritas on the girls’ building rooftop, driven home in cabs. She was entirely too comfortable around him, considering he saluted against his fly every time they were in the same room.
“Why so quiet, Russell?” Louis asked, his grin turning to a wince as his actress girlfriend, Roxy, elbowed him in the ribs. Yeah. Everyone at the damn table knew he had a major thing for the beautiful, unassuming number whiz on his lap. Everyone but Abby. And that’s how he planned to keep it.
“I know why,” Ben said, causing Russell’s stomach to catapult itself across the bar. Before he could change the subject, Ben pulled his student-turned-main squeeze closer and continued. “He doesn’t need to give us advice on girls anymore. His powers have been diminished.”
“We’ve slain the beast.”
Ben and Louis toasted their plastic beer cups without a single glance at one other. Why was he friends with these two again? Oh right. The power of beer had brought them together. Praise be to Heineken. Smug as they were, though, Russell knew humor was their way of showing support. If it wasn’t humor, it would be sympathy, aka dude kryptonite.
“What kind of advice did he give you about us?” Roxy wanted to know, shooting Louis and Ben stern glances.
“Uh-uh.” Russell shook his head. “I’m calling bro confidentiality on you both. That includes pillow talk and supersedes any and all forms of sexual coercion.”
Ben adjusted his glasses. “That reasoning, however, should lend some insight into what you ladies missed.”
Honey leaned across the table and patted Russell’s arm. “It all worked out in the end, big guy. Who knows? You might have had something to do with it after all.”
Russell opened his mouth to respond, but whatever he planned to say withered in its inception because Abby spun in his lap again, sending the world around him into slow motion. A left jab of her scent – which after careful consideration he’d termed white grape sunlight – caught him in the chin and he barely restrained the urge to shout oh, come on, at the top of his lungs. Her big hazel eyes were indignant on his behalf, mouth pursed in a way that shouldn’t have been sexy, but damn-well was. She’d snapped her spine straight, hip bumping his erection in the process.
Please, almighty God, just kill me now.
“Russell gives great advice,” Abby protested and Russell would have smiled if he wasn’t busy earning his master’s degree in boner-soothing meditation. She really had no idea her outrage only made her sweeter because it looked so unnatural on her. “Remember the man on the first floor of our building? The one who used to clear his throat loudly every time we walked by?” She waited for Honey and Roxy to nod. “Russell told me the next time it happened, I should just shout TROUBLE at his door. I did. And it hasn’t happened since.”
When Louis and Ben started laughing into their beers, Russell flipped them off behind Abby’s back. What his friends knew that Abby didn’t? As soon as she’d told him the problem, he’d paid a visit to their downstairs neighbor and explained that trouble would find him if he so much as breathed in Abby – or any of her roommates’ – direction again. Hence, the single word being so effective. Russell was trouble.
But as Abby turned a bright, encouraging smile on him, swelling his heart like an inflating balloon, he recognized that his brand of trouble had nothing on Abby’s. She didn’t even know how dangerous she was to his health. Because while Abby was the package that had been delivered by mistake, he’d gone and fallen for her, despite his attempts to simply be her friend.
And maybe it was his imagination, but the loss of her seemed to loom a little closer each day. Like any minute now, she would peer a little closer and realize he was in imposter. Loss was something with which Russell was familiar. Loss had cut him off at the knees at a young age, made him hyper aware of how fast it could happen. Whoosh. Chopped off at the knees. So he was already in damage control mode, hoping to limit the fallout when she inevitably headed for a younger version of Gordon Gekko. For now, it was all about keeping a comfortable gap between him and Abby.
She scooted back on his lap to make room for the waitress who had returned with a round of drinks, and Russell gritted his teeth.
Okay. Comfortable definitely wasn’t the right word.
I have friends. I have friends now and it’s glorious.
Six months ago, when Abby Sullivan had placed the ad on Craigslist, seeking two roommates to share her Chelsea apartment, her highest hope had been for noise. Maybe it sounded silly, but apart from the Ninth Avenue traffic trundling past and the occasional shouting match on the street, her life had been so quiet before Honey and Roxy showed up. She’d been hoping for hair dryers in the morning, dishes being tossed in the sink, singing in the shower. Anything but the void of sound she’d been living with, alone in the massive space.
Then, oh then, she’d gone and done something even more impulsive than placing an advertisement for massively discounted rent in cyberspace. She’d blurted upon meeting them for the first time that she didn’t need help paying the rent; she merely wanted friends. Unbelievably, it hadn’t felt like a mistake to reveal such a pitiful secret to a couple of strangers. There had been a feeling when all three of them first stood in the same room that it would work out, like a complicated math equation that would prove itself worth the work.
Now? She couldn’t imagine a day passing without them. The guys had been an unexpected bonus she hadn’t counted on. Especially Russell.
As they walked crosstown toward the Hudson River where they planned to watch the Fourth of July fireworks, Abby smiled up at Russell where he towered over her. She received a suspicious look in response. Suspicious! Ha! It made her want to laugh like a lunatic. All the way back to her furthest memory, she’d been reliable, gullible, sugar-filled Abby to everyone and their mother. Even Honey and Roxy, to a degree, handled her carefully around subjects that might offend her or hurt her feelings. She was too grateful for their presence to call them on it, though. Sometimes she opened her mouth, the words I’m not made of spun glass hovering right on the tip of her tongue, but she always swallowed them. They meant well. She knew that with her whole heart. Maybe someday, when she was positive they wouldn’t vanish at a rare show of temper—the way people always did when she bared a flaw—she’d tell them. Until she worked up the courage however, she would stay quiet, and appreciate her new best friends for the colorful positivity they’d brought into her life.
But Russell? She appreciated him even more for getting mad at her.
Such occurrences were her favorite part of the week. Russell stomping into the apartment, grumbling about her not checking the peep hole. Refusing to go out on a Saturday night until she changed into more comfortable shoes. Giving her that daunting frown when she revealed they’d had a leak in the bathroom for three weeks and hadn’t yet called the super to repair it. He’d had it fixed within the hour, but he hadn’t spoken to her the entire time.
It was awesome.
Because he kept coming back. Every time. No matter what—no matter what she said or did—he never washed his hands of her. Never got so fed up with her admittedly flighty behavior that he skipped a hang out. Or didn’t respond to a text. He was the steadfast presence in her life she’d never had.
No one spoke to Abby at her job. She’d been hired after graduating at the top of her Yale class and placed in a silent power position at a hedge fund. Her father’s hedge fund. So she could understand her co-workers’ reticence to invite her for happy hour. Or even give her a polite nod in the hallway. At first, she’d been prepared to try anyway. Force them to acknowledge her in some small way, even if it was just passing the stapler in the conference room. Then she remembered. When she forced her opinion on people, or had an outburst, they went away, and didn’t come back for a long time.
Her coworkers assumed she sat in her air-conditioned office all day playing Minecraft or buying dresses online. And why wouldn’t they? She’d done nothing to sway that notion. In reality, however, she worked hard. Showed up before the lights came on and stayed later than everyone else. Brought work home with her and often, didn’t get to sleep. She had no choice.
Stress tightened like a shoelace around Abby’s stomach, but she breathed through it. Tonight was for fun with her friends. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough to face her responsibilities.
“It’s the shoes, isn’t it?” Russell demanded, encompassing Abby, Roxy and Honey with a dark look. “This always happens in the eleventh hour. You girls started limping around and we just have to watch it.”
Ben sighed. “Here we go again.”
“No, really. I think I’ve finally figured it out.” Russell swiped impatient fingers over his shaved head. “You ever heard of sympathy pains? When my sister-in-law gave birth, my brother swore someone was firing a nail gun into his stomach. To this day, the guy has never been the same.” He pointed at Abby’s electric blue pumps. “Women wear these evil creations around to confuse us. Sure, they make a girl’s legs look good, but that’s the black magic, my friends. They want us to feel their pain and not understand why.”
Louis turned, walking backwards on the sidewalk so he could face them. “I have to admit, I’m with Russell on this one.” He smiled at Roxy’s outrage. “You could go barefoot and it wouldn’t make a difference to me.”
“I’ll round it out with a third agreement,” Ben chimed in. “I like Honey in her Chucks.”
That statement earned Ben a kiss from Honey and a groan from Russell. “I’m thrilled you assholes have found a way to use my amazing logic to earn points.”
Abby loved the familiar argument simply because it was familiar—a routine she had in common with others—but she had to admit her feet were throbbing. After a night of dancing, the crosstown walk was giving her blisters. She wore heels all day at the office, but they were sensible and low-heeled. Nothing like the stilettos she’d borrowed from Roxy. In fact, now that she’d acknowledged her tired feet, every part of her seemed to sag with exhaustion, as if she’d finally given her bones permission. “I can end this argument right here,” Abby interrupted with a weary, but determined smile. The group stopped to watch as she slipped off her shoes and placed her bare feet back onto the cool sidewalk with a hearty sigh. For some reason, everyone’s gazes swung to Russell who – God love him – was frowning at her like she’d just crashed his beloved truck.
“A new tactic, gentlemen. Take note.” Their four friends laughed at Russell’s ominous tone, but Abby stayed pinned under his scowl. Although now, his scowl had a hint of uncertainty behind it. “Put them back on, Abby. You’re going to step on something. Broken glass, or—”
Abby breezed past Russell. Honestly, he worried constantly for no reason. They were only a few blocks away from the river and the streets were well lit. What was the worst that could—
Her feet left the ground, her gasp cutting off as she was cradled against Russell’s big chest. His expression was hidden, thanks to the streetlights shining blindingly above his head, but Abby knew from experience, he would be annoyed. She couldn’t prevent the smile from spreading like wildfire across her face, feeling as if it reached as far as her chest. It seemed impossible, but somehow she’d earned a place among these people who cared about her. Friends. Good friends. The kind you can’t live without.
Especially Russell. Her favorite.
“You were put on this earth to make me crazy, Abby. You know that?”
“I’m not sorry about it,” she whispered. “Does that make me a bad person?”
“No. It makes you a woman.”
She muffled her laugh with the use of Russell’s shoulder. “Men make women crazy, too. It’s not a one-sided affair.”
He frowned down at her. “What would you know about it?”
That question coming from anyone else might have embarrassed Abby, but for all Russell’s bluster, he never judged her. Not for her lack of a love life, anyway. Shoes were another matter altogether. “I know things.”
“Things, huh? Maybe Louis and Ben should spend more time at their own apartments.” His arms flexed as he hefted her higher, with minimal effort. “Do you actually like watching the fireworks or is this just a patriotic custom we’re upholding?”
“No, I love fireworks.” She tilted her head back and looked at the sky. “Everyone forgets over the course of the year how incredible fireworks are. You know? They forget until they’re standing beneath them again. You don’t like them?”
He stared ahead as he answered. “I like that you like them.”
Abby smiled, knowing Russell would have to be extra gruff for the remainder of the night to make up for that slip. And needing to torture him a little over it. “That’s how I feel when you make me watch the Yankees.” She laid a hand against his cheek. “It’s worth it just to see your adorable man eyes light up.”
His sigh was sharp, but she caught the corner of his mouth kicking up. “All this time, I thought you were enjoying it.”
“The blooper reel is my favorite.” Drowsiness settled more firmly over her and she stifled a yawn against his shoulder. “Also, I love when kids in the audience catch foul balls.”
“Crowd. It’s called a crowd.”
She hummed in her throat, eyelids beginning to weigh down. “I knew that. Just seeing if you were paying attention,” she murmured.
Russell chewed his bottom lip a moment, worry marring his features. “You’re so tired lately, Abby. Everything okay?”
“Totally fine,” she lied. “Just going to rest my eyes a minute.”
Positive he would wake her up when they reached the Hudson, she wound her arms around his neck and dozed off. It was the first time she’d slept in three days.