Book Review: Defending Hayden by L.P. Dover

Talk about getting punched in the face with feelings from the very start. This book continues from the previous one with a horrible tragedy that sets the stage for the hero’s second chance at love.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
After mourning the loss of his girlfriend and unborn child, a football player returns home and meets a veterinarian who offers him hope of finding love again. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Out of Mourning
Derek left town when his long time girlfriend was killed in a car accident, falling into a grief spiral of self destructive behavior. Now he wants to put that behind him and get back to playing football, his true passion in life. Things still aren’t easy, and returning home reminds him of what he lost, but he’s determined to find his place back in life with his old friends and teammates.

Meetups of Chance
A chance encounter at the bar causes Derek to meet Hayden, a local veterinarian, while also causing her to drop and break her phone. He lets her take his phone, promising to get it back once she gets a replacement. Hayden is a little in awe of Derek, but not for the reasons her friends are. Her friends know he’s a famous football player. Hayden is just attracted to him.

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A second encounter brings them together again when Hayden sees a dog get injured in a hit and run and Derek helps her save the dog. What starts out as a flirty way to get to know each other turns into something much more, despite the demons that Derek is wrestling with and the sudden occurrence of events that could ruin Hayden’s career.

The Grieving Process
This was a fairly quick read that held my attention the whole way. My heart broke for Derek, who struggled every time he was around his friend whose wife had just had a baby. In fact, Derek struggles through most of the story, and though this is definitely sad and a little uncomfortable, it also felt real. He’s on a journey to start over, but he has to let go of the past first and let himself move on.

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Proceed With Caution
Hayden was a sweetheart who was almost too perfect and well liked by everyone (not annoyingly so, though). She’s going through some changes as well, mostly that her boss is planning on giving her his vet practice and her best friend is moving away, leaving her a little bit lonely. Derek shows up at the perfect time, but she’s been burned in the past and wants to tread carefully.

Trouble in Paradise
There’s an element of danger/mystery to this story as well. Shortly after Hayden starts seeing Derek, the animals under her care start dying, making her look incompetent. Wanting to save her reputation and her job, she does her own investigating, putting herself right in the path of a sociopath.

The Romance Factor
Derek doesn’t really come across as a jack ass except for one scene where he really messes up and Hayden is not quick to forgive him. I loved his emotion and how completely desperate he got when he realized how huge a mistake he’d made. And I loved that Hayden didn’t automatically forgive him. It was in those interactions that I really felt how strong the romance was between these two, and I loved it. 5/5

The Steam Factor
There was definitely some heat, but it wasn’t overly gratuitous. It did, however, feel pretty emotionally intense, which just supported the theme and tone of the novel. 3/5

Final Thoughts
This book had the perfect balance of sadness and hope. It definitely made me tear up, but it also made me laugh. And get all up on the edge of my seat. There are some great side characters, a few who will be interesting to see in future books (hopefully) and just some that gave the book a great personality. Can’t wait to see what else happens in this series, and at some point, I’ll go back and read the previous books that I missed.

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