Stay by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

dark-haired, shirtless and very muscular man with tanned skin holding a black pit bull in his lap. The dog looks pretty content!Why I read it:  I’ve enjoyed the previous books in the series.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never even met?

Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch–an anonymous virtual assistant service–is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.

Although it’s against the rules for her to check his file, she’s 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting…until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.

Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He’s still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth–that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won’t show her pretty face.

But it’s nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can’t fix. Hailey can’t resist the offer. Matt can’t resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn’t have to. Fire up the kiss cam!

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I enjoy both of these author’s books separately and together. Him, Us and Good Boy have all been very successful reads for me. Stay didn’t quite hit the the heights of the previous books but I still ripped through it in only two nights and and liked it very much.

Matt Eriksson is the divorced father of four-year-old twin girls. He’s also something of a veteran player in the Toronto hockey team. He believes (because his ex-wife told him so) that his career is what caused their marriage to fail and as a result, while he’s still playing hockey, he’s very relationship shy. But there is a woman he talks to online to whom he’s very attracted and if the picture on the Fetch website is, as he suspects, actually of that same woman, the attraction isn’t just cerebral. (Spoiler alert: his suspicions are correct).

Hailey Taylor Emery is a 27-year-old entrepreneur. She and her then husband started the business together. They were best friends from childhood and they still run the business together very successfully. But they’ve been divorced for around the same time Matt and his ex-wife have been. It’s clear that the connection Hailey had/has with Jackson is more friendship than passionate romantic love but he’s the only man she’s ever been with and she’s still mourning the loss of her marriage. I had the sense that even though their marriage hadn’t had a lot of passion, she’d have stuck with it and never looked at anyone else twice. Jackson did the right thing in ending the marriage – ultimately Hailey acknowledges this eventually too, but it didn’t make it any less painful.

Fetch is an online assistant business. Customers ask Fetch staff to get them things – dry cleaning, dog walking services, groceries, you name it, and they deliver them to the customer. Fetch furnished Matt’s apartment after he moved out when his marriage imploded. VIP customer accounts such as Matt’s are handled by Hailey or Jackson themselves to ensure client satisfaction. Given that Matt ticked the “anonymous” box on the application form, Hailey has made it a point not to look at his file. So she only suspects Sniper87 is Matt Eriksson. But it turns out, her suspicions are correct too.

Matt and Hailey cautiously start a relationship and their interaction is hot and steamy and mature and engaging. They talk to each other and, for the most part, they work through things together.

The “evil ex” trope is not my favourite and that’s one of the main conflicts in the book. That said, I felt there was some attempt to flesh Kara out into more than a stereotype and to explain some of her actions in a more sympathetic light. And I did appreciate the focus on the well-being of the girls and the importance of Matt and Kara having a decent enough relationship for their benefit.

This next bit is mildly spoilerish so I’ll hide it under a tag.

Spoiler

When Hailey discovers some information about Kara via her business I was surprised at how little angst she had over the confidentiality issue. Frankly I kind of expected she’d be sued over such a disclosure because it’s extremely unprofessional. And it didn’t really fit with her character given how careful she had been to keep client information anonymous. Recall that she wouldn’t even look to see whether Sniper87 is actually Matt Eriksson – and, as the co-owner of the business she had a perfect right do to this. That would have taken the story in a whole other direction than it actually went. I had mixed feelings about the possibility. On the one hand, disclosing confidential information is a big deal and I was disappointed it wasn’t treated more seriously. On the other hand, I don’t think I’d have been terribly excited to read about Hailey getting sued and possibly losing her business as a result. I’d have preferred the information to come to Hailey (or Matt) another way. Come to think of it, there might have been an interesting storyline about Hailey not breaching confidentiality actually.

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There was a running gag about about another anonymous client who kept sending dick pics to Fetch. At least, it turned out to be a gag but for most of the book I had interpreted it as sexual harassment so it kind of fell flat to me. Also, I had kind of expected that the client would turn out to be someone on the hockey team or something – which might have been interesting – but it wasn’t.

I did like the stuff about Hailey’s business. I liked how hard she worked and how good she was at her job and how Matt celebrated it about her.

What else? Matt’s daughters were very cute and engaging. I’d have liked a little more of Hailey and the twins bonding so could see more of it rather than just to be told, especially because when I was shown it was really good.

I loved Hailey’s friend and fellow Fetch employee, Jenny and the way she made up words. They’re so descriptive that Hailey ends up using some of them herself.

*Wow. Okay. I’m free then. Anytime, really. For that. I’m going to go now before I latherblather or sluttyflutter.”

I hope Jenny gets her own book. *hint hint*

Blake, Jess, Wes and Jamie also make appearances in Stay and the newish character of “manwhore” Will O’Connor is fleshed out just a little. Clearly there’s more to him than just a busy penis.

The other WAGS take Hailey under their collective wings and these were some of my favourite bits of the book actually. I liked the banter between the hockey team mates too but this time around, it was the banter between the women that I enjoyed more.

While the story didn’t work as well for me as the previous book, I really enjoy the writing style of the Kennedy/Bowen pairing and I was pretty much glued to the pages and happy to read. If I’m closing my iPad so I’m not distracted by Twitter, that says something about how much I’m enjoying a book. And I did that here. So, Stay gets a B from me.

Grade: B

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