The story definitely starts out strong. Anna, our heroine, is on a plane, leaving behind her old life in Portland to make a new one in Detroit. As she sits and frets about her angry father who definitely does not approve of her moving away, she becomes aware of a tall, broad shouldered, tattooed man moving through the plane to first class. They lock eyes and Anna knows he has "bad boy" written all over him, the kind of man mothers tell their daughters to stay away from. Startled at her own visceral reaction at the site of this stranger, she tries to focus on what awaits her in Detroit. But she can't help her curiosity when the kids in the seats in front of her start waving their hands, trying to get the man's attention, calling out, "X! X! Back here! Can we get your autograph?" Then the whole plane is abuzz, excitement in the air that "Phenomenal X" is actually on the plane. If only Anna knew who the hell this "Phenomenal X" guy actually was. In an interesting turn of events (don't want to give the whole beginning away), she suddenly finds herself sitting beside him in first class. And that's when sparks start to really fly! I really did enjoy how Anna and Xavier aka "Phenomenal X" first meet. The author did a decent job giving us a different way for the main characters to meet without dragging it out. Within two pages, I was hooked.
Anna starts off as a strong heroine, very likeable in the beginning. I can only imagine how stifling it must be to be raised by a controlling parent/parents, to have every single moment of your life micromanaged, every single dream not your own, but someone else's. That being said, sometimes change is scary, especially when you are used to having someone else make all your decisions for you, so I commend Anna for telling her father enough is enough and getting on that plane. Once she arrives in Michigan, it is almost like a culture shock for her. Between trying to fight her attraction to Xavier, keep up with her vivacious cousin Quinn, hold her own at a new job that she knows nothing about, and ignore her father's constant hounding states away, Anna has quite a lot on her plate.
Xavier definitely had that mysterious bad boy persona going on and he is 110% Alpha =D. Valentine has a gift for writing strong, sexy, dominant men with an edge. I could tell by some of the teaser quotes before reading the book that X was going to be on my list of favorite alpha male characters. He might not be at the tippy top of my list, but he at least made it. Xavier also suffers from the tortured hero syndrome that many authors use, but again, I give Valentine credit for trying to give us a different take on the wounded hero. I felt quite a few pulls on my heart strings as Xavier's painful past is slowly revealed. No child should ever have to go through what he did and understanding his past makes sense as to why he is constantly telling Anna he is no good for her. But it doesn't mean he heeds his own words. He can't stay away from her, she's like an addiction, one of the only people that isn't trying to use him because of his celebrity status. One of my favorite scenes is when Xavier stops a guy from potentially date raping Anna. Oh man, X is even more incredibly sexy when he is pissed off and all of his protective instincts are on full alert. (I included this scene as an excerpt below).
Together, Xavier and Anna were a hot couple and the chemistry was scorching. There was a nice build up in sexual tension and I like how Xavier went from trying to get Anna in his bed, to him respecting her enough to want to try being friends. They come up with these ridiculous, yet cute "rules" to keep things completely platonic. This was a great way for the author to create sexual tension and give the characters time to get to know each other without them automatically jumping in bed together (or at least the illusion of time since the time frame of the story spans only a few weeks if that). Xavier does have quite a few sexy lines in the book, like here:
“I don’t typically beg, beautiful, but if begging gets me access between those creamy thighs, I will. Just give in to your desires.”
I also like Anna's spunky attitude towards Xavier when he makes her angry. He gives her permission to use his real name, Xavier, and hates it when she refers to him as "X" like everyone else does. It's her way of putting him in his place which was cute. On a more serious note, I like how she tries to be there for him during his horrible nightmares--he doesn't like her seeing him in such a vulnerable state, but she handles him with care.
The secondary characters were also a treat in this book. Once Anna lands in Detroit, she moves in with her eccentric Aunt Dee and her beautiful cousin Quinn who she views as more like a sister. Quinn helps her get a job as a waitress at the bar she works at. I really liked Quinn. Usually, authors make the naive heroine have a promiscuous, slutty sidekick which is so irritating. But Quinn is not like that. Yes, she is more outgoing and wants to help Anna loosen up and date, but she is far from a slut. I also adored Nettie and Carl, a black couple that owns a diner where Xavier frequents when he is in town. They play a very important role in X's life, especially for becoming the successful, humble man he is now. I'll leave it at that so I don't get tempted to give away any spoilers.
Valentine also switched up the use of POV in the story. It starts out with Anna's name at the top of each chapter, which prompted me to believe that the perspective was going to switch back and forth between her and Xavier. It's not until chapter 10 that we get to see things through X's eyes. I'm still unsure how I feel about that. I didn't completely hate it and it kept me on my toes because I never knew when his perspective would pop back up again. But I guess you could say that I wished to see more of the story through his POV.
There were a few things that kept Phenomenal X from getting a 5 star rating. The first thing that bothered me was when Anna loses her job at the bar. She convinces her boss to fire her instead of her cousin when Quinn is accused of stealing (I'm being vague on purpose). When Anna goes home, nothing is mentioned by Quinn about the drama at work. Wouldn't you apologize or thank the person who saved your job?
While Anna started out as a strong heroine, she began getting on my nerves towards the end of the book. I felt that she was way too pushy about X revealing his past. If someone spends their whole life never telling a soul about their past, it's going to take time for that person to open up. He kept telling her to back off, but she wouldn't listen and kept pushing. There were also a few awkward scenes in the bedroom, revolving around "protection". I don't want to spoil anything but yeah...you'll understand what I mean. Anna also becomes a little clingy and makes a few unwise decisions near the end of the story that causes a whole bunch of drama and puts X's career in jeopardy. What the hell happened to the independent girl from the beginning of the novel?
While I absolutely loved that X was a wrestler, sadly, that was the only original aspect of the book. The story felt contrived in many places and the plot was very predictable. Don't get me wrong, I am okay with authors using the same formula, but if that is the road you're going to travel, then you need to find ways to make it feel fresh. Valentine can definitely write a good story, she knows how to write a sexy as hell alpha male, but it's the plot devices that felt a bit forced or way too obvious. They should be seamlessly written in. It's almost like I could hear the author saying, "oh, I am going to throw that in there so this will happen."
Phenomenal X was a solid, addictive read, a great start in the Hard Knocks series. I might as well warn everyone that the story does end on a major cliffhanger. I have high hopes that book 2 will smooth out some of the kinks.
He grabs the drink from my hand and slams the plastic cup down on the floor, splattering its pink liquid all over a group of guys standing a little too close watching the action unfold. With a sharp tug he pulls me behind him, effectively putting a wall of muscle between Jared and me.
Xavier stars down at Jared, his fingers flexing into fists at his sides. It's like he's ready to rip into my would-be dance partner. "You think I didn't see what you put in her drink back there, motherfucker? There's no way in hell I'm going to allow a little pecker-stain like you to attempt to drug this girl and get away with it."
All the blood drains from Jared's face, leaving his skin pale,and his mouth hanging open in shock. But more frighteningly, he doesn't deny the accusations. Xavier shakes his head in disgust. "You just gave me the green light to end your fucking world."
Jared raises his hands in surrender and takes a step back. "Hey, man. I don't know what you think you saw, but I don't want any trouble."
Xavier rolls his shoulders. "You should've thought about that a few minutes ago because trouble is my middle name, and my foot has been twitching all night to kick your fucking ass."
"I'm sorry, okay." Jared's voice shakes as his eyes flit to Brad, who seems content on staying the hell away. "We'll just go."
Xavier shakes his head and laughs darkly. "Go? You think I'll let you just leave after that shit? You must be out of your fucking mind."
Jared turns to leave but Xavier grabs him by the bicep, turning him back around before drawing back his fist to crush every bone in Jared's skull. The instant I realize what's going on I gasp.
I can't let this happen. He can't get into trouble over me.
I wrap both my hands around his elbow, clinging on for dear life as I scream, "No!"
Xavier jerks his gaze to me, his thick eyebrows knitted in confusion. "You don't want me to pound this punk?"
I shake my head vigorously. "I don't want you to get into any trouble. He's not worth it."
"He's not, but you are."
The intense connection that always pulls me to him assaults me full force and I can tell he feels it too.
I stare into his eyes as I cling to him, my fingers woven together so tightly that they're numb, while he waits for me to give the word to destroy Jared. I have to remain calm and try to defuse the situation before things get ugly and Xavier gets arrested for murdering a man while defending me.
"Let him go and we'll leave."
His hard eyes soften a bit. "Together?"
I nod. "Anywhere you want to go."
A wicked smile cracks his face, and a weird tingle erupts in my belly. Maybe I shouldn't have promised that--who knows what's on that naughty mind of his. But if that means walking out of here without Xavier in handcuffs, I'm game.
Michelle A. Valentine is a Central Ohio nurse turned New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of erotic and New Adult romance. Her love of hard-rock music, tattoos, and sexy musicians inspired her erotic BLACK FALCON series.
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