Title: Business As Usual
Author: Denise Grover Swank
Series: Off the Subject #3
Release Date: April 10, 2014
Lexi Pendergraft has given up on finding love after a disastrous encounter with her last boyfriend. Instead, she focuses on two things: One, setting up a summer program for underprivileged middle-school aged students. And the second, getting to the bottom of her brother Reed’s recent strange behavior. His secret is destroying his relationship with his fiancée Caroline, and Lexi will do anything to help him save it. Especially after he gave up his dream to give Lexi a chance at a semi-normal college experience, something her parents threatened to steal from her after her rape a year ago.
Ben Masterson is determined to make it through his final semester of his senior year at Southern University. After recently losing his full ride scholarship, he’s suffering from sleep deprivation while trying to keep up with his mechanical engineering courses and working three part time jobs. He thinks he’s lucked out getting a job in the university math lab. The only problem is his boss—Reed Pendergraft.
As part of a role in a community theater play, Lexi wears a black wig and feels a confidence she hasn’t experienced in over a year. When she wears it to a bar close to the theater, she doesn’t think Ben, a bartender there, recognizes her. While Ben’s intrigued about what she’s up to, he’s smart enough to stay far away from his overprotective boss’s sister. Until fate forces him to help her, but why won’t she tell him her real identity?
Business As Usual is the story of Lexi and Ben. Lexi has everything she could ever need and a protective big brother to make sure no one threatens that. She is completely consumed by school and her work with an underprivileged youth program. Ben is the dream guy we all wish for. He is sweet and thoughtful and entirely dedicated to making himself a better person and finishing school, despite the obstacles that have been thrown in his path. Ben works multiple jobs, struggling to pay for school on his own and refusing to give up on all of his hard work. Most of the time he is simply battling to stay awake and keep moving forward.
“You have to be caffeinated enough to power an electrical substation.”
Lexi and Ben seem like total opposites. When they first meet you can feel the flicker of interest between them, but it is hard to see a real relationship ever developing for them. They have different priorities and a mountain of issues from their pasts stand in the way. Plus, Ben can’t stand Lexi’s obnoxious big brother Reed and Reed won’t let anyone within a mile of Lexi. Naturally this makes for some interesting relationship hurdles, some tense moments and a lot of sneaking around. As we get to know Lexi and Ben, we realize they aren’t so different after all. They both refuse to give up on what they want and will do whatever it takes to succeed. They both carry painful secrets that threaten to rip them apart for good. They fail miserably at trying to keep their relationship superficial, as that flicker of interest turns into a fervent and undeniable connection that you can feel all the way to your soul.
“I narrow my eyes and smirk. This is the second time he’s walked away from me like this. ‘Is this a talent of yours? Walking backward?’
He shrugs, still grinning. ‘How am I supposed to turn my back on such a beautiful woman?’
And just like that, Ben Masterson has slipped his way into my heart.”
I absolutely loved Lexi. She was a wonderfully written character, full of genuine emotion and inner turmoil. Her character grew so much over the course of the story and it kept me completely invested in her. Lexi has been hurt and it leaves her hollow and afraid of an intimate human connection. The author expertly makes you feel her full range of emotions and my heart simply ached for her, hoping she’d figure out a way to let people in, to be happy. Watching as she found her own voice and took back power over her life was stunning. Denise Grover Swank really hit the ball out of the park with this character. The natural uncertainty and fear she experienced was balanced beautifully with Lexi’s kindness, courage and resilience to create a character that was easy to love and even easier to root for.
“Tears burn my eyes, but I refuse to look at him, grateful when the elevator doors slide open. I rush inside the empty car and spin around, pressing my back against the cool metal. And as the doors close, I feel as though my fate is sealed with them. I will forever be alone.”
This was by far my favorite book in the Off the Subject series to date. The storyline effortlessly held my interest and the dialogue was fantastic. There were moments when I would find myself a bit emotional at the raw and honest nature of the conversations. At other times I had a huge smile on my face from the sparkling banter that felt so organic for Lexi and Ben. Denise Grover Swank just continues to get better and better with each book. She is an incredibly talented storyteller and she creates characters that are full of life and authentic in their feelings. I definitely recommend reading Business As Usual. It won’t disappoint and the story will absolutely warm your heart.
The song ends and I look across the room, hatred filling every pore of my body for the person who’s putting Alexa through this charade. Tina’s watching us with amusement. I look down into Alexa’s face and she steps away from me. Our song is done. Our commitment is up.
Only I’m not ready to let her go yet. Maybe I can save her at least part of her embarrassment.
I cradle her cheeks and stare into her eyes, looking for any sign that she finds my touch revolting. But her breath comes in short bursts and her pupils are dilated. My thumb strokes her right cheek bone, and it amazes me how smooth her skin is. I should stop prolonging my torture, but I don’t want to hurry this moment. I want to sear it into my brain.
I lower my face to hers and her mouth parts in anticipation. Our lips touch lightly and I run my tongue along her upper lip. Her hands return to my shoulders as she takes a step closer, pressing her chest to mine, her mouth parting as she sighs. My tongue accepts the invitation, twining with hers.
Her arms tighten around my neck and I slide a hand behind her head. Blood rushes to my groin and the way she’s pressed against me, she has to know I’m getting a hard-on, yet she doesn’t step away. She presses closer instead.
Still, I take my time with the kiss, making it last. I want more, so much more, but we’re on a dance floor, surrounded by at least thirty people, being watched intently by a group of perverts in the corner. I want to keep this pure. I want to take the thing Tina meant as a punishment for Alexa and turn it into something meaningful. At least for me. But the way Alexa clings to me tells me the experience has power for her too, even if it’s just because she’s sacrificing herself for some other guy.
I finally lift my head and stare into her lust-filled eyes and I want to curse the gods who put her in my path only to take her away.
“Thank you,” she breathes out with a sigh.
“Do think that was enough to appease her?”
Her eyes cloud with momentary confusion. “Oh…yeah.”
“If it’s not, I want you to promise me that you’ll ask me for help.” I sound like a pervert myself, but the thought of someone like Tattoo Guy pawing her nauseates me.
She seems to understand my intention because she gives me a grateful look. Tears fill her eyes. “Thank you.”
I want to kiss her again, to take her out the back door and away from Tina and her vile crew, but that’s not what Alexa wants. I step back and interweave my fingers with hers. It takes every ounce of fortitude in my body to take her back to that table. When we get there, I pull out her chair to show this table full of disgusting low-lifes how to treat a woman.
Tina claps her hands. “I think there might be hope for you two yet.” She waggles her eyebrows at Alexa, then looks up at me. “I told you Reed’s—”
Alexa leans forward, her eyes wild. “I think I need another drink.”
I stare at her in disbelief. She’s trying to interrupt Tina because she thinks I don’t know who she really is—Alexa Pendergraft, baby sister to that asshole Reed Pendergraft. And with a sigh, I realize it’s better this way, all around, because I would throw everything away to get one shot with this girl.
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Don’t miss the rest of the Off the Subject series:
After Math (Off the Subject #1)
Redesigned (Off the Subject #2)
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Denise Grover Swank was born in Kansas City, Missouri and lived in the area until she was nineteen. Then she became a nomadic gypsy, living in five cities, four states and ten houses over the course of ten years before she moved back to her roots. She speaks English and smattering of Spanish and Chinese which she learned through an intensive Nick Jr. immersion period. Her hobbies include witty Facebook comments (in own her mind) and dancing in her kitchen with her children. (Quite badly if you believe her offspring.) Hidden talents include the gift of justification and the ability to drink massive amounts of caffeine and still fall asleep within two minutes. Her lack of the sense of smell allows her to perform many unspeakable tasks. She has six children and hasn’t lost her sanity. Or so she leads you to believe.
Check out her Blog!