Life on the Level (On the Verge #3)
by Zoraida Córdova
A New Adult Contemporary Romance
From Diversion Books
Released February 23rd 2016
Never gamble more than you can afford to lose.
River Thomas was born a wild card. Her father took one look at her and decided that his daughter would have the best poker face in the city.
But when he dies unexpectedly, River’s already dangerous life is spiraling out of control. After six months without gambling—staying away from the tables where she makes and loses her fortune—she relapses, and soon must go on the run from a guy looking to settle a score.
She wants to be better, needs to be better, before she ends up like her dad. The road leads her to rehab in Sun Valley, Montana. But first, one last hurrah, and the beautiful stranger at the bar is just what the doctor ordered. She leaves before sunrise still thinking of his face. But her last hurrah with the guy of her dreams is also her counselor for the next ninety days…
Attraction, however, is too strong a lure to ignore, and soon River finds herself gambling with the one thing she never thought she would—her heart.
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River is heading off to rehab in the morning so she plans to have one last wild night before checking in. Alcohol and sex with a handsome stranger is all she bargained for. Regret, hesitation and longing–not so much.
What I enjoyed the most about this story was River’s voice. It’s rare for me to connect to a heroine as easily as I did with River. She was hard edged, sarcastic and painfully honest, but underneath that tough exterior she was loyal, protective and hiding a great amount of hurt. I appreciated Zoraida Cordova’s efforts to allow me to get to know River well for it helped draw me in deeper into the story.
It also helped that I was eager to see Hutch and River together. Having them being apart initially as well as seeing River adapting to sober life, served to up my interest as well. The author did a fantastic job of making the reader feel River’s frustrations, fears and insecurities while also letting us experience the growth she was undergoing while at rehab.
Of course, Hutch and River had great chemistry and a wonderful connection which the author highlighted and brought to the surface as the story progressed. Both of these elements are essential for me in a romance and I appreciated the way the author brought them forth while still adding the conflict and emotions that rounded up the story.
Keep in mind that although this is the third book in the series, it can be read as a stand alone. I enjoyed Leti and Sky’s visit, but was glad to see the story focused solely on River and her journey. All in all, a fantastic read.
*I received a copy of this title in exchange of my honest opinion.
From Chapter 5
“I have to go,” I say.
I start to turn the doorknob. He practically jumps over his desk.
“What?” I snap.
He shuts the door, then takes several steps away, drawing a line between our personal spaces.
“River, please, just hear me out.”
“Stop saying my name!” Why am I angry? Why is he here?
“I don’t know what else to call you.”
Flashback: him, grabbing my face with his strong hands. You are so beautiful.
I brush my hair out of my face, wishing I could do something about the heat on my skin. “I don’t know. This is—this is not okay.”
He looks at me for a bit. Now that I’m getting over the shock of our reunion, I can get a better look at him with a sober brain. If beer goggles make uggos more attractive, then imagine what it’s done to someone like him. In my mind, I take into account that I lost the bet with myself. He’s not a cowboy. He’s a counselor.
He’s my counselor.
He messes up his hair, making him look all the more adorably rumpled.
“I’m just as shocked as you, River.”
“I’m just going to go.” I feel like a trapped mouse. “This is just too weird. I can’t be here.”
He nods, then after another painful pause goes, “You’re right.”
“Okay.” I dump my coffee in the trashcan and turn around.
He starts to reach for me. I can feel his fingers graze my elbow. He thinks better of it. Then his touch is gone.
“I shouldn’t be your counselor. That doesn’t mean you should leave. You came here to get help. I should’ve seen it when we met.”
“Why?” I ask angrily. “Because I was a drunken mess throwing herself at you? You didn’t seem to mind.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Welcome to this funny little thing called life.”
“I should’ve seen it because you looked so sad. I could see myself—I mean, I should’ve seen there was more to you. I don’t mean it in a bad way. I mean that part of me didn’t want to ask because I just needed—“
He shoves his hands into his pockets.
Don’t look at his jeans.
“I just needed to have you. I don’t do things like that normally.”
“And I do? Because I’m some raging slut.” Well, I do do things like that normally. They just never blow up so spectacularly in my face.
“Don’t Psych 101 me.”
“And stop smirking.”
He licks his lips, and that just makes everything so much worse. He crosses his arms over his chest, leans against his desk. What a lucky fucking desk.
“Don’t leave because of me, please. I’ll stay out of your way. I can be professional, even if what happened between us isn’t a testament to that.”
I’m suddenly cold. I rub the goose bumps from my arms.
“This is like the let’s-be-friends speech,” I say.
He pushes his tongue against his cheek, and I can tell he wants to say something inappropriate. Maybe flirty.
“Not used to that?”
I shrug. “Won’t people ask questions about me switching counselors? Word on the street is people are clamoring to be yours. I mean—your patients.”
He smiles, and when he smiles I realize we can never be friends. Not if he keeps looking at me that way.
“Are the gossip mills getting to you already?”
“Something like that.”
“Just—be careful who you share things with here. Sometimes information is more valuable than money or cigarettes.”
“I don’t want to get kicked out. And I don’t want either of us to get in trouble. Besides, we didn’t do anything wrong. We are two consenting adults. We met before I checked in, and we’re not pursuing anything.”
He sighs. “I’ll speak to Helen this afternoon. Tell her you’d be better suited to someone else.”
“Okay.” Part of me, the part that’s committed to doing this, is congratulating herself. This is so grown up. This is mature and reasonable. I don’t really need to be here, do I?
The other part—the girl who lost the bet on the man who was supposed to be a rough-and-tumble cowboy—is itching for another shot. God, I wish I had that flask right about now.
“This is the best thing to do,” he says.
“For you or for me?”
“For both, I hope.”
“Are you sure this is okay?”
“You’re the first patient to get transferred out of my sessions.” He walks around his desk and sits again. “Don’t worry, I can take a hint.”
“What do you mean?”
“You walked out on me, remember?”
I nod, and let myself out. I walk away from him for the second time in two days.
About the Author
Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens. She is the author of The Vicious Deep Trilogy. She studied English Lit at Hunter College, and The University of Montana before finding a home for herself in the (kinda) glittering world of New York City’s nightlife. She prefers her cocktails shaken, her bacon crispy, and her men with a side of chivalry.