Staying For Good
Catherine Bybee     

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Most Likely To
Book: 2

Zoe Brown may have been voted Most Likely to Never Leave River Bend, but the paper-thin walls and suffocating air of her family’s double-wide trailer were not what she wanted for her life. Other than BFFs Melanie and Jo, the only thing that kept Zoe sane during high school was her boyfriend, Luke.

She didn’t just leave, she escaped—turning her back on the shame of her black-sheep siblings and imprisoned dad. Now a celebrity chef in Dallas, she can afford all the things she never could have growing up. But when she returns to rustic, ruggedly beautiful River Bend, Zoe has to face all that she abandoned—including Luke.

While Luke was a refuge for Zoe in the past, he knows they inhabit totally different worlds now. Anchored by his parents and his job as a mechanic in his father’s shop, Luke never felt the urge to leave River Bend—until Zoe’s return.

But when the two rekindle their old flame, Zoe is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: remain in River Bend and confront her past before it destroys her, or say good-bye to everyone she’s ever loved…again, this time for good.

Other books in the series:

Maybe if I were voted Most Likely to Never Leave [insert name of any small town] it would make me more determined to leave said small town. Especially if I had an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother lacking in self-esteem and a healthy sense of self-preservation. I don’t blame Zoe for leaving. And at eighteen, she was too young to stay solely for her high school boyfriend. They were too young to make a real go of it then.

Luke is the boy who was left behind. He remained in River Bend and worked as a mechanic at his father’s repair shop. They both got on with their lives, which I was extremely happy to see, Zoe becoming a celebrity chef. From what I can tell, there was a ten-year reunion where they kind of got close again?? I’m not sure if this reunion occurred in another book, but in Staying For Good the event is only mentioned in passing so I’m not sure exactly what happened between them during the reunion. If I had to gripe about anything it’s that fact. I wanted to know. Luke has absolutely no animosity toward Zoe, I think knowing what happened would have been helpful in understanding where he’s coming from.

Although Zoe is still super attracted to Luke—her feelings for him stirred up since the reunion—she’s hesitant to become involved with him again. After all, she lives in Texas and he lives in Oregon. She doesn’t want to hurt him and she doesn’t want to get hurt. And her dysfunctional family—the one she hightailed it away from over a decade ago—is in River Bend. For that reason alone, she’s not moving back. In fact, at the beginning of the book we find her house hunting in Texas. Yep, she’s putting down roots. It’s one of her best friend’s wedding that brings her back to her hometown. Oh, and did I mention her twenty-one-year-old baby sister, Zanya, just had a baby (three months ago) and their mother thinks she’s pregnant again? It doesn’t help that Zanya is a single mother who dropped out of school with no real employable skills. Ugh. Real life can be a real downer. Seriously. When I read romance, I like having my heartstrings pulled not be depressed. I was terrified this was the road I was being taken down.

But Ms. Bybee manages something I didn’t think possible. She manages to balance the lack of animosity between the hero and heroine with the challenges Zoe faces in dealing with her family. Don’t get me wrong, Zoe and Luke experience emotional conflict but there’s no anger involved. Luke is so willing to go with the flow, at times he amazed me. If you’re looking for a dark and brooding alpha male hero, I’m telling you right now that Luke is a beta through and through. He’s the guy always willing to try. The guy who has no problem compromising. He’s the guy women want in real life. And just when I thought I’m not seeing any earth-shattering conflict in the horizon, the story takes a rather dramatic turn. A couple new POVs are introduced and the subplot surfaces and heats right on up. And just like that, my interest sharpened and my angst (and anger) level was on the rise. Zoe’s family. Sigh. That’s all I’m going to say.

Staying for Good isn’t just a romance because there are definite women’s fiction and perhaps even suspense elements in the plot that make it more. And Ms. Bybee does of great job of melding those elements together. The secondary characters, Zoe’s two besties and Luke’s parents, feel real and are very likeable. And after a little getting to know Zoe’s brother Zane, so is he. I particularly liked Zoe’s friend Joe, who is the sheriff of River Bend. She’s simply an interesting, intriguing character. But I guess she has to be since she’s getting her own book.
All in all, Staying for Good is a story that does a very nice job in combining a heartfelt romance with the some of the harsher realities of real life. I look forward to reading Making It Right, which will be out May 9, 2017.

~ Beverley