Tessa Bailey’s steamy and sassy Hot & Hammered series comes to an end with Tools of Engagement, an enemies-to-lovers rom-com that features a heroine stifled by her need for perfection and a younger man suddenly faced with caring for his five-year-old niece.
Hair, makeup, clothing, decor… everything in Bethany Castle’s world is organized, planned, and styled to perfection. Which is why the homes she designs for her family’s real estate business are the most coveted in town. The only thing not perfect? Her track record with men. She’s on a dating hiatus and after helping her friends achieve their dreams, Bethany finally has time to focus on her own: flip a house, from framework to furnishings, all by herself. Except her older brother runs the company and refuses to take her seriously.
When a television producer gets wind of the Castle sibling rivalry, they’re invited on Flip Off, a competition to see who can do the best renovation. Bethany wants bragging rights, but she needs a crew and the only member of her brother’s construction team willing to jump ship is Wes Daniels, the new guy in town. His Texas drawl and handsome face got under Bethany’s skin on day one, but the last thing she needs is some cocky young cowboy in her way.
As the race to renovate heats up, Wes and Bethany are forced into close quarters, trading barbs and biting banter as they remodel the ugliest house on the block. It’s a labor of love, hate, and everything in between, and soon sparks are flying. But Bethany’s perfectly structured life is one kiss away from going up in smoke and she knows falling for a guy like Wes would be a flipping disaster.
I have loved all the books in this series, but Tools of Engagement might be my favorite one of the bunch. Each book is a standalone, but it’s delightful following the couples from each previous book — and seeing the groundwork laid for the subsequent books. We first met Bethany in Fix Her Up, and saw her infuriating first encounter with Wes in Love Her or Lose Her. But in Tools of Engagement the two clash in spectacular fashion, when Wes joins up with Bethany for her first solo flip project, in defiance of her older brother.
The chemistry between these two sizzles, and I loved seeing inside each characters’ mind as they come to terms with their attraction to one another, and the personal hurdles that trip them up along the way to coupledom.
Bethany’s desire to put forth that “perfect” persona is especially relatable, I think, given the world we live in today, where everyone is able to “curate” the life they want to project via social media. Everything in their home just so, every outfit styled to perfection (and never repeated), hair and makeup always perfectly coifed, and nothing but utter success in career and life.
But we all know life isn’t like that. It’s messy, and so are our homes and our clothes, and some days it’s a success just to get out of bed, never mind outfits or hairstyle or makeup.
Bethany is crumbling under the stress she’s given herself in always maintaining this flawless, perfect image — and it’s when she shows some of that vulnerability to Wes that they truly start to connect on a deeper level.
Seeing the two open up to each other is a lot of what makes Tools of Engagement so special to read. Sure, there’s some hot as hell sex scenes. (It IS a Tessa Bailey book, after all.) But the relationship between these two characters is what really makes this such a fantastic book. Plus, the addition of Wes’s niece Laura, and appearances from the characters we’ve grown to know and love in the earlier books in this series, makes for an overall delightful reading experience.
Look for Tools of Engagement wherever books are sold, September 22nd.