Series: Off the Subject #3
Publisher: Self Published on April 10, 2014
Reading Challenges: 2014 Review Pile Reading Challenge, 2014 Standalone Reading Challenge
Amazon • Goodreads
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?
“‘What else?’ ‘It’s all business with you, isn’t it, curly?’ I take a sip to prove I’m following the rules. ‘I am a business major.’ ‘Well, business as usual then.’ She laughs.”
“‘You wear me out, Ben Masterson.’ He leans over me, propped on his elbow. ‘Consider me your personal trainer.’”
I just had to sign up for the release day launch after reading the other two companion novels in this series. I’ve been waiting for Lexi’s story for a while!
“‘You didn’t do anything wrong.’ I try to laugh, but it hurts my head. ‘I was stupid. Something very, very bad could have happened to me.’ And when I let myself think about what could have happened, I feel nauseated. ‘Thank you,’ I say and it seems too inadequate. Ben saved me from being raped, I’m positive of it. I’m not sure I could emotionally survive something like that again. I know Reed couldn’t.”
Business as Usual follows Lexi Pendergraft as she deals with the psychological aftermath of her rape. It begins with Lexi breaking up with her boyfriend because she freaks out during sex. After then, Lexi decides that she is going to shun relationships for a while. But at a bar one night after a play to raise money for a children’s charity, Lexi meets Ben, who is struggling with his last semester of his senior year after a girl basically ruined his life. The more time the two spend together, the more they fall; but Reed, Lexi’s older brother, is Ben’s boss, and Ben has decided to give up on girls due to his past. But as the pull between them gets stronger and stronger, the weaker their resistance becomes. But when something in Ben’s past is brought to light, is it enough to tear them apart? Or are they strong enough to stay together? This novel was probably my second favorite out of the three, and for completely different reasons. Each of the stories are unique in their own ways and all of them are so different that they are incomparable. I had fallen in love with Lexi’s character in Redesigned, and I couldn’t wait for her story. It did not disappoint. It had a structured plot with tons of conflict, and it definitely kept me interested for the duration of the novel.
“‘Oh, Lexi.’ Caroline sets down her notebook and pulls me into a big hug. ‘You have such a big heart, but you need to remember that you can’t save them all.’”
Lexi was our main character. She was struggling with the aftermath of her rape, her inability to be intimate with someone. But when’s she’s wearing her black wig from the play, she discovers, she becomes more confident in herself. Lexi had a lot of internal conflict in this novel, which I loved. She was struggling with real things, real feelings. It was nice seeing her grow over the course of the novel. Although she remained the determined, self-less character that she has been since her first appearance in the novels, she learned to open up a bit about what happened to her, and she grew a backbone regarding her older and protective brother.
“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.”
Ben was the love interest. Ben was struggling with his own problems as well. Prior to the time when the novel starts, Ben had been accused of raping his clingy ex-girlfriend. He didn’t do it, of course, but it basically ruined his life. His full ride to Southern was revoked, leaving him working three jobs just to pay tuition. So he had decided to give up of girls; that is, until he meets Lexi. Ben was a sweet character. He was willing to work with Lexi, he was noble, and he took care of her when she needed it most. I really loved him!
“‘But I’m broken.’ Her gaze drops to the bed. ‘I’m broken too. I’m a total fucking mess. So we’ll be broken together.’”
Lexi and Ben together really benefited both. Ben’s life had purpose again, and he was starting to get over what he had been accused of and how it had ruined his life. Lexi had someone who she cared about and someone who cared about her enough to help work through her intimacy fears. The two of them together rivaled Scarlett and Tucker on the cuteness scale. I don’t want to spoil too much about what they go through, but it was a lot. It really tells something about them that they were able to work through everything that was thrown their way.
“‘Stay away from her, Ben.’ Scarlett’s tone tells me she’s serious. My mouth drops in confusion. ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘I can tell that you’re intrigued, but Reed will skin you alive if you ask her out. He takes over-protectiveness to his own extreme level.’”
We see some of the characters from the other novel in this novel as well, mostly Caroline and Reed, seeing as Lexi was Reed’s younger sister and lived with them. In this novel, actually, there was a little subplot about Reed and Caroline and the problems they were having. Reed was hiding something and it was pulling him and Caroline apart, and it was actually the perfect complement to what was happening in Lexi’s life and it made things all the more interesting. But no worries, one of our favorite couples works it out eventually. We also see a bit of Scarlett and Tucker, more so Scarlett, due to the drama with Caroline. Poor Lexi is just stuck in the middle of it all!
I have really enjoyed all the novels of this series, and I’m sad to see it come to a close. The three girls that we’ve read about in the series were amazing characters with amazingly written stories to match tem. Hopefully in the future, Swank will write something else in this universe.
Business as Usual was another great companion novel in the Off the Subject series. Lexi’s story, like the others, was beautifully written with a great plot and amazing characters to go with it. It’s definitely one that I recommend.
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.