by Staci Hart
Find Tonic on Goodreads
Joel Anderson doesn’t take anything seriously.
Not his relationships, which have been few and far between since his brutal divorce. Not the drama of working in a tattoo parlor, which seems to be around every corner. When things get him down, he smiles and cracks a joke. But he’s not the kind of man you cross, or you’ll find yourself at the wrong end of his fists.
Annika Belousov takes everything seriously.
Like her job as a reality television producer, given that she typically has something to prove. Or her love life, which is defined by a series of requirements — affluent, ambitious, accomplished, to name a few. Definitely her family, who worked their whole lives to afford her every opportunity, a sacrifice she doesn’t take lightly. When she’s tapped to produce a reality show at Joel’s shop, she doesn’t think twice, just goes in for the kill, as if there were any other way.
The second Annika walks into Joel’s shop, he makes it his mission to crack her open, but she’s not having it. He’s all wrong — too crass, too hairy, too un-serious. But it doesn’t take her long to find out there’s more to him than smirks and tattoos. And what she finds could put her career and his heart on the line.
Not that Joel cares. Because for the first time in a long time, he’s found his tonic.
Tonic is the second book I have read by Staci Hart. It was an entertaining opposites attract story that was fun, flirty, sexy and a little angsty.
Joel Anderson’s life is about to change. As is the owner of the tattoo shop, Tonic, he is the main player in the reality TV show that’s about to start filming based on the Tonic Tattoo crew. Even though he was against filming in the beginning, Joel finally agreed and gave the OK. He knew things could get hairy while filming but never did he imagine how things would turn out.
Annika Belousov works in the reality TV business and is known as being frigid. She does it to protect herself “from the sharp edges of [her] job.” As the executive producer, this new show is the one that can make or break her career. She knows that creating drama produces higher the ratings and she is not opposed to manipulating people to do that. She learned what it took to survive in the word of reality TV from Laney, the creator of the show.
[Laney] was just a producer then, and we struck a quick friendship, one the evolved into a mentor ship, and slowly, I’d turned into a version of her – a cold-blooded shark with a lying smile full of teeth.
Annika usually handles men just fine but after meeting Joe, he has somehow gotten under her skin. They started off on the wrong foot from their first interaction. The banter begins immediately and the pull that both feel towards each other makes it all the more intense. The sexual tension is tangible and everyone can see it no matter how much Annika denies how she feels. As she refuses to give in and Joel refuses to let go, the tension builds until the spark between them inevitably ignites.
When they combust, it’s an explosion and they convince each other that it can be a casual fling and walk away at the end of filming. Then feelings get involved and everything changes.
I wondered fleetingly if we would ruin each other. If my fire would melt her ice until it evaporated. If her ice would snuff my fire out of existence.
What happens when people are pushed too far and secrets and lies start to surface?
I really enjoyed Tonic, the storyline was unique and the characters well developed. I loved watching Joel and Annika open up to each other, especially while explaining the circumstances that have made them the way they are. I loved how Joel could read Annika so well and it was comical to watch her get so worked up over the fact that she couldn’t hide her emotions around him.
Annika was an interesting character. You can see past the front she puts up and see the girl she really is, and for the most part I liked what I saw. She was sweet, hardworking, and determined to succeed. I wish she wasn’t as cutthroat though. I know she wants to get ahead but it bugged me that it took her so long to see that her actions were not the best decisions. I loved the intensity she felt towards Joel. When it was the two of them, they just meshed. I also loved how close she was with her family and that she recognized who she really was with them. I just wish she fought for that side of herself more.
Joel was a fun character that was able to break down Annika’s walls with his persistence, but I loved when he backed off when she asked. He wasn’t the pushy guy that he first came across as. He was hardworking and loyal to his friends and family and truly wanted what was best for he shop. He wanted to have a strong, loving relationship, like the ones he has seen in real life but never has experienced himself, so my heart smiled when he finally found out what real love was.
“Are you scared?”
I shook my head and thumbed her bottom lip. “Not even a little. I never thought…I didn’t know it could be like this. I din’t know love until you, and now that I have you, I want you forever.”
The only thing I didn’t love about this book was when the situation finally exploded, the drama was a bit much. I think Joel over-reacted but I also thought that Annika didn’t handle everything the right way either. The harsh words they exchanged hurt my heart and I wish I could take them away.
Overall, Tonic was an enjoyable read with a perfect epilogue that left a smile on my face. I can’t wait to see what else Staci Hart comes up with.
*ARC generously provided by the author and Social Butterfly PR in exchange for an honest review*
“Let me see it.”
“What?” I blustered, caught off guard.
“Stand up and turn around. I want to see it.” I was too surprised and caught up in the moment to refuse, so I stood and turned, laying my palms on the armrests as I faced the back of the chair.
One hand rested on my hip.
My heart stopped as I wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
I glanced over my shoulder, my gaze bouncing between his face —turned down too much to read —and his reflection in the speckled, antique mirror, which I couldn’t see much of either. His free hand moved to the waistband of my tailored pants, and his fingers hooked and tugged, pulling the band down low.
His thumb ran over where I knew the tattoo was, and I felt his breath. Every place where we connected spoke to me of ownership.
“You got this done here? In New York?” His voice was rough.
Mine wasn’t much better. “Yeah. In Brooklyn.”
“Let me cover it up for you. Give you something you’re proud of. Your skin …” He paused, and I wished I could see his face, read his mind. “This shouldn’t be here, not on you. Let me … I want to …” He had moved closer, his hand on my hip pulling me back into him slightly enough for me to not have noticed that the backs of my thighs were touching his, my back arched just enough, his breath hot.
And then, he disappeared. I stood, finding my hands were trembling, wondering where I was and how I’d gotten there. The shop was mostly empty —no one had seen, not that it would have looked like much from the outside. But from where I stood, I felt every single deliberate move like a telegraph, telling me exactly what he wanted to do without him having to finish the sentence.
His back was to me when I turned around, his face down —I couldn’t see it in the mirror over his cabinet of ink and needles as he dug around in the drawers, seemingly for nothing in particular.
“Let me know if you want me to draw something up.”
“Okay, I will.” I paused, not knowing what else to say, feeling like I should say something. But there was nothing that I could say. “Well, have a good night, Joel. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He nodded, glancing at me in the mirror. “See you, Annika.”
I tried not to bolt out of the shop, but once outside, I admit it —I took off. I hauled up the stairs and into the office to grab my bag, grateful that Laney was already gone, and I texted my driver, asking him to pick me up a few blocks away so I could walk, put some distance between me and Joel, get the energy out of my body, through my legs and feet, into the pavement.
About the Author
Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey.
From roots in Houston to a seven year stint in Southern California, Staci and her family ended up settling somewhere in between and equally north, in Denver. They are new enough that snow is still magical. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.