Title: Settling the Score
Author: Eden Winters
Publisher: Torquere Press
Characters: Joey Nichols, Troy Steele
POV: 3rd person
Setting: American South
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Rating: 4
Closeted mechanic Joey Nichols’ life is good. His boyfriend landed a major Hollywood role, and is well on the way to superstardom. Joey’s bags are packed and soon he’ll leave small town Georgia and join the man of his dreams in California, to live out, proud, and together. Days before his planned departure, his lover outs Joey during a televised interview and announces that they’ve broken up, leaving Joey to face the bigotry of the locals alone.
Bestselling author Troy Steele knows all about having life turned upside down by the media. Now a recluse, Troy shuns all the trappings that come with writing books made into blockbuster movies. He spends his time exacting revenge on a former flame via his novels and hiding out in rural South Carolina, watching celebrity gossip shows. Joey’s fifteen minutes of fame bear an eerie similarity to the plot of Troy’s latest work in progress. What if Joey could be transformed into everything the fickle ex wanted, as Troy is writing for his fictional hero, and secretly wishes for himself? Once polished, could a diamond-in-the-rough good ole boy confront his ex, then walk away, pride intact? These are Troy’s questions, and he’s counting on Joey for answers.
Joey Nichols is an auto mechanic in his father’s garage in rural Georgia. A sweet and simple young man, Joey is the best at what he does, yet his kindness and humility exceed even his talent. Joey sacrificed a high school diploma to help his family’s business survive his father’s illness. He’s a good son, a good brother, and a good person.
The closeted Joey is in a relationship with a man whose ambition to become a Hollywood actor eclipses his ability to be a decent human being; Riker Sanderson’s ego is every bit as vast as Joey’s integrity. When Riker finally gets his big break, he moves to L.A., leaving Joey behind, presumably to follow along later, where they can live openly as a couple. It’s a beautiful dream for Joey, one filled with the promise of being able to finally stop hiding; that is, until Riker publicly outs Joey and breaks up with him on a nationally televised gossip show.
As the reporters descend like vultures to fresh carrion on the Nichols’ doorstep, Joey is left to cope with the fallout of his ex-boyfriend’s betrayal. The scandal quickly goes viral and spreads to the pages of the gossip rags, at which point life for Joey spirals into a chasm of humiliation and hurt. The people who were once his friends and neighbors become antagonists, exposing bigotry and narrow minds in his small town. With the help of a supportive family, Joey forges ahead, existing the best he can and coping with his circumstances. But it soon becomes evident that life for Joey will never be as simple as it once had been.
Enter Troy Steele and Erica Davis.
Troy and Erica, a successful author and his personal assistant, conspire to take Joey on as a remodeling project. After witnessing his complete and utter downfall on national television, Erica concocts a plan to hire Joey as Troy’s assistant, then morph him into the embodiment of male beauty to make Riker sorry he ever left Joey behind. And if the lonely and reclusive Troy happens to fall in love with Joey in the process, all the better. It’s a plan that begins with good intentions but becomes derailed by Troy’s own need for vengeance against an ex-lover who had both cheated him and cheated on him.
Settling the Score is a Pygmalion-esque tale with a contemporary twist, in which a charming country boy is taken on as a work-in-progress and is transformed into…a charming country boy. How is this similar to Shaw’s play, then? No, Joey isn’t a cockney flower girl who is remade into a gentlewoman, but this is a tale that takes Joey out of his element, changes his trappings, but shows, in the end, that it doesn’t matter how one changes the external or attempts to refine the speech, true grace comes from one’s actions and character. It’s not the color of the hair and contact lenses but the content of the character that defines one’s beauty. It is a lesson that both Joey and Troy learn, but not without some difficulties.
This is a story that is, like Joey himself, engaging and uncomplicated on its surface, though as the plot unfolds, it becomes evident there is much more to explore beneath the exterior, lending the characters and their story depth and heart. As Troy and Joey work together, spending time talking and excavating Joey’s thoughts and feelings, they begin to discover their similarities outweigh their differences. It isn’t a case of opposites attract as much as it is a case of Joey serving as a reflection of who Troy had once been before life made him who he’d become. This is a story of transformation, but certainly not of whom I’d expected.
Reviewed By: Lisa