Title: Temptation on Ocean Drive
Author: Jennifer Probst
What’s it About: Bella Sunshine-Caldwell is a 31 year old mother and wedding planner at Sunshine Bridal in Cape May, NJ. She has always been the sensible middle sister, and prides herself on being the only one out of the three sisters to not succumb to Gabe Garcia’s good looks. Bella’s always believed that she is looking out for the business and that Gabe will leave once he gets enough experience. He isn’t family, after all.
Gabe is a 27 year old guy recently promoted to being a wedding planner after spending a few years being Avery’s assistant. He’s been in love with Bella from the first moment he’d laid eyes on her three years ago, and absolutely adores her daughter, Zoe. But Bella has never paid any attention to him, never even noticed him.
Still, she and Gabe work on a Christmas themed wedding, that puts them into contact with Adele Bernstein, a heiress in New York. They both state that they are booked for the weekend that Adele wants to have her wedding, but when they come to their weekly meeting with Avery, an article mentions that Adele booked Sunshine Bridal to do her wedding. The two agree to take it on, together, for the weekend in March requested by Adele.
To their surprise, Adele wants a Dr. Seuss themed wedding, which has never been done before, and the two of them scratch their heads as to what to do with it. And Adele gives them carte blanche with the wedding and the money. Since the wedding is happening at a book store, Bella comes up with the idea of using flowers that are similar to the flowers in The Lorax, and Gabe gets excited.
As they work together, and shuttle back and forth between New York and Cape May, Gabe and Bella draw closer. He shares his past with her about his father bullying him, which begins to crack Bella’s defenses. It also makes Bella question all that she knows about Gabe–the town gossip is that he’s the city’s most eligible bachelor and that he’s going out with women every week. She does not want that kind of man because she needs to protect her daughter. Gabe, on the other hand, is frustrated with the Eligible Bachelor title, the small town gossip, and most importantly, he hates the magazine articles that name him such.
Bella slowly falls for him, and they decide to give it a chance. But at a Daughter-Father Dance, where Gabe quickly steps in for Carter to take Zoe to the dance, Bella overhears the moms talking about how he went out on a date with Vera’s granddaughter–Vera is the ballerina turned wedding dress shop owner. When the team of Sunshine Bridal meets for their morning meetings, the tensions run high between Bella and Gabe. Taking the matter elsewhere, Gabe confronts her about what the issue is, Bella lashes out, and he tells her that he thought she didn’t believe the gossip and if she’s not able to see past it to who he is, he won’t defend himself.
Bella gets a visit from Carter and Avery, and the three of them talk about Gabe. Carter tells her that Gabe hasn’t been dating anyone for a while, and that the town gossips made it seem like he was dating the granddaughter, when in reality the granddaughter had made up a friend having a wedding to get close to Gabe. Gabe catches up with Devon, a former fling, but nothing comes of it. While driving, he hears a crash and looks to see Bella behind the wheel of a fender bender. He runs towards her, and she faints just as he gets there. It’s only later when he is at her home, relaxing with her, that he realizes the date–February 22nd. It’s the sixth anniversary of the car crash that took Matt’s life, who was the love of Bella’s life. They talk, and Bella tells him what really happened the day of the accident and how hard it was for her after–she was hospitalized for depression and had to claw her way out of it to be with her daughter. He tells her that she’s the strongest woman he knows, for all that she does and has done for Zoe, and he admires her. When Avery, Carter, Taylor and Pierce show up–hearing the story of the crash from Ron, the police officer–Gabe leaves, citing that he’s not family.
Adele’s wedding goes off without a hitch, and the two of them get approached separately by a reporter about the wedding. Bella points out the misogynistic comments about Gabe–questions such as whether he had hooked up with any of the Sunshine Bridal owners that would have not flown had they been asked of a woman–but also answers as honestly as she can without veering into romantic territory. Once done, she looks for Gabe, and finds a scene–one of the lady guests trapped Gabe between a wall and a chair, getting a little handsy with him. It’s clear that he’s uncomfortable, and then a second guest comes by asking the first guest who this is to which the first one responds that it’s her party favor. Bella snaps at them about being rude to staff, and the first guest tells her that she is being rude, at which point Bella says she’ll have a word with Adele to see how Adele likes it when guests are rude to staff. Unbeknownst to her, the reporter caught every word of that encounter.
Later that night, Gabe and Bella share the room, and the bed. She asks him to give her time; to take it slow, and he agrees with it. She never mentions anything to anyone about them seeing each other, and then goes out with her best friend, Debbie, for a girls night out. During the night out, she tells Debbie that she’s seeing Gabe, but Debbie doesn’t take her seriously. In the meantime, Carter is watching both Zoe and Megs, Debbie’s daughter, and asks Gabe to join him. During that time, Gabe reveals to Carter that he’s been seeing Bella and that she hasn’t said anything to anyone about being together. Carter tells him that he should just be patient because of her loss and it can be hard for someone like her to just come out into the open about dating.
Shortly after, Bella cooks for their normal Taco Tuesdays, where Avery, Carter, Gabe, Pierce, Taylor, Zoe, and Bella gather at her home. Gabe goes out to the store, and buys a bouquet of flowers for Bella. There, he encounters Devon, who tells him that she got his call and it sounded like he found someone. She gives him a quick peck and wishes him luck, before leaving. He gives Bella the bouquet, and mentions meeting Devon. Their relationship seems to blossom, and things are going well, even when the article about Adele’s wedding comes out and seems to focus on Gabe. Even though he’s not fully comfortable with the fact that it was a profile on him, he decides to let the article run–after clearing it with Bella–because it will bring publicity to Sunshine Bridal.
Sure enough, things explode business-wise, and also Gabe gets a call from a Wedding Planning agency in New York City. He decides to take the interview, which is with the owner of the company, who tells him that he needs him that after they lost Adele’s business, he did a review and a cleanse of the company as he found that his wedding planners were lacking creativity. He wanted Gabe to come on board and run his own team of wedding planners, instead of being a wedding planner. Gabe tells him that he will need to consider this before giving him a straight answer.
In the meantime, during a Parent-Teacher Organization meeting, Bella converses with two mothers who tell her that they heard she’s going out with Gabe, and that they’re glad she’s getting it out of her system after being a single mom for many years. But they also tell her that he’s not the guy for her, since he was seen with another woman. According to the moms, one of the other ladies who works at a restaurant saw Gabe in the grocery store giving Devon a kiss and flowers. This makes Bella question things, but what makes it worse for her is the call. She had returned to Sunshine Bridal to an overwhelmed receptionist, and told her to grab lunch since the poor girl hadn’t gotten a chance to eat. When Bella picks up the next phone call, the wedding planning agency in New York is on the other end, asking for Gabe and stating that he had an interview the past week. The lady had wanted to follow up about it and Bella takes down the information and waits to see how long it would be before Gabe tells her.
At a town celebration, Bella lashes out at Gabe, telling him about Devon and the phone call. When introduced to anyone, she doesn’t tell them that she’s seeing him, but that he’s a coworker. Gabe leaves the party, and Bella runs after him. He tells her that he told her about Devon already, the bouquets he brought her were from that encounter, and that he’s tired of having to defend himself, because he’s done that all his life with his father too. He said that he needs a woman who sticks up for him and stands by him, instead of taking the whole town gossip seriously. And he adds that the event planning agency in New York was something that he wasn’t going to take anyway. They end up breaking up, and go their separate ways.
Carter and Pierce show up at Gabe’s doorstep with ice cream and tequila, and they talk. A few days later, Gabe gets the call from the Exit Zero Magazine saying that he’s been chosen as the town’s Beach Bachelor again. He tries to get them to change it to Pierce but they state that they did a Poll and it was him. Gabe is frustrated and embarrassed, remembering how his dad would say that he is just a pretty face and wouldn’t achieve anything else besides being a pretty face.
In the meantime, Bella throws herself into work until Taylor shows up for an intervention. Bella tells Taylor, her younger sister, the truth about what happened with Gabe, and Taylor confronts her on her bullshit–Bella’s hiding behind all of the excuses, but the truth is that she’s afraid to fall in love with someone else because she would not survive another loss like that of Matt. Bella realizes that in order to save the relationship with Gabe, she has to do something drastic, and rushes off to do just that when her older sister, Avery, shows up. First, Bella calls Debbie and tells her the truth about her relationship and how she does not appreciate that Debbie didn’t take her seriously.
The following day, Gabe walks around and finds people staring at him, giving him thumbs up. He groans, because he realizes that the article about him was supposed to be released today, and he just hates the fact that he’s been named Beach Bachelor again. He encounters Devon again, and she tells him congratulations, but Gabe is confused. She gives him the Exit Zero Magazine where there’s a big red X on him and a picture of Bella on the cover. The magazine article states that Bella and him are together, making him no longer an eligible bachelor. Gabe runs all the way back to Sunshine Bridal, where Bella has come in early in order to work and avoid her nerves.
He shows up, they talk about everything, and she tells him that she’s been afraid to fall in love with him and be real about it, because of the aftermath of Matt’s death. They end up embracing and deciding to pursue a relationship.
Verdict: I liked the story about the relationship between Bella and Gabe, but for me they’re not really my favorite characters in this series so far. I liked Avery and Carter’s story better because of the banter and the tension between the two of them from the outset. I enjoyed the fact that in that story, there was a deeper message of first impressions are rarely right or that you’re blinded by your assumptions of another person.
In this book of the series, I’m kind of unsure of the message. Is it “don’t be afraid to take a chance on love” or “a second chance at love is always possible” or something else. I believe the fact that Bella ignored Gabe, kept her distance or even was cold to him at the beginning didn’t give a lot of chance for the kind of tension this book really needed for it to be a good story. At least not to my preference. I also don’t think it’s realistic in this day and age that if one party is distant from another in a professional space that they will cross that distance to a become a couple. Sure, working together brings great friendships, but does it really turn into romance? I’m not so sure.
Overall, it’s nice to read this story to see what is going on with the Sunshine sisters–there is a lot of continuity from Avery’s and Carter’s story–but I wouldn’t ever recommend reading this as a standalone book. If it had been a standalone, I would have put it down and never picked it up again.