Erin Watt always hits that sassy and sweet mark with her New Adult Romances. “When It’s Real” has main characters that spark in a battle of wills and with high energy adorable chemistry. This books features a delicious mash-up of an enemies to lovers and faux girlfriend trope. Oakley Ford’s a nineteen-year-old music superstar. He’s already earned a few Platinum and Diamond albums since launching his career during his early teens. Now his reputation is that of an out-of-control womanizing partier. His label and manager want to turn that image around. Frankly, Oakley’s tired of the lifestyle. He feels that even people he considers to be his friends are using him for his money and celebrity. Oak’s the son of Hollywood royalty and his parents are jealous of his success. His fans feel he’s their property and grab him without warning, so he hates being touched, unless he initiates it.
Vaughn Bennett’s a seventeen-year-old high school graduate deferring college for a year to help her family. Her parents died and she’s working to help her sister pay the bills and raise their younger twin brothers. She has a steady boyfriend named “W” who likes getting his way and is pressuring her for sex. Vaughn isn’t ready for that commitment even though she loves W fiercely. Vaughn tells people she wants to be a teacher because that was what her parents were. But isn’t passionate about anything nor has the drive to follow any path. She’s lost and her only lifelines are her family, W, and her friends. Vaughn is a fascinating character; a combination of strength, loyalty, confidence and self-doubt. She can wisely advise others but lacks the confidence for herself.
Oakley comes home to a party. His home’s filled with strangers partying in every room, on the lawn, and in the pool. His manager is with him and asks if the girls there are even legal. To which Oak responds with a glib answer about bouncers. Oakley’s manager, Jim, advises him to clean up his image if he wants to work with his dream music producer. A guy who’s a stickler for serious and professional artists. Oakley’s struggling to get out from under his youthful pop-star wunderkind image and find his sound. He thinks King is the only one who can get him there. He tells Jim to do what it takes to get King to meet with him.
Paisley, Vaughn’s sister, happens to work at the company that represents Oakley. She actually works for Jim’s brother. Jim happens to takes notice of a family picture that Paisley pinned to the office bulletin board. The family photo has Vaughn in it during a day at the beach and it’s just a normal family-having-fun picture. That’s the reason Oakley’s manager takes notice. Vaughn’s pretty in a very ordinary girl-next-door kind of way. The next thing Vaughn knows Paisley is offering her a “job” that pays almost $250,000 for one year’s work. It’ll require some acting and it’s very vague until she signs a non-disclosure agreement. All Vaughn knows is that she’ll have to pretend to be the girlfriend of a celebrity.
At the meeting she learns her fake boyfriend is to be Oakley Ford. She was a fan-girl about two years ago and played his album on repeat. But because of a scandal, she stopped being a fan. Oakley isn’t at the meeting but about twenty of his “people” are. All Vaughn has in her corner is Paisley and sometimes it feels as though she isn’t. A meeting which is supposed to last a couple of hours, long lasts an entire morning. They need to wait at least three hours for “his highness” Oakley to show up. Vaughn and Oakley but heads almost immediately each one not knowing what the other’s problem is. They dread working with each other but the plans are set and Vaughn’s family needs the money. The big issue is Vaughn needs W to sign a NDA and publicly break up with her via social media.
W signs the NDA after trying again to have sex with Vaughn. He hates the idea of her having to kiss Oakley Ford. But W breaks up with her on schedule and the groundwork’s laid for her to grieve “publicly” on Twitter. Then as planned she posts a picture of Oakley she drew herself so he can comment on it. Which he doesn’t usually do. Then he’ll start following her. Which he doesn’t usually do. In fact Oakley doesn’t do social media at all; his image team answers the tweets. But the social media world on fire none the less. After a few flirtatious tweets the “dates” begin, again planned out by the image team. After reading the tweets the publicity team writes Oak asks to take over his own media accounts. This is something Vaughn isn’t aware of. She thinks the publicity team is planning and coordinating everything.
The dates are planned to be innocent. After the social media flirting the first public date will be an ice cream date. However, Oakley goes rogue hijacking Vaughn’s Family Dinner. They’re seen and must leave the restaurant. The publicity team isn’t amused and Vaughn and Oak are in trouble. Then, Oak inadvertently takes Vaughn on an unsanctioned an inappropriate first public date. He gets word that music producer, Donovan King, will be at a club. Oakley does get King’s attention but it isn’t favorable and he takes out his frustration on Vaughn. The next day he goes to apologize to her but W is at Vaughn’s house. Angry, Oak goes to a club and drinks and says unflattering things about Vaughn’s ex. Oak and Vaughn are confused by their own feelings and suspicions the other’s only following the PR team’s directions.
The publicity is bad and Vaughn acknowledges his behavior was all about caveman jealousy. He runs into King and they talk about it and put into perspective. Oakley makes an honest and heartfelt apology to the media. W angrily ends things with Vaughn and she’s heartbroken. Secretly Oakley’s glad and he’s acknowledging that his feelings for Vaughn are becoming real. But he believes that she’s only pretending as part of the job. After a rough night there was a really bad incident. Vaughn confesses she was looking for Oakley because she wanted and needed him. Oakley demands that she admit that she likes him; Vaughn confesses and they share a scorching kiss. Their relationship becomes very real. However after several weeks of bliss a few events occur tearing the couple apart. Things appear absolutely irreparable.
Erin Watt adds so many subtle touches and side stories that truly make “When It’s Real” rich and captivating. The side characters are fun, charming, and delightful. Oakley and Vaughn are adorable, feisty, vulnerable, and lovable. The storyline is engaging and captivating while the pace keeps you thoroughly hooked. There’s a lot of conflict in the form of antagonism, misunderstanding, doubt, and vulnerability. Add in the interference and machinations from agents and publicists and a successful relationship would be challenging for anyone. Bottomline Vaughn and Oakley are fabulous and “When It’s Real” is addictive.
I’m giving “When It’s Real” 5 Lightning Bolts and a Small Craft Advisory.
This novel was provided, voluntarily read, and honestly reviewed