Updated: Sep 12, 2022
by Cecy Robson
Published by Loveswept
Book #1 in the Shattered Past Series
His life was never easy. Hers wasn’t supposed to be this hard.
They come from different worlds, but fate lures them together in a way neither expected in Cecy Robson’s raw, steamy series debut—perfect for fans of Monica Murphy and J. Lynn. Evelyn Preston’s future once looked perfect—until her wealthy father was caught in an embezzlement scandal and took his own life. Alone and struggling to pay her college tuition and bills, Evelyn finds a job as a waitress at the ultra-hip nightclub Excess, where she used to have more in common with the privileged private-school clientele than her fellow staff members. But something attracts her to the sexy six-foot-four bouncer and ex-army MMA fighter Mateo Tres Santos. Although they’ve led different lives, their troubled pasts bonds them in both survival and love. Mateo wound up in prison for assaulting the man who harmed his sister. Now he’s feeling the same protective impulse for this petite blond waitress. When Evelyn experiences a panic attack at the club, Mateo comes to her rescue. And when Mateo is wounded shielding her from a brawl, Evelyn returns the favor and comes to his aid. As their attraction intensifies, Mateo is determined to find out what nightmares are lurking in Evelyn’s past—even if that means tackling his own to save her.
RATED: 18+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Trigger Romance Happy Ending
Normally this is where I warn you there are spoilers ahead, and to not read ahead unless you don't mind spoilers. But this is also a trigger warning. There is a lot of dark moments and content covered in this book, in regards to sexual and physical abuse.
Once Perfect is the first book in the Shattered Past series, and written by Cecy Robson. The shattered past series centers on three siblings, and this first story, is centered around Mateo Tres Santos and his girl friend, Evelyn (Evie) Preston, coming to terms and healing from their traumatic childhoods, and finding love and support with each other. It's written from Evie's point of view.
Once Perfect's story line is definitely unique in terms of it's genre. It's dark and gritty, and I found myself sometimes having to stick my head in a different book to take a mental break from the content. That doesn't chance the fact that I enjoyed the story. It's just not something you can rush. You need to digest the content. An issue I had with Once Perfect, was the writing seems a bit clunky. The first two thirds of the book I found didn't flow really well, and I found their connection with one another odd at best. But after Evie's breakdown, and she started getting help, the writing and story flow is different. I have to wonder if it's my interest in the story being piqued, or if it's an intentional change with Cecy Robson's writing. I will say that's TBD, depending on the next book.
I had a hard time with Evie at first. I mean, I know why now, after finishing the book. I couldn't understand why a hard working nursing student would be so emotionally immature. And I'm not saying immature in a bad way. I mean it literally. She seemed more emotionally on par with a teenager. Her personality was greatly lacking in the first half of the book, and she head herself back from the other characters, as well as to the reader. It honestly wasn't until her feelings for Mateo matured, that she started to become ... alive again. Of course, the more "alive" she becomes, the more glimpses of her repressed memories she gets.
I will admit, I suspected early on that her father had raped her. When she was dreaming of hearing the gunshot, and finding her father's body after he killed himself, there was something in the imagery Cecy wrote at the beginning of her dream that made me think that her father killed himself not just because of the shame of ruining the family name with his embezzling. I never thought that Evie's ex-boyfriend, Donovan raped her, although I think we were meant to think that. Her fear of the dark doesn't tell me that she was raped as a teenager by her boyfriend. It tells me something much darker. Her fear of penetration for sure screams rape, but her fear of the dark says so much more. To me at least. Cecy Robson does an amazing job writing the moment Evie has her breakdown. I could feel her inner turmoil or her feelings of pure horror as she collapses to the ground, remembering her fathers hands on her, the smell of his alcohol laced breath, and when she fights him off, him saying "You used to let me." before going to his office and killing himself. Waking up in a hospital, remembering that your own father molested you? Horrifying. It's at this point, with therapy, and support from Mateo and her best friend, that we finally start to see the real Evie. A healthier Evie.
Mateo is one of those male protagonist you can't help but love. While at first he is described as massive and muscular, an ex-convict that Evie was scared of, we quickly learn that Mateo is so much more. When he finds Evie having a panic attack in the dark storage room, he knows not to come close. Not to touch her. He keeps his distance, and he lets her come to him. His patience Evie in their budding relationship is nothing short of amazing. He respects Evie, and gives her full control of the physical side of their relationship. That control, his determination to make her feel good, his patience with her is what Evie needed to give herself to him. The very fact that he knows how to interact with Evie is heartbreaking when you consider that he knows from personal experience how rape can affect a person. In the case of his baby sister. We learn the only reason he went to prison, was because he beat up the man who raped her when he got away with it. We learn he is fiercely protective of his sisters. And he needs to be, with an abusive, drug addict father, and an indifferent mother, he is the one who takes care of them. I gather the fact that he grew up as his father's punching bag, and his uncle's influence in teaching him martial arts to channel his anger, is why he continues to fight (not just the financial aspect of it. His loyalty to his "girls", meaning his mom, sisters, and now Evie is not just shown in protectiveness and love, but taking care of them financially). Mateo gives off a strong exterior, but with Evie he is vulnerable, and she see's he is so much more than muscle.
I loved the romance in this book. I will admit, I didn't at first. While Mateo and Evie obviously noticed each other, I found their interactions awkward at best, and I couldn't get the allure between them when their chemistry seemed off. Attraction only goes so far. And it wasn't the lack of sex that was putting me off. Don't get me wrong, I love a good steamy scene, and this book doesn't disappoint when they get to that point. I guess it's because the getting to know each other part was hindered by both of them hiding behind their walls, and it wasn't until Evie trusted Mateo completely to make love with him that their walls started to crumble a bit, and they could truly connect. That deep connection that let them truly get to know one another is what this couple needed for me to really become invested. Mateo standing by Evie, after learning about her molestation as a child, and supporting her through her healing made me fall for him, and Evie refusing to let Mateo push her away when he was forced to finally fight his father back to protect her, and encouraging him to be more than what he was settling for made me love her too.
The next book in the series, Once Loved, focuses on Mateo's sister, Lety, and her no ex-boyfriend Brody. I'm not going to lie ... the first half of 'Once Perfect', I wasn't convinced I was going to finish the series out. I described the writing as clunky, and it really put me off. But the last half of the book, with its easier flow, as well as the curiosity of Lety and Brody's relationship, has made me reconsider, and I do plan on finishing it out. I truly hope I don't encounter anymore "clunkiness," and what I did encounter in Once Perfect was due in part to Evie's mental state.
Do I recommend Once Perfect? Yes, and no. It obviously has very dark content. Rape. Incest. Abuse. Mental disorders. It needs a clear trigger warning. If you can handle the content within these pages, then I do recommend. While the flow of the story was lacking at times, the pillars of the story are strong, and the characters are well-written and have lots of depth. If any of the above content is a trigger for you, I don't recommend this book. While our protagonists do begin their journey to healing from the trauma, and it has a happy ending, the stuff that is described in this book is horrific. Even for readers like me, who hasn't gone through these types of trauma personally, its hard to read, and I found myself needing to take breaks. So while the book is really good, I still heavily recommend you take into consideration what you can personally handle.
If you have ever suffered through any type of abuse, get help. There is no shame, and it's not your fault.
1. Evie and Mateo taking a shower together, and him telling her she was the best thing that's ever happened to him.
2. Mateo telling Evie he loved her after the New Years Eve Countdown, and admitting he never told anyone that before.
3. Evie walking in on Sam and Elaine having rather explicit sex with one another, and Mateo laughing hysterically when she tells him.
4. (bonus) When Mateo is pushing her away, and trying to break up with her, she doesn't give up on him.
Where to Buy:
Evie: "We need a new cookie sheet."
Lourdes: "If this is what you need it for, I'm thinking no. The batter looks ..."
Lourdes: "Ah, sort of. Hard. This crap looks too hard. Penises around the world envy this glop."
Ant: "The big house? Evelyn, you are the whitest person on the planet. You have no business saying 'big house.'"
Mateo: "You like baking?"
Evie: "No. Yes. No. I made them for you. You helped me last week and I never had the chance to do, well, say ... Thank you. I'm just trying to thank you."
Mateo: "You're welcome, Evie."
With a wink and a grin, he reached for a cookie.
It was all so magical.
Until he took a bite.
Ant: "Sam says the shirts should be in by Monday. Oh, cookies."
Mateo tries to stop Ant from taking one. Ant spits it out
Ant: "What the-? Did you make this shit?"
Evie: "Uh, no?"
Mateo starts laughing hysterically.
Ant: "Listen up, peeps. If anyone, and I mean anyone, pulls the dealing shit tonight, I want you to bash their skulls in with one of these. These bitches will knock a motherfucker out."
Evie: "Does it hurt?"
Mateo: "What do you think? You just poured a hundred bucks' worth of booze on a puncture wound!"
Evie: "I think that I just saved you from a possible infection. I think you should go to the hospital. And I think you should stop giving me attitude!"
Mateo: "Hey, Noelle. You like Beyonce?"
Noelle: "You know it!"
Mateo: "Then stop killing her songs, woman."
Mateo: "Evie. It's okay. When you look at what you do, it's a dead end. You're smart. I know you're capable of more than taking orders and avoiding drunk pricks trying to grab your ass."
Evie: "So are you."
Mateo: "It's not so bad. Most of those pricks leave my ass alone."
Mateo: "Oh. Evie, when was the last time you had anything done to this thing?"
Evie: "I had the oil changed a few months back. It runs fine. It's just loud. Okay, really loud."
Mateo: "That's because it's in pain."
Evie: "You're assuming I'll turn my baby over into your clutches."
Car starts making loud grinding noise
Mateo: "Sounds like your 'baby' can't wait for me to get my hands on her."
Yeah ... can't really blame her
Lourdes: "Slap a saddle on the horse, Evelyn. Do not go bareback on that bronco."
Evie: "So you're a good little Catholic boy?"
Mateo: "I said I was raised Catholic. Never said I was good at it."
Ant: "You trying to get my boy drunk and take advantage of him?"
Evie: "That's the plan."
Ant threw his head back, laughing, when Mateo choked on his beer.
Ant: "Are you staying with me, sweet thing?"
Ant: "Why not? We can make some pretty babies."
Noelle: "No. They would be fucking ugly, Ant. Red afros and freckles would make ugly-ass babies."
Mateo: "Damn, Evie, you have some little legs."
Evie: "I thought you liked my legs."
Mateo: "I do. And a lot more."
Mateo: "Shut up and cook. Jesus, you're such a pain in the ass."
Lety: "Don't use 'Jesus' and 'ass' in the same sentence. It's disrespectful."
Mateo: "Says the girl written up for streaking in college. Didn't think I knew about that, did you, smartass?"
Evie: "I waitress there every weekend and every other Thursday night."
Lety: "Since when?"
Evie: "About seven months."
Lety: "Hmm, seven months. And my brother's just asking you out now? What were you waiting for, Teo? She's cute."
Lety: "And educated."
Mateo: "You're seriously the biggest pain in the ass on this planet."
Mateo: "I couldn't go far knowing you were in my bed, naked."
Evie: "I wasn't. Well, when we slept, anyway. Teo, can I borrow another shirt? This one's all wet from, ah, washing my face."
Mateo: "Sure, but feel free to walk around naked if you want. I promise not to look."
Evie: "You promise, huh?"
Mateo: "Cross my heart."
Mateo: "Have I told you how crazy you make me when I touch you?"
Evie: "No. But maybe you should show me"
Evie puts his hand between her legs and he groans.
Mateo: "Oh, so it's like that."
She reaches into his shorts and begins to rub
Evie: "Yeah. Just like that."
Lourdes: "You're telling me you went back to Mateo's place- Mateo's -and you didn't bang him like a air of maracas?
Lourdes: "Shut up, Evelyn. Mateo is hot!"
Evie: "I know."
Lourdes: "Hot, Evelyn. H - hell yeah I want to lick him. O - oh God, do me harder. T - tie me up."
Evelyn: "Your ability to spell is amazing. Does your mama know you can spell like that?"
Lourdes: "Evelyn. I'm the biggest lesbian on the planet - and even I want to have Mateo's baby!"
Lourdes: "Holy shitballs. You finally had sex!"
Mateo starts laughing.
Lourdes: "Was he good?"
Lourdes: "Aren't you going to tell me?"
Evie: "Jesus, Lourdes!"
Lourdes: "I bet he was all rough and shit. He looks like the rough-and-shit type."
I tried to escape into the other room. Mateo hauled me back, still laughing, and pulled me back into bed.
Evie: "Lourdes, he can hear you!"
Mateo: "Why are you crying?"
Evie: "I'm just happy."
Mateo: "You don't sound happy, babe."
Evie: "I'm a girl. This is how girls get when they're happy."
Mateo: "Well, shit ... I should've got you an Xbox."
Evie: "Do you want to know the truth?" Mateo: "Is it going to make you cry?"
Mateo: "Okay. Hit me."
Evie: "I think I'm in love with you."
Mateo: "I love you, Evie. Yeah. Never told anyone that before."
Evie: "Mateo, I don't know much of anything anymore. All I know is that I'm really fucked up. I never knew how bad, but I am. And my biggest fear is I'm losing you because of everything that's wrong with me."
Mateo: "Fucked up or not, you're still the best thing to ever come into my life."
Mateo: "I'm going to tell you something, and I don't want you to take it the wrong way. I knew you'd had it rough. Knew it from the first moment I saw you walk into the club. But that night in the storage room - when I found you - I knew then it was pretty goddamn bad. I'd seen you, trying to be tough - trying to stay strong. You were hanging in. Then New Year's came, and you figured out what was done to you. You broke like a piece of glass, right in front of me. And it fucking ripped me apart. I couldn't help you, even though I'd promised to keep you safe."
Evie: "Teo, did you ever tell Sofia that Killian was asking about her?"
Mateo: "Babe, don't - "
Lety: "Don't what?"
Evie: "Killian - Mateo's old sparring partner - he was asking about you."
Sofia: "Killian O'Brien was asking about me? Wha- what did he say?"
Mateo: "It doesn't goddamn matter. You're barely eighteen and in high school. He's twenty and out. Keep your head in school where it belongs."
Lety: "Aw, hell. You totally like Killian. Have you always liked him"
Mateo falls back and swears, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Lety: "Oh, shit. You have, haven't you? Killian and his family lived across the street from us when we were growing up."
Mateo: "Let it go, Lety."
Lety: "As kids, he and Sofi were practically inseparable - when he wasn't knocking on our door, she was knocking on his, asking if he could come out and play."
Evie: "Oh! That's so sweet."
Mateo: "Fuck. Me."
Lety: "It was the cutest thing ever. But I never suspected that there was more. Hot. Damn, Sofi. You and Killian!"
Lety: "Teo, give me your phone."
Mateo: "I'm not giving you shit. This whole thing's messed up. She's just a kid. Killian's a grown-ass man."
I yanked the phone from his pocket and tossed it to Lety before Mateo could tackle me. She raced into his room while I tried to keep him from chasing after her. So much for my efforts. Mateo hefted me over his shoulder like I was nothing and smacked my ass.
Mateo: "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
Lety: "What's his pass code?"
Evie: "Two, one -"
Mateo plopped me on the floor and kissed me, trying to keep me quiet with his lips. I managed to give Lety the rest of the code with my fingers before Teo pulled my hands behind my back.
I threw open the kitchen door, freezing in place. A sight that would forever be burned into my retinas waited before me. Elaine was bent over her kitchen table. The same table we'd decorated Santa cookies on - with fucking sprinkles! The remnants of her naughty French maid outfit hung just below her exposed breasts. Sam - Sam - was banging her from behind, his pants down to his ankles, his bare ass driving into her for all he was worth, his crazy white hair flaring in all directions. He took the ball gag out of his mouth when he caught me standing there.
Evie runs and Mateo catches up to her by the pool. She waves her hands and refuses to stop until she is in Mateo's apartment.
Mateo: "Babe, what happened? You're freaking me out. Just tell m what's wrong."
Evie: "I just caught Sam and Elaine having sex in the kitchen."
He didn't say anything.
Evie: "On the table."
Still Mateo just stared.
Evie: "Like they were monkeys."
Mateo opened his mouth. And laughed his ass off.
Evie: "You think this is funny?"
He fell to the floor, holding his sides.
While Mateo continues to laugh, Evie puts a lasagna in the oven. He wipes tears from his eyes and calms down.
Evie: "I thought she did his books."
Mateo: *starts laughing again* "I guess she also does Sam."
Evie: "I could have gone my whole life without seeing that - and that freaking ball gag-"
Evie smacks his shoulder when he busted up again.
Evie: "Would you stop it, already? You wouldn't be laughing if you'd seen it."
Mateo: "Yeah, I would've."
Evie: "Yeah, you would."
Evie: "Sweetie, putting the moves on me is one thing. Luring me into my bedroom is another. Besides, I tried to talk you out of it so we wouldn't miss church."
Mateo: "Maybe you did. I couldn't understand you when you started screaming.
Evie: "You're just so hilarious, aren't you?"
Evie: "Our fathers were not good men, Mateo. That doesn't mean we don't deserve good in our lives. You're the good in mine. Please, let me stay the good in yours ..."
Check out the rest of the Shattered Past Trilogy