Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary romance series from Lisa Desrochers. OUTSIDE THE LINES is the first in the On The Run series that follows five siblings from a Chicago mafia family as they adjust to life within the Witness Protection Program. It’s a great start to the series, and I’m eager for the next book already.
From the author of the USA Today bestselling A Little Too Far series, the first in an edgy new contemporary romance series that follows a family on the run…
As the oldest son of a Chicago crime lord, Robert Delgado always knew how dangerous life could be. With his mother dead and his father in prison, he’s taking charge of his family’s safety—putting himself and his siblings in witness protection to hide out in a backwater Florida town.
Fourth grade teacher Adri Wilson is worried about the new boy in her class. Sherm is quiet and evasive, especially when he’s around his even cagier older brother. Adri can’t help her attraction to Rob, or the urge to help them both in whatever way she can.
But the Delgados have enemies on two sides of the mob—their father’s former crew and the rival family he helped take down. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds them. And if Rob isn’t careful, Adri could end up in the crossfire…
How about a taste of the meet-cute?
Port St. Mary Elementary is only about two miles from home. It takes a grand total of eight minutes to drive there. Technically, it’s a one-room schoolhouse. The tiny twelve-space parking lot butts up against an octagonal building, which, in fact, is just one big room inside. In the exact center of the building are the bathrooms and storage closets, and from there, folding accordion partitions section off each wedge of the octagon. Each wedge is a grade level, kinder through sixth, and a multipurpose room. To the right of the parking lot is a doublewide “portable” that houses the school offices and small staff room. Behind that, children are already gathering in the playground, which is really just a weed-infested lot with a slide and jungle gym that has been there since before I started kindergarten here.
When I walk around the octagon to the door marked with a big yellow four and step inside, it’s like deja vu all over again. Mrs. Martin (she told me to call her Pam when we talked on the phone about the lesson plan yesterday, but I can’t bring myself to) has had the same posters on the walls since the dawn of time. The presidential chart ends with Reagan. She had already been teaching fourth grade in this same classroom for, like, twenty years when I had her.
I move to her desk, to the right of the door, and set my bag on it. And that’s when I see the note from Principal Richmond.
A new student.
I brush my palms down my slacks again, a fresh jolt of nerves twisting my insides into knots. I was already going to be way over my head with a classroom full of nine-year-olds fresh off Christmas vacation and all sugared up on candy canes.
I look over the instructions. Sherman William Davidson needs his reading comprehension assessment, writing and grammar evaluation, and his math skills worksheet completed by the end of the week.
I blow a wisp of hair off my forehead and unpack my toothpaste and toothbrush, my journal, and a few of my favorite colored pens into Mrs. Martin’s desk, careful not to displace her things too much. I’m just pulling the assessments for the new kid from the file cabinet when the classroom door opens. I hear Principal Richmond’s gravel voice before I turn around. “…and his classroom is here. We just got word a few days ago that our regular fourth grade teacher is out on medical leave, but Sherman will be in good hands with Ms. Wilson. She’s a very capable substitute.”
I take a deep breath as I turn and hope he’s not lying.
I substituted five times during fall semester. For the most part, everything went great until I subbed for Mrs. Yetz’s eighth grade class the week before winter break. Somehow, what started out as a math lab on probability devolved into a liar’s dice tournament, complete with money changing hands. I wasn’t sure they’d call me back after that.
But when I see Principal Richmond waddle his round frame through the door, I straighten the scarf I tied over my favorite teal sweater and try to look as confident in what he said as he does.
“Ms. Wilson,” he says, waving me over. “This is your new student, Sherman.”
Sherman is a wiry little thing with unruly brown hair and clothes that hang off him a little. He looks as if he’d vanish into himself if given the chance.
“He goes by Sherm,” the man standing next to him says.
I look up into some of the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen. Heavy dark brows curve over irises the color of honey with burgundy flecks through them. Thick brown waves are loose around a strong face with angled cheekbones, and a square jaw covered in two-day stubble. Set in flawless olive skin are lips so firm and red they make me forget the frown that’s turning them down slightly at the corners. He’s just so…gorgeous, like something out of a magazine or a movie. And he’s tall—well over six feet of broad shoulders tapering to narrow hips under his blue button-down shirt. The tails are loose over pressed jeans that fit him just so. Everything about him is tailored and cultured and nothing like any of the year-rounders who live on this bumpkin island. But it’s not just the way he looks. A blend of confidence and something else I can’t identify but makes him feel a little intimidating wafts off him with the spicy cologne I keep catching hints of. He’s nothing like anyone I’ve ever met, even at Clemson.
I feel my jaw dangling and snap it closed, pulling myself together long enough to extend an arm. “I’m Adri.”
Principal Richmond clears his throat, and when I flick a glance his direction, I know my ogling didn’t go unnoticed. His brow is deeply furrowed and his frown curves so low it makes him look like one of those marionettes, where their chin is a whole different piece of wood than the rest of their face.
My eyes bulge and I shift my outstretched hand to Sherm. “I mean, Miss Wilson. Welcome to Port St. Mary, Sherm.”
The boy just looks at me with sad eyes the color of his…father’s?
My gaze gravitates back to the guy towering over me. Could he be Sherm’s dad? He looks way too young to have a nine-year-old. He also looks all business. There’s nothing soft or nurturing in his cold, sharp gaze as it flicks around the classroom, silently assessing.
“What’s on the other side of those partitions?” he asks Principal Richmond.
“The third and fifth grade classrooms,” he answers.
The guy’s eyes continue to scan the room. “He’ll spend all day in here?”
The principal nods. “Except when he’s on the playground.”
“Is there security on campus?”
Principal Richmond looks momentarily perplexed, rubbing his round stomach as if he’s thinking with it. “Not as such. We have yard monitors during recess and lunch, and the teachers are responsible for the children when they’re here in class.”
“What about lunch?”
“He can bring his own lunch, or buy a bag lunch from Nutritional Services for three dollars. Either way, if it’s nice weather, the children eat outside at the picnic tables. On rainy days, we open the partitions and they eat inside as a group.”
The guy reaches into his pocket, but Principal Richmond holds up his hand to stop him when he comes out with a thick wad of cash. “We don’t allow students to carry money on campus. When we’re done here, I’ll take you to the office and have you purchase a scan card for Nutritional Services.”
The guy nods, then moves to the door and jiggles the knob. “The exterior doors are left unlocked?”
“During school hours, yes.” Principal Richmond answers, moving to my desk and shuffling through the papers I pulled for Sherm.
The guy’s full lips narrow into a tight line and he scowls at the door. He spins and starts toward the door in the back of the room, leaving no stone unturned.
I wipe my hands down my slacks again and decide just to ask. “So, you’re Sherm’s father?”
His feet stall on the chipped linoleum and he seems to finally notice I exist. “Brother,” he answers, and that one word seems to carry the weight of the world with it as it falls from his mouth.
His eyes make a slow sweep of my face, and as they trail down my neck, the front of my sweater, over my hips and down my legs, I’m frozen in place, paralyzed by the intensity of his gaze.
Principal Richmond shoves some papers in my face, breaking the spell. “You still have fifteen minutes until the bell. Maybe you can get Sherman started on these.”
“Um…” I grab the papers out of his hand as Big Brother blinks, some of the thickest lashes I’ve ever seen hiding those incredible eyes. “Yeah. We’ll do that…”
Principal Richmond guides Big Brother to the door. “Let’s get out of their way and let them get started. I’m sure Sherman will have a positive experience here. Children his age tend to adjust quickly,” he’s saying as the door swings closed behind them.
This is the first book in a new series about five siblings in the WITSEC program, escaping their crime lord family in Chicago. This first book details their new beginning in a sleepy Florida gulf coast town, and the love affair that rises between Rob–heir to a mafia empire and Adri, small town sheriff’s daughter.
Two weeks ago 25 y/o Rob Delgado killed a man who held his 9 y/o brother Sherm at gunpoint. He ran and entered witness protection, along with their sisters Lee and Ulie and brother Grant. Their father is already in Fed custody for racketeering, and Rob had managed their mafia empire until this power struggle broke out. His siblings are less than pleased with the upheaval in their lives, but it was either come along or never have contact with Rob and Sherm again. They came.
23 y/o teacher Adri’s been living at home with her father for the past six months–ever since her mom died suddenly. It’s not easy for them–there’s a lot of silence. That said, they have a good and loving bond, they’re simply wrapped in grief. Adri takes a substitute teaching job in the tiny town school, and her new student on her first day is Sherm. And she’s sure there’s a lot going on behind Sherm’s silence. Hearing that his parents are dead, well, that’s troubling. Even more troubling is Sherm later admitting that his dad’s in prison, and the timeline for his mother’s death is way off from his guardian’s (Rob’s) claims. Adri can’t pretend she’s not attracted to Rob–and Rob’s frustrated with his own attraction to Adri.
He can’t fall for a local, he tells himself. They could all be whisked away if danger follows them. Plus, Rob’s got a plan to restore the balance of power back in Chicago, and that could mean a normal life for his siblings, even at the expense of his own.
The story is interesting, though I felt the pacing was slow. I wanted there to be some resolution of any front: Rob’s interest in Adri, Adri’s interest in Rob, the plan to return to Chicago, all that–just a few chapters faster than when they came. There’s a lot of tension in the book–between Rob and his siblings, Rob and Adri, Rob and Adri’s uber-protective father and BFF, Chuck. It gets a bit draining when there’s no let up in the tension, actually. That said, the sexytimes, when they finally happened, were rather spectacular. Adri’s quite the sex kitten, which I liked. I wanted her to completely own that part of herself–especially as I wanted to throat punch her dad and Chuck for their Neanderthal-esque “gotsta protect the wimin” mentality.
Seriously, Adri’s dad’s abuse of police power was exasperating. I was five seconds from calling for an Inquiry.
That said, this is a good start to what seems to be an engaging series. I like the Delgados and I’m curious to see how all this drama plays out. I’m betting the next book will have a Romeo-and-Juliet storyline featuring Lee and a certain rival gangster…which is definitely intriguing.
Lisa Desrochers is the author of the USA Today bestselling A Little Too Far series and the YA Personal Demons trilogy. She lives in northern California with her husband, two very busy daughters, and Shini the tarantula. There is never a time that she can be found without a book in her hand, and she adores stories that take her to new places and then take her by surprise.