Claire Bradford’s most vivid memories of her best friend’s younger brother are of a pesky little boy who delighted in teasing and tormenting her and his sisters and of a teenage bad boy who set the town of Hope’s Crossing on its ear. But, after fifteen years of distinguished police service (mostly undercover) in Oakland, Riley has returned home to take the position of Police Chief and Claire is stunned to discover that the pest of her youth has turned into a gorgeous, sexy man who makes her tingle in all the places that have been silent since her husband divorced her and married his 23-year-old receptionist.
His voice was a low rasp in the kitchen. Before she could stir her brain to function, to speak or move away or something, he reached out a roughened thumb and caressed her jawline. Heat surged through her, wild and fluttery, and she wanted to lean into his skin like her silly dog nudging her hand for more petting.
“Claire,” he said softly, and then his whole hand curved around her chin and he tugged her forward slightly and kissed her.
His mouth was hard, warm and tasted of the outdoors. Beautiful and slightly wild. He didn’t rush the kiss, his mouth just barely moving on hers, and everything inside her seemed to sigh a welcome.
She felt as if she had been frozen solid for years, as if she had been waiting like the mountains for the sun to finally come out after long days of darkness. She closed her eyes, relishing the scent and the taste of him, the strength and heat of his fingers, the brilliant, delicious heat bursting through her.
I love that scene. It’s their first kiss and doesn’t come until the middle of the book. There’s plenty of sexual tension in this story and while the actual content is mild, the depth of emotion is intense.
Riley steps back into Claire’s life while investigating a string of burglaries in Hope’s Crossing, including one at Claire’s bead shop, String Fever. (Don’t you just love that name?) The attraction between the two is immediate but both are reluctant to act upon it. Claire really doesn’t have time for romance what with her business, her children, her annoying mother and trying to balance a somewhat awkward relationship with her ex-husband and his perky, pregnant, young wife. Then a tragic car accident forces Claire to slow down and accept help from others instead of always being the one giving – and the one offering the help most often is Riley.
Riley has never had a sustaining relationship with a woman since the day his father walked out on his mother, his five sisters and him when he was only thirteen. He knows Claire’s too good for him, and even if he didn’t, there are plenty of people in town willing to remind him of that, especially her mother. Plus, she’s the last person on Earth he’d ever want to hurt. But, despite all that, he can’t stay away from her. He genuinely likes her and her children and finds himself becoming attached to them all. But people in small towns have long memories and some who knew him as a teenage hellion refuse to see the man he’s become. They blame him for the accident that impacted so many local families, including his own. Truthfully, he blames himself though, in fact, it was not his fault. Still, the pain and resentment threaten to tear apart this small town unless someone finds a reason to bring them together again and remind everyone of the joy to be found in helping –and accepting – one another.
Claire and Riley are characters that will be residing in my mind and my heart for a long time to come. They are both people I’d like to have as friends. I love their flaws, their insecurities and vulnerabilities, and also their strengths. It makes them real. It was such a joy to watch them grow throughout the story and open their hearts to the possibility of love.
The secondary characters in this story create a fascinating tapestry of small-town life and remind me of my own childhood community. Claire’s mother in particular is a complex character that I wanted to slap many times (and, believe me, I’m not one prone to violence) and yet I found myself reluctantly warming to her (just a bit) toward the end of the book. It’ll be interesting to see if she’s allowed further growth in future books (I wanted major groveling in this one but it wouldn’t have been true to her character). Holly (Claire’s ex-husband’s new wife) is a refreshing departure from the typical trophy wife depiction. While young, at times self-centered and often completely clueless, she has a good heart, is genuinely fond of Claire and it was hard to dislike her, though at times I did want to shake some sense into her. There are many other fascinating residents of Hope’s Crossing and secondary loose ends that Ms. Thayne has left dangling. I hope that means she’ll be taking us back there soon for another visit.
The Romance Dish
Review Courtesy of The Romance Dish