Can't you see it? This is a big land. It needs big dreams, not meddlesome busybodies trying to bind us all to drab little lives. Breath deeply, Emma, spread your wings. On the frontier you'll learn to fly."
Frankly any author who can write that does not deserve an F. I'm not going to name names here, but the F rated review I read on another romance review site for Alice Valdal's Her One And Only was harsh. Having slogged through the latest westerns by Bobbi Smith and Nan Ryan earlier this year I can say with certainty that this second novel reads like a dream in comparison. That is until her characters have sex. More on that in a bit.
Emma Douglas was once a lady living a comfortable life in San Francisco. Then her banker father is accused of embezzling and when he is found shot dead it is ruled a suicide. Gossiping tongues start wagging, and Emma is having doors slam in her face. Only wanting to start over and flee the gossip, she takes a job as the schoolmarm in tiny Prospect, British Columbia. At first she resents these new circumstances, but eventually warms to the frontier, independent lifestyle. She even becomes friends with her prickly landlady! Too bad she can't shake the insufferable Grey North.
Grey runs the only respectable hotel in town, and even though he has vowed never to marry he still has marriage-minded females dogging his heels. So he proposes a fake courtship to Emma saving them both from unwanted attention from the opposite sex. Her reception to this plan is chilly at best, but Grey is nothing but charming and determined. Then Emma's past comes calling necessitating them to travel back to San Francisco.
So we're moving along pretty good here. The story is pleasant. Neither great nor awful. Emma is prickly at first, but she shows growth over the course of the story. Grey is a bit of an enigma but he's charming. La de da. We're going along just fine.
Then the sex happens. It totally ruins everything! First they do it while Grey is half out of his mind with delirium. Talk about an over the top cliche! Then when he comes to and realizes that his who-who fell into her cha-cha he morphs into a raging asshole accusing Emma of trying to trap him into marriage! Never mind that he's been preaching to her the whole damn book that she should throw aside tiresome societal rules. When she throws away The Big Rule, it's Grey who freaks out! Oh and did I mention that Emma doesn't want to marry this Neanderthal but he orders her in no uncertain terms that they will marry because she no longer has a hymen? Like I said, so much for thumbing your nose at society.
Emma's response to this behavior is to run away. Normally this would be too-stupid-to-live behavior in my book, but frankly the poor girl had no choice. Any more time wasted in Grey's insufferable company and she would have to shoot him - then she'd be arrested and she'd never learn the truth about her father's death. Plus by this point she's really gotten a taste for the frontier life and gives it back to this jackass with both barrels. Bless her heart.
Of course Grey continues to be a moron until his mother (a wonderful character!) tells him what an asshole he is and he scurries off to find Emma, grovel and propose on bended knee. But not before Emma tells him again what an asshole he is. Bless her heart.
So what started out as a very strong C+/B- read ends up morphing into a C-. Oh well. There's enough promise here that I'll read Valdal's next novel. And I'll say it again - nowhere near an F and the scathing review is just plain wacky. But what do I know?