The Book: In the Shelter of His Arms by Jackie Braun
The Particulars: Harlequin Romance #3840, 2005, Out of Print
Why Was It In The Bat Cave TBR?: Harlequin Romance author Liz Fielding stopped by the Bat Cave many moons ago and recommended this one to me. I ordered it from Paperback Swap and voila!
The Review: Oh man, Liz was right. This is a good book.
Roz Bennett has been dealt a pretty shitty hand. Abandoned as a toddler, bounced around the foster care system her entire childhood, and then unceremoniously given the boot at 18 - she has little education, no roots, no money, and now no car. Which is how Mason Striker (Best. Romance. Hero. Name. Ever!) finds her - walking along the side of a deserted road after her car breaks down. Roz has no money (which she is not about to tell this guy) and her concrete plans consist of "heading west."
Mason returned to his tiny hometown in Michigan's Upper Peninsula after his last attempt at rescuing a woman ended with a bullet in his shoulder. He's done rescuing people. Or so he thought. But something about Rose (as he takes to calling her) calls to him. Before you know it, he's hiring her as the new waitress at his bar and offering her the tiny apartment above his garage. And wouldn't you know it? He starts falling for her. But Rose's past is beyond complicated and messy. Our girl has baggage. Coupled with Mason's baggage, can these two crazy kids make a go of it?
What we have here kiddies is straight up rescue fantasy. Down on her luck heroine meets honest-to-goodness Mr. Nice Guy. But you know what? It works because Braun avoids the obvious pitfall. Rose doesn't need rescuing because she's Too Stupid To Live. No, our girl deserves to be rescued. She's a survivor. And if she had never met our hero, I have no doubt she'd keep on surviving. No, our girl deserves to be rescued. She deserves a romance, a home, a life.
Mason is classic Beta hero all the way. Patient. Understanding. But not a syrupy, sappy goody-goody. He knows what Rose needs, and he wants to help her, but he does so quietly. Given her background, Rose doesn't trust easily, and it's Mason's quiet way that helps to win her over. In turn, the reader isn't subjected to a lot of needless bickering between a blustering couple. Both of them are strong characters - just in different ways - and they compliment each other beautifully.
However, as great as the romance is, I found this story not entirely perfect. The biggest stumbling block was the hero's sister, who I would have happily throttled, shot, beaten, and run over with a SUV....uh, several times. She's one of those types that cheerfully brow-beats everyone around her with what she thinks "is best for them" because golly, she's right and they're completely clueless. To the hero's credit, he tells her a couple of times to back-off, but does this chick take the hint? OF COURSE NOT! Every time she showed up in this story my blood pressure spiked.
Also, I "get" that this is a Harlequin Romance book - which means if there is s-e-x it's behind closed doors. That's actually one of the elements I really like about this line. However, sexis interruptis - we haz it. Every romance reader knows what I'm talking about here. Hero and heroine start to get hot and heavy, then something (usually someone) has shitty timing and interrupts them. I suspect authors throw these moments in to "build tension" when as the reader all I manage to feel is annoyed that the inevitable is delayed. Admittedly, the fact that it was Annoying Sister Who I Wanted To Bludgeon Until I Saw Grey Matter doing the interrupting probably didn't help matters.
Have I mentioned how much I intensely loathed that woman?
The conflict in this story is pretty heavy stuff and there were moments when I couldn't help thinking "Gee, I wish this were a SuperRomance with a larger page count" - but Braun makes the hand work with the cards she's dealt. I also appreciated that while the heroine was from the wrong side of the tracks, and didn't have the rosiest of lives, she wasn't a bitter hissing cow or poor little orphan girl. She was vulnerable, but also tough enough to have survived on her own for so long. The hero is really the perfect foil for her, and watching him woo her in his own quiet way makes the romance all the more poignant. Yes, I had nit-picks, but man - what a nice, solid read. Thanks again Liz!
Final Grade = B+