Donna Alward is an author I've been meaning to try for a while now - and hello? We have a rancher here. A hunky Canadian rancher with mountains of emotional baggage. Hell, I'm a mere mortal woman people. I can't possibly be expected to resist that. Baby on the cover or not.
Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle gives readers the ol' Found A Baby On My Doorstep trope. And while this trope does have a high probability for silliness, Alward takes it, infuses it with a nice dose of reality, and runs with it.
After years working on spreads owned by others, Wyatt Black has bought his own piece of land complete with a fixer-upper ranch house. He's working day and night, but decides to head back to the house one afternoon for a quick lunch break. And that's when he finds baby Darcy sitting on his front porch. Darcy is his half-sister's kid. They both share the same useless father. The difference being that Wyatt was acknowledged by the sperm donor, and Barbara wasn't. In turn, Wyatt had enough of is own problems (see: Useless Father) that he never had any sort of relationship with her. Now her baby is on his doorstep, Barbara is MIA, and Wyatt has a mountain of guilt. Oh, and there's the small matter that Wyatt don't know nothing about no babies.
Completely out of his element, and frankly more than a little desperate, he shows up on his next door neighbor's doorstep with crying baby in tow. Elli Marchuk is housesitting, and has already had one run-in with Wyatt. But now the man is on her doorstep with an infant (!). She simply cannot turn him away. Even if the baby scares her so much that she can't breathe.
What we have here is what I like to call a "traditional" romance. I happen to like these types of stories on occasion, and what makes this one work so well is that the author gives it some modern sensibilities. If this book had been written 40 years ago, Elli would have swooped in like Mary Poppins, charmed the baby, bagged the man, and ridden off into the sunset with a passel of beautific children running behind her singing Kumbaya. In this story, while Elli is what I call a "traditional" gal, her life is at a crossroads. Her marriage didn't have the firmest of foundations, and when tragedy struck, it crumbled. Then she lost her job. So she's housesitting for friends, taking accounting classes online, and trying to piece her life back to together. Then Wyatt shows up thinking that because she's a woman, well certainly she'll know what to do with a baby! Never mind the fact that while she does know more than he does, it's not like she's drowning in real life experience.
Wyatt is one of my favorite types of heroes. The guy who has no clue what the hell he's doing, but so desperately wants to do the right thing. It's hard not to be charmed by this man, or to have my girlie heart go all mushy at the thought of him protecting this defenseless child. He's strong, he's capable, and he's scared out of his mind. I wanted to take this guy home to meet my Mom.
The author makes this story work by giving her characters plenty of believable baggage and including a dollop of reality. A baby gets left on a doorstep, and when Barbara reappears that means Wyatt has to deal with social services (I don't know much about social services, but this seemed more believably handled here than it is in a lot of romances....which I admit isn't sayin' a whole lot). Elli is still grieving for a past tragedy and has dealt with it by not dealing with it. Wyatt is still stung by a screwed up childhood and his guilt over Barbara's situation. All of this works really well as conflict.
Now that being said, it all works so well that I wished this were a longer story. I tend to strongly dislike category romance reviews that say, "the book was too short blah blah blah" - but in this case, this one was. There were moments in this story that took place "off page" that I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for. Also there were more than a few moments when I felt the budding romance took a back-seat to the conflict. Between the baby and their baggage, it's not like the couple didn't have more than enough to worry about! That all being said, the author makes up for it by giving the reader emotionally-charged final chapters with ::happy sigh::, equally emotionally-charged dialogue. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't say I wished this had been published by Silhouette Special Edition or Harlequin SuperRomance.
I've always felt that traditional romance needs to have a place at the table when we're discussing the genre as a whole, and this latest for Alward is a fine example of a traditional story that didn't feel hopelessly "old-fashioned" or "outdated." Yes we have a baby on the doorstep, but dang if the author didn't make me believe every blessed word of this fictional tale. Wyatt and Elli both had their issues, but I loved that their pasts didn't keep them from finding their own happiness together.
Final Grade = B