Honeymoon With The Rancher, the latest release from Donna Alward, features character-types that haven't worked for me in the past. On the surface you've got the pampered, spoiled princess and the grouchy Alpha male determined to knock her down a few pegs. The difference with this story is that the author takes us well beyond those first initial, and extremely superficial, impressions. Even as both characters jump to conclusions about each other on their first meeting, you can also see the light behind their eyes. The "Ahhh, there's more here than meets the eye" kind of light.
Sophia Hollingsworth is perfectly coiffed, manicured and polished, and was all set to marry Mr. Upwardly Mobile when she catches him in bed with his mistress. The worst of it is that Mr. Not-So-Right didn't see anything wrong with this. Sophia was a means to an end. A young, vibrant, stylish bit of arm candy to hang on the arm of Mr. Upwardly Mobile. This splash of cold water leads Sophia to do something impulsive. Namely go on their planned honeymoon in Argentina alone. But when she arrives, she gets more than she bargained for. Namely a working ranch with one sexy cowboy in residence!
Tomas Mendoza takes one look at Sophia's stilettos and thinks he's knows exactly what sort of woman he's dealing with. He tries to explain to her that there has been a fire at the ranch, and that her reservation was canceled, but the stubborn piece of fluff won't budge. At an impasse, and with his business partners who normally deal with the guests away on vacation, he agrees to let her stay on until they get back to sort out the mess. But he warns her it's not going to be Club Med, thinking maybe that will get her out of his hair. Little does he know.
This story is very heavy on internal conflict. In fact, it's all internal conflict. Sophia has spent her whole life being told what to do, what to wear, and what sort of life she should aspire to. She's almost like a packaged product, right down to the fake smile she plasters on her face when she arrives on Tomas' doorstep. Taking her honeymoon trip was completely impulsive, a childish way to get back at her traitorous fiance', but when she's honest with herself, she knows she's taking this trip to find herself. She doesn't know who she is. Being at the ranch makes her feel one part useless and two parts silly, but in a way it allows her to confront herself. Who is she and what does she want?
Tomas became a partner at the ranch because it was a place to hide and lick his wounds. He's still hiding away from the world, abandoning the life of privilege that he grew up in, but the ranch does bring him peace. It's the one place that truly feels like home to him. That said, he's got a mountain of baggage and self-blame that he's been lugging around with him. Hiding out in the middle of nowhere allows him to not deal with any of it, until Sophia shows up with her smile, her innocent determination, and dang if he's not attracted to her.
Given the nature of the internal conflict (namely Tomas') I suspect some readers will wish this was a longer story - in order to be "convinced" that he's really moved on and is ready for Sophia. Also, there is a fairly short time frame in this story (about a week), that might have some readers balking. It all worked well for me though. If this story were much longer, I think all the internal angst would just be way too exhausting, and even with all the baggage, I really do think that Tomas and Sophia will find happiness together. I also appreciated how Sophia's inexperience in some matters (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) was handled. It didn't feel like a forced trope here. More a part of who she was, a by-product of what her life had been like and the uncertainty she felt about herself before coming to Argentina.
This is really a lovely story with a wonderful sense of place. I loved the exotic feel of the Argentina country-side, and the angst-fueled internal conflict kept the tension running high between the romantic couple. An enjoyable, one-sitting read.
Final Grade = B
Note to Harlequin's Art Department: I really do like the idea behind this cover, but honestly? If that guy is Hispanic I'm the bloomin' Queen of England. Just sayin'.