Beauty And The Brooding Boss by Barbara Wallace over at The Good, The Bad And The Unread. I had a mixed reaction. I had my issues with it, but it wasn't an outright stinker. So when I was approached about reviewing the author's next book, The Heart of a Hero - I jumped all over it. I'm glad I did.
Zoe Hamilton has moved into her family's rundown island cottage off the coast of Massachusetts to get over a nasty divorce. She learned the hard way that her wannabe golf pro ex was only interested in her money. A syndicated advice columnist, to say Zoe's doubting her judgment is an understatement. The tiny island community holds fond childhood memories for her, so escaping there seems the perfect solution. Well, until she meets her surly next door neighbor at any rate.
Jake Meyers is ex-military and has hidden himself away on the island out of guilt. Suffering from combat trauma and PTSD, living in a cottage next to a rental property was the ideal situation for him. Vacationers tend to offer a wave and a smile, and then leave you the heck alone. So having Zoe and her obnoxious dachshund next door (why won't that dog stay in his own freakin' yard?), is not welcome at all. But dang it all if she doesn't worm her way under his skin. Especially when she comes sniffing around looking for a handyman, and wouldn't you know he's the only one (literally) on the island?
There were so many elements to this story that really worked for me. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for a wounded hero, and Jake's trauma leapt off the page for me. I know PTSD ex-military heroes aren't exactly rare in Romance Novel Land, but what I really liked here is that the author doesn't give the reader pat solutions to Jake's issues. In other words, the love of a good woman does not miraculously "cure" him. Meeting Zoe, and later developing a relationship with her, does not stop his nightmares. His flashbacks don't suddenly evaporate into thin air.
I liked that Zoe was unsure of herself after her divorce, but also that she was tenacious. Her main stumbling block is that she loves to be "needed." And because of this, she married a man who took advantage of her, who was only interested in what she could do for him. Jake is a puzzle she's intrigued by, and dang if she doesn't want to solve him. Is she pushy? Yes. Is that exactly what Jake needs? Yes. I loved that she didn't tap-dance around him. I loved that she didn't let him wallow. I loved that she confronted him. Oh man, does she ever confront him!
The author does a very lovely job with the setting and even offers up a secondary character in the form of Zoe's canine companion Reynaldo. I would have liked more of a mention of Jake's family, and even with this being the "just kisses" Harlequin Romance line - I think I would have liked a love scene here, even a PG-rated one, to illustrate Jake being ready to take that plunge into emotional investment. But still, it's a lovely read, with some lovely, quiet moments punctuated with emotional intensity.
Final Grade = B+