Kandy Shepherd resulted in a DNF....out of boredom. For me, the kiss of death in category romance is boredom. The whole point of category is the short word count, the fast pace, and the hyper-aware focus on the romance. But the previous book I tried by Shepherd was so blah that I couldn't be bothered. Which would explain how Hired by the Brooding Billionaire, an ARC I've had on my Kindle since 2015 (!) is just now getting read. I was in the mood for a Harlequin Romance, my reading equivalent of comfort food, and opened this one to start reading not realizing who the author was. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. And you know what? It's not perfect, but I was engaged.
Shelley Fairhill is a horticulturalist/gardener and every day she walks past a magnificent home with a horribly neglected garden. Underneath the mess of overgrowth she knows there's a real gem yearning to be restored, so she screws up her courage to buzz at the front gate. The owner, Declan Grant, is a recluse and only buzzes her in because he's waiting on some computer parts and he thinks she's the courier finally arrived. Um, no. Needless to say he closes the door in her face, but not before she foists her business card off on him.
Turns out it doesn't take all that long for Shelley to hear back from Declan. She thought the ship hadn't sailed so much as sunk at the dock. But turns out his posh neighbors aren't too pleased with the overgrown garden and Declan has money to throw at the problem to make it go away. So he calls Shelley and immediately finds himself enchanted with her.
I really liked these characters. Shelley is my kind of girl. 5'10", strong, working a physically demanding job that requires less than appealing work wear and constantly overlooked. Her last relationship ended so disastrously (Steve failed to mention that he was already married) that she's sworn off men and has plans to use her big pay day from Declan to travel. Declan is a game designing wunderkind, having sold his Lara Croft-like creation at a young age basically making him a gazillionaire. He was married and adored his wife, Lisa. She died immediately following childbirth, as did their newborn daughter, Alice. Declan blames himself and continues to mourn - hence the whole living like a hermit in his magnificent house and letting the garden go to hell.
This is a pretty straight-forward romance that gets dinged on execution. The author has a tendency to get stuck in the weeds (ha!) and there's a lot of gardening goo-gah here that feels like filler. It takes a while for the romance to get moving because Shelley is rhapsodizing over the garden and Declan finds himself creatively energized by Shelley to the point where he starts designing a new gaming heroine. Once the gardening stuff settles down to a dull roar, the story picks up steam and I really liked the ending. I suspect some readers may feel like Shelley overreacts (I don't think she did). She basically has to draw her line in the sand. She loves Declan but she can't spend her life trying to heal a grieving man who cannot let go of the past out of guilt. It's the choice Declan makes at the end, how he chooses to take those first steps towards dealing with his grief and his guilt, that were quite memorable. It's not something we see a lot of in romance novels, let alone in our romance heroes.
No, it's not perfect. The gardening porn was a bit much and the pacing dragged in the early chapters. However I really liked these characters and was ultimately charmed by them. Comfort food indeed.
Final Grade = B-