It's a well-crafted, character-driven romance (my favorite kind) with a memorable, distinctive couple. If you love contemporary romance with military heroes, here's a new author for your list.
My biggest problem with the book is with the hero's character, and to a lesser extent, the heroine's as well. Daughtridge portrays a man with a cold, hard shell, one who lets nothing stand in the way of his agenda... and I'm afraid she succeeds just a little too well.
It's not an unusual plotline: the unlikely hero, not looking for love nor believing himself worthy of love, finds a woman who can be instrumental in his plans. Intending only to use her, he finds himself in love-- but when she finds out what his original motives were, it all blows sky-high.
That's a paragraph that could describe at least a hundred romances that I've read in the last few years. It often works, though the scene or scenes where the heroine finds her way back to trust are really, really critical.
What works in this story is Caleb's care of Emmie from the very beginning. His attraction is real. His desire to protect her from hurt even as he uses her is real, if a bit delusional. By that I mean, he really doesn't want her to be hurt and even thinks he make her a little happier... but his ulterior motive-- to get close to someone else in her social circle-- is still more important.
Which brings me to what doesn't work, at least for me. Caleb's revenge plotline is muddy and fuzzy and doesn't have a satisfactory resolution. He just "gets over it." Whatever. Secondly, the subplot which serves to spill the beans to Emmie was a near-dealbreaking turn-off for me. There are things that heroes Just. Don't. Do. in romance -- they don't kick cats, they don't mock the unfortunate or knock over old ladies, and they don't do what Caleb does. They don't even consider it. Even though he changes his mind later, it was close to irredeemable for me.
Correspondingly, Emmie is a character set up as cerebral, bookish, logical, analytical. This is pretty appealing to me in many ways, but she can't be a robot, either. Her reaction to the above "black moment" just went wrong, wrong, wrong for me. I'm going to forgive it in this book though, because my sense is that the author had a very specific blueprint for the couples' characterizations, and these reactions, while rubbing me wrong, I can see why the author might have felt they were true to the character (though sadly sacrificing humanization instead). I'm interested to see what Daughtridge does with different blueprints.
Then, on a really minor note, there's this bizarre paranormal element that's introduced for no apparent reason. It has no purpose for the plot nor the characterization, as far as I could see. I can only presume it has a reason in the overall series arc. Annoying.
On the upside, Daughtridge does a good job switching POV between the two characters, and not mixing it up with anyone else. With maybe one exception, I could always tell whose head I was in, just from the voicing. Nicely done.
The sexual tension between these characters is excellent, simmering on low for a lot longer than the current norm. (I started to wonder if it was going to be one of those books where the bedroom door closes and opens in the morning on a happily-ever-after). But Daughtridge delivers the heat, pouring it on most satisfactorily where it moves the plot most effectively.
Finally, a favorite snip. There's an early scene, where Caleb and Emmie are getting to know each other, where he calls in his buddies and they execute a wedding cake construction mission with military precision:
Lon studied the photo of the cake taken before they'd dismantled it. "If we move the pumpkin three degrees to the left, I think we can cover the dent."
"That's going to widen the angle to the peaches."
"Right. But if we rotate the entire cake, the shift in triangulation will move the discrepancy into occlusion."
Davy carefully placed the marzipan pumpkin where Lon indicated using forceps from his medical kit.
"That's it. Now we rotate the cake. Three degrees. Everybody get in position and mark."
Hilarious. I know guys like this.
Romance Vagabond Challenge Score (link): 6
...Title Points: 0
...Cover Points: 3 (Mantitty, Cutoff Head, Body of Water)
...Plot Points: 3 (Military Hero, Hero from Wrong Side of Tracks, Bookish Heroine)
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