Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29819-8
Historical Romance, 2015
Put yourself in heroine Meredith Connolly’s shoes and tell me whether you can even pretend to fall in love with Sheriff Hunter Donovan.
More than seven years ago, they were in a romance, but then her father was accused of a crime he never committed. Hunter was told by his mentor to look deeper into the matter, but he couldn’t – lacking brainpower, I’d wager, judging from his actions in this story – so he arrested that man and the judge found the man guilty. Hunter then dumped Meredith, telling her harshly that she was not good enough for him. He never even told her when her father died in jail. Meredith left town to be cared for by an aunt.
Today, she comes back to Salvation Falls, having spent the bulk of the money she inherited from her late aunt to start life anew and to find a way to clear her father’s name. At the same time, another man related to the crime seven years ago ends up in Hunter’s jail, and he becomes suspicious about the timing of both characters’ appearance back in town. Of course, he also finds himself attracted to the heroine still and even feeling a degree of remorse for how he treated her back then, but the moment he opens his mouth, harsh words fly – the kind a horrid man would say to a dog he particularly despises – and he even invades her personal space, acting all intimidating and mulish. I suspect I’m supposed to have my alpha male radar switched on by all this “fun” stuff and need a change of underwear? Sorry, I’m no longer a teenager – I’m not so easily bowled over by cute assholes, alas.
Throughout the story, Hunter is never her ally. He keeps secrets from her for no reason other than he doesn’t trust her (while at the same time going, oh, oh, why can’t she trust him and you know, I can’t imagine why anyone won’t trust him at all!), makes life hard for her because he’d rather listen to people who are obviously hiding something as doing so would prevent him from confronting the fact that he had abetted the framing of an innocent man and broken the daughter’s heart afterward before abandoning her, and is even a flop at protecting her because he trusts the same transparent villains to not harm her and so turns his back on her and lets her get shot at. Marvelous.
This behavior goes all the way to the last few pages, and he never grovels or begs for the heroine to forgive him or anything like that. And this is one story where the hero needs to do some debasing show of humility as he has really done the heroine great harm due to his own stupidity and pride. If the heroine turned out okay in spite of what he and the others did to her, it had nothing to do with him at all. More bizarre is how the hero beats himself up inside his head far more for what he did to the heroine (how he treats the heroine despite his occasional twinges of remorse or guilt, though, is a different story) – Meredith often acts like Hunter had done her nothing worse than the usual big misunderstanding or secret baby or other played out “why they broke up a while back” plot device.
Now, you can say, “Oh, that poor darling is just a sweetheart, like one of those sweet orphans who would tell the people burning her at the stake that she forgives and loves them because she knows how, deep inside, they are all good people.” Well, even if I can bring myself to agree with you, that still makes Meredith a grade A super dunce in my book. Seriously now, can you even imagine these two characters happily in love after all that history between them? Maybe it’s possible, if the hero actually shows more remorse to her instead of behaving like some contrived alpha male-wannabe who treats the heroine’s determination to clear her father’s name like it’s an inconvenience she deliberately designed to vex him. Too bad it’s the other way around here.
Still, one thing saves this book: the whole mystery behind what really happened seven years ago is actually pretty intriguing. That part of the story is handled pretty well by the author, as there is enough suspense and tension to keep me wanting to turn the page. In many ways, this is a far better adventure-mystery story than romance, although even that is marred a little by the fact that the hero is as smart as a sack of rotten turnips.
As a romance novel, Salvation in the Sheriff’s Kiss – that title is such a joke – barely scrapes by with a two-oogie rating from me, but as a suspense-mystery thing, it’s entertaining enough to get a four-oogie score. Average that, and I think a three-oogie rating is a fair one for this book. Still, if you are looking for grand romance, approach this one with extreme caution.