As I sat down to write my review of The Cowboy's Valentine by Donna Alward, I found myself going back to reread my review of Her Rancher Rescuer, which was the first Alward I read. It seemed, in my head, that these two books had a lot of similarities, even tho the plots were very different. When I read my review tho, I realized that they really had nothing in common, except that they FEEL the same. Both sets of characters deal with real issues in a grownup way. (And they are both on a ranch.)
So what's The Cowboy's Valentine about?
Coming home is hard enough without ranch manager Quinn Solomon making Lacey Duggan feel like an unwanted guest. She's only here until she figures out what to do with her one-third ownership of Crooked Valley. But Quinn's irresistible daughter is giving Lacey ideas about being part of a family. And though they don't even like each other, Lacey's having crazier notions about the widowed single dad.
Does Lacey think she can waltz in and turn Quinn's life upside down…only to leave again? The pretty accountant knows nothing about running a ranch, yet she's making the Montana homestead feel like a home. Quinn isn't looking for love again. Until a woman who's all heart and a determined little girl help one lovestruck cowboy see the light.
Lacey has recently returned to the ranch that she now owns 1/3 of with her brothers. She's lost her husband, her job and her home, and she's slightly mortified to be coming home to a ranch she doesn't even want. She's planning to lick her wounds for a few days, spruce up her resume, and get back to her life. She's not counting on sharing the house with Quinn, the ranch manager. Quinn has his own struggles, he's the single father to a 4 year old girl and he's desperately trying to keep their live as stable and predictable as possible. He had a great relationship with his dead wife (while she was alive!) and is reluctant to let that go. He and Lacey spar constantly, and fight their obvious attraction.
Of course, this being a romance novel, things eventually explode in a very realistic way. The two are unable to keep their hands off each other, but like adults sit down to talk out what should happen next. Surprisingly, Quinn is starting to realize that while he misses Maria, and he does mourn her, it's more of a comfortable habit than a deep pain. He's shocked to discover that he doesn't have to mourn her, he can choose to fall in love with another woman. Unfortunately for him, Lacey feels that her secret, and the reason for the end of her marriage, is too great a burden to share with Quinn and attempts to walk away. Outwardly she insists that she's trying to save Quinn from heartache, but Quinn is able to recognize that she's scared inside. And here's where the story gets great, Quinn doesn't storm off or write her off. He backs off a bit and waits. Wait what? That never happens in a romance novel! Usually the spurned half goes off to lick wounds and we need a big grovel scene to make up for it. That doesn't happen at all here. The reader still gets a satisfying resolution/ reunion but no one's pride gets injured. I admit it, I cried.
Alward's Harlequins have a way of tackling serious, believable issues in a adult way. I thought she handled Lacey's emotions around her secret (sorry, spoilers) very well. I could clearly see why Lacey would feel like she did. I could really see how grief could become a habit. I really enjoy this aspect of her books.
Were there any problems with the book or was this perfect? Of course there were problems, but they were minor. There was the problem with Quinn's wedding ring, which is in the way until it's never mentioned again, and the last sentence of chapter 13 threw me so far out of the story that I had to stop reading in the middle of an emotional part. It felt so out of character and out of place and such a stupid stereotype that that ONE sentence is the most memorable one in the entire book. I also firmly believed that Quinn would react in a completely different way to Lacey's secret- a much much worse, but I think plausible, way. I was so happy that he didn't, because it would have changed my opinion of Quinn as a reasonable person. Final verdict, not 5 stars, but still very very close.
The Cowboy's Valentine was published on February 3rd.