September 2012, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373776888 Part of a series
After reading positive reviews of Ms. Dahl's books by other reviewers, I requested Close Enough to Touch. However, after a couple of chapters, I still hadn't connected with the characters. One reason is that I found little to admire about the heroine. She is the type that goes around with gigantic chip on her shoulder, determine not to trust or need anyone. And while she had valid reasons, it just made me think she needed group therapy more than a love affair.
Out on the streets as a teenager because she couldnít stand the revolving door of men in her motherís life or her motherís ingratiating behavior, Grace Barrett vows never to be like that. She is too smart to ever depend or need a manís help. Except she slips and does make herself over to please someone. It ends just as badly as she knew it would, strengthening the belief system formed from watching her motherís trainwreck relationships.
Still Grace is excellent at projecting a tough, "donít mess with me" attitude even when she is down on her luck. While she doesnít have any regrets about speaking up in defense of a battered victim, it has resulted in her being blackballed as a make-up artist from the sets in Hollywood. Now homeless she reaches out to her grandmother who then arranges for her to stay with her great-aunt Rayleen in Jackson Hole, Wyoming temporarily until her new job in Vancouver starts. Never close to her great-aunt, she is still surprised to find that Rayleen is the owner of a genuine authentic saloon and apartments humorously called the Stud Farm by the locals- since her aunt only rents to young, good-looking men. And it is there after having a meltdown that she meets fine-looking Cole Rawlins.
Cole is having his own crisis. He has been off work almost eight months after a horse fell on him breaking his leg and cracking his pelvis. He is going through the money that he planned to use to purchase Easy Creek, the ranch owned by his mentor, Easy. And his fears are growing that he will never be able to ride again or do the work necessary to run the ranch. Grace is the perfect distraction. He always had a thing for dangerous city girls even if he got badly singed thirteen years ago. With her black, brown and purple hair and combat boots, Grace undeniably is a challenge. But Cole, like Grace, is going to have to let go of his past and forgive himself for being human so that he can move forward. And that becomes more of a challenge when his past arrives back in town.
Grace to me is not really a likeable character as an adult. She seems more like a teenager with the descriptions of her small stature and build, and her arrested development. While she takes pride in the fact that she can be as big of a user as a man as far as sex is concerned, I felt like she needed time to grow into her skin. And because of her stunted emotional maturity even though she was the aggressor at times, I felt like Cole took advantage of her using sex to get her to open up rather than taking the time to let her learn to trust him. While their sexual encounters are hot, they seem more about power play Ėgetting the other to ask or beg. Initially, Cole is not attracted to her personality but her type. She is a challenge plus she reminds him of his youthful fatal attraction which made no sense to me. He hasnít forgiven himself for letting that supposed disaster come between him and his family and friends. Cole also doesn't seem to care that Grace is more likely to kick him in the teeth for any overture of kindness rather than accept it gracefully. He is jazzed by the hints of vulnerability that he glimpses which makes him more determined to win more from her.
Graceís rapid transformation and her ability to discard decades of mistrust happens within a month and I found that unbelievable. Also, I am not sure when punk wardrobes became synonymous with being the walking wounded in Romanceland, but this is the second book that I have reviewed with this type of token characterization.
The ending is sweet, but not being able to accept the viability of the relationship muted its impact. I suspect if you enjoy wounded characters and can suspend belief on their rapid transformation, then you will like this book more than I did. Otherwise I recommend giving it a pass.
-- Leigh Davis
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