Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge #6
Published by HQN Books on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
The prodigal son of Copper Ridge, Oregon, has finally come home
The man who ruined Rebecca Bear's life just strolled back into it with one heck of an offer. Years ago, Gage West's recklessness left Rebecca scarred inside and out. Now he wants to make amends by gifting her the building that houses her souvenir store. Rebecca won't take Gage's charity, but she's willing to make a deal with the sexy, reclusive cowboy. Yet keeping her enemy close is growing dangerously appealing…
He's the wild West brother, the bad seed of Copper Ridge. That's why Gage needs the absolution Rebecca offers. He just didn't expect to need her. After years of regretting his past, he knows where his future lies—with this strong, irresistible woman who could make a black sheep come home to stay…
This is a challenging book. I mean that in the sense that it grabs the reader by the throat at the beginning, and doesn’t let go until the very end.
This also isn’t an easy story in a whole lot of ways. Our heroine begins the story brittle and scarred. Our hero has been her “monster in the closet” for well over a decade. He inflicted those scars. It’s over the course of the story that Rebecca discovers that, while Gage was most definitely the cause of her physical scars, the way that she has waved those scars as a flag, or used them as a whip and a chair to keep other people from getting too close, is pretty much all on her.
And while she is the one who carried all of the physical pain, Gage left with plenty of scars of his own. It’s just that all of his are on the inside. And even more self-inflicted, in more ways than one.
The beginning of this story happened long ago. Way back when Rebecca was a pre-teen and Gage was the town’s self-indulgent golden boy. He was also 18, making him young, dumb and too full of himself and testosterone. There’s a reason that teenage boys and cars are so frequently a dangerous mix.
Gage was playing “chicken” with his equally young and dumb friends, and crashed into an oncoming car. The car containing Rebecca and her mother. Gage and Rebecca’s mother both walked away with a few scratches, but Rebecca was carried out torn and twisted. Her needs and her rehabilitation drove her mother away. If her brother, barely 21, hadn’t stepped up, she’d have ended up in the foster care system or worse.
Gage’s father made it all go away. He paid off the family, and no charges were ever pressed. Gage ran away, and stayed away, for 17 years. Long enough for Rebecca and his siblings to grow up, and for his father to get old. He only comes back to fix his father’s surprisingly empty finances when the old man has a stroke.
So he decides to fix everything broken he left in Copper Ridge, starting with Rebecca. There’s an immediate problem with his plan – Rebecca doesn’t see herself as broken at all, and wants absolutely nothing to do with the man who she believes ruined her life.
And Gage refuses to take into account that the most broken person of all in this mess is Gage himself. His plan is to ride in, fix everything, and leave, never letting anyone else get close to him. He’s certain that’s what he deserves.
But Rebecca challenges him at every turn. She doesn’t want his money, she doesn’t need his help. She’s made a success of her life, owning her own store and her own house, having taken her determination to get beyond her injuries and make her own life.
But Gage continues to push, and Rebecca keeps pushing back. It is a very, very short distance between hate and love, especially when the person you’ve hated is just a monster in the closet, and the real flesh and blood person is so much more.
A relationship that should never have been helps Rebecca see into her broken places. Not the physical ones, but the emotional wounds she carries inside. And bringing those wounds into the light makes her whole, whether Gage is willing to go there with her, or not.
Escape Rating A-: There’s a grit to this story, and the character of Rebecca, that reminds me a whole lot of the utterly awesome, and incredibly hot After Hours by Cara McKenna. I’m not totally sure why, but it does. So if you like the one, you’ll probably like the other.
Rebecca’s character is what makes this story so good. We see inside her, and it’s not a pretty place. There’s nothing horrible, but she’s become much, much too good at keeping people at a distance. She’s afraid to let anyone close out of the fear that they might leave just the way her mother did. So she’s walling herself off from an emotional life. While there certainly is some truth that in a society that judges women on their appearance her scars might put some men off, she also keeps herself from developing close female friendships. She doesn’t let anyone in. And people who know her history let her have her way. She uses their pity at the same time she rejects it.
When Gage bursts into her life, she is forced to rethink many of her assumptions. Not just the ones about him, but the ones she has made about herself and everyone else. She finally figures out that her hatred of him, and her anger at her mother’s abandonment, aren’t hurting either of them. They are just holding her back. That she learns to let go, for her own sake and not for theirs, is the lesson of the book.
However, Gage holds himself back during the entire story. We don’t see the real him, or his real emotional state (which is a mess) until very, very late in the story. So he never becomes as strong a hero as she is a heroine. In some ways, he’s the rock that she dashes herself upon until she finally cracks open and lets all the bad stuff out. She needs that, but it it leaves his character and motivations a bit lacking.
There’s one final thought I want to leave you with. Something that Rebecca says near the end of the book has a great deal of resonance, not just for this story, but for life in general.
“Don’t hide it. And don’t pretend it isn’t there. That’s how we make monsters… By hiding ordinary things in the closet and letting them feed off the darkness.”
Rebecca lets the light in, no matter how much it hurts. That’s a big part of what makes her awesome.
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