Sometimes, a girl just needs a trashy romance novel on a rainy night, but I'm not sure this was the trashy romance novel I needed.
The storyline was okay, I suppose. Young, fiercely independent single mom Elissa Towers lives with her young daughter Zoe, making it on her own with no family to help, save for her elderly neighbor, who helps watch Zoe while Elissa works. Elissa has sworn off men until Zoe is out of the house, but then former U.S. Marine Walker Buchanan moves in upstairs, and the sparks begin to fly. But Walker has sworn off women, choosing instead to focus on finding the girlfriend of the buddy who took a bullet for him in Afghanistan, and so the two form a sort of tenuous, tentative friendship. Insert family meddling, family drama (Walker's grandmother is a piece of work and kind of a horrible old lady), a precocious five year old, an old lady neighbor who wants to play matchmaker, and Walker and Elissa have no choice, of course, but to wind up together.
Of course there has to be conflict, though, and there is. Walker's grandmother threatens to slut-shame Elissa, but she conveniently has a heart attack and is banished to the hospital for the rest of the book. Walker is haunted by the ghosts of the past; not only is he reliving the sights and sounds of war, but he's also still carrying guilt for leaving his dying girlfriend when they were seventeen, so of course this makes him unsuitable for consumption. And Elissa is hiding from Zoe's father, a sometime musician and sometime drug addict who turns up just often enough to give her grey hair and clean out her savings account.
But when Elissa's ex winds up back in town and beats up Elissa (and Zoe, by the way, which I really didn't feel comfortable with, not that any of those scenes were comfortable but beating up Zoe just felt like it went a bit too far; this is a romance novel, after all - the genre isn't really known for this type of stuff happening), Walker saves the day and all is right with the world, and of course they live happily ever after, complete with a truly bizarre scene in the hospital where Walker confirms to Zoe that he's her daddy now. Without, you know, consulting Elissa, which as the mama of a young girl (she's older than Zoe but still a kid), really set my teeth on edge. If Mike Rowe offered to marry me, I'd jump on that in a heartbeat, but the minute he announced to my daughter that he's her daddy now? Sorry, Mikey, but you're out. Hell, that holds true for even Jamie Fraser. Leave my kid out of it. That's a conversation that I have with her, not you. Make no mistake about that, buddy.
Maybe I haven't read a contemporary romance in a while, but lots of other things bothered me with this story, although I can't quite put my finger on them. There were also an an awful lot of B-stories, which I'm sure are there to set up others in the series (thanks a lot, Nora Roberts, for starting that trend), and maybe that's part of it. And, honestly, Walker didn't really do it for me. I mean, I'd love to have a strapping young Marine change my tire (shirtless) while I watched (and drooled), but it didn't seem like there was a whole lot more to Walker. Sure, he was nice, and sensitive, and all those things, but... I don't know. He just seemed kind of simple. I think I just like my men a little bit more complicated.