When I tell readers that they can often find innovative and interesting heroines in category romance, I am sometimes met with eye-rolling and scoffing. While certainly category romance has been known to reinforce traditional female stereotypes and play up Rescue Fantasy storylines, that doesn’t mean that is all there is to the format. Case in point, this latest book by Melissa McClone. On the surface the author appears to give readers a fairly standard romance for the Harlequin Romance universe, but dig a little deeper? And the heroine is totally kick-ass.
Becca Taylor was 18 when she got nabbed by the police and spent time in prison. Hers is a story not uncommon among female prisoners – which is she hitched her wagon to the wrong man. After three years she’s out and determined to make something of her life. The problem? People aren’t exactly lining up to give her a second chance – although she does get one from Gertie Fairchild. Gertie founded a very successful cosmetics company (Fair Face), but now in her later years her passion is dogs. She hires Becca to look after her dogs (some pure breeds, some rescue) and take them around the dog show circuit. Gertie and Becca are also developing a line of dog skin-care products, which is where the grandson, Caleb Fairchild, comes in.
Caleb is not a believer in his grandmother’s latest passion. He’s also concerned about this Becca person, who seems to have infiltrated his grandmother’s life so completely. With his own wastrel father dead, Caleb is the one all the family responsibilities fall to. He’s the one running the company. He’s the one looking after Grams and his wild-child baby sister. He’s not about to let some interloper behind the family curtain to take his grandmother for a ride.
What follows is pretty standard fare – Caleb decides to stick close to Becca because he doesn’t trust her. For her part, Becca thinks she knows exactly the kind of man Caleb is. She’s trailer-trash and he’s just another guy with a silver spoon jammed up his butt. Naturally both characters are totally wrong about each other and spend the rest of the novel realizing not only how wrong they are but becoming smitten.
What ultimately elevates this story from just a nice, pleasant read, though, is Becca. I love this girl. I mean, I really love her. I love that she is a straight shooter. I love that when Caleb confronts her about her past she doesn’t slink away or throw a tantrum. She lays it all out for him, honestly, albeit hesitantly. And in the end when Caleb is, naturally, a stupid jerkface to her? When he hurts her feelings and essentially runs amok over them? She doesn’t run off in the corner to cry her eyes out. Oh no! She confronts him. She tells him he’s a jackass. She, in not so many words, essentially tells him that he’s nowhere near good enough for her and that he’s an asshole.
Where has Becca been all my life and how can I go about cloning her?
Yes, the story is nice, the secondary characters interesting, and there’s plenty of doggie-stuff for dog-lovers, but it’s the ending that really makes this book. Because the heroine stands up for herself, because she calls the hero out? Yeah, that makes his grovel that much more fantastic. And glory be, how wonderful it is to finally read a heroine who, while upset over the hero’s thoughtless actions, doesn’t sequester herself in her apartment crying her eyes out. No, she’s still out there, living her life, working dog shows, trying to build her own life. If Caleb hadn’t of come to his senses, I was all set to marry her – even if it meant I was going to have to live with dog hair all over everything.
His pinstripe suit is normally his armor…
Becca Taylor has worked hard to overcome her troubled past and start a new life. But when Caleb Fairchild marches into her life, the instant attraction between them is the last thing she needs!
CEO Caleb has learned the hard way not to suffer fools and to be careful of whom to trust. Why should Becca, gorgeous as she is, be any different? But he can’t help but be drawn to her, to want to get close to her. So when her secrets are blown out into the open, betrayal seems inevitable. Unless the truth can start to crack the iron walls he’s built around his heart…