Dear Ms. Burton:
Generally speaking, small town romances work for me only in small doses, but given that I’m a big fan of your writing, I was immediately intrigued when I read the excerpt of Hope Flames. Emma Burnett has returned to the town she grew up in equipped with her veterinary license, a ton of college debt and a new veterinary practice. When Officer Luke McCormack comes into her office one evening, just as she’s closing up with his police dog, Boomer, Emma is immediately attracted. Boomer sprained his leg in pursuit of a suspect, and Luke wants him looked at right away. Emma and Luke engage in some very light flirtation, but neither are looking for any sort of relationship, so they leave it at that.
Luke is four years out from a disastrous marriage to a woman who seemed to be everything he wanted, right up until they got married, and she decided she didn’t want a cop for a husband, didn’t want to live on Luke’s family’s ranch, and certainly didn’t ever want children. To say he’s gun-shy would be an understatement. He’s all about finding a nice girl, showing her a good time, and ending things on friendly terms. For her part, Emma is back in town after fleeing an emotionally abusive relationship where she completely lost her sense of self for a man. She’s determined to never fall in love again, and certainly never allow any man to have any sort of hold on her.
But the light flirtation has made Luke wonder about Emma. She’s certainly gorgeous, and smart and funny. When she calls one night as a break-in is in progress in her clinic, Luke is the first on the scene. The suspect got away, but Luke likes the feel of Emma in his arms, so he asks her out as friends:
“Let me take you out.”
Her head jerked up and her gaze met his. “What?”
Yeah, what exactly. He couldn’t believe he’d said that. But now that he had . . .
“You heard me. Let me take you out. We’ll go out somewhere and eat. Use forks and knives. Have a nice conversation and a drink. Then I’ll take you home, walk you to your front door, and call it a night.”
She had this wary look on her face that would have made him laugh if he wasn’t sure she was taking this so seriously.
He grinned at her. “Well, that’s not how I usually do it, but for you, sure. That’s it.”
She frowned. “How do you . . . usually do it?”
“Look, Emma. I’m not the dating type. But I like you. And I can see you want to ease into this. I want to help. I want to be your friend.”
Her gaze narrowed. “My friend.”
“But I’m not your type.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You implied I wasn’t the type of woman you typically did . . . whatever it is you do with women, since you just said you’re not the dating type.”
He resisted rolling his eyes. This is why he didn’t like having extended conversations with women. It usually led to him getting in trouble for something he said that he didn’t really say, but the woman thought he meant what he didn’t say in the first place.
Women drove him crazy.
“I didn’t imply anything. I just asked you out on a date.”
She crossed her arms, only this time it was in irritation, not defensiveness. “I don’t need a pity date, Luke.”
Shit. Foot-in-mouth struck again. “I don’t pity you. I like you.”
“You already said that. As a friend, of course.”
He clenched his jaw. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“No. I love being your BFF. It’s exactly how I want you thinking of me. Thanks for the offer, Luke, but I’ll pass. If you have any more problems with Boomer, don’t hesitate to call me.”
Needless to say, Luke leaves. But he can’t stop thinking about how much he genuinely likes Emma. Despite her frustration with him, Emma likes him too. They have a lot in common, and they finally agree to go to a minor league baseball game with their dogs on a non-date date. They have a blast, and at the end of the date, Emma invites him in for dinner. Next thing you know, they’re all over each other. Of course, Luke isn’t looking for a commitment, nor is Emma. But they so enjoy each other’s company, and next thing you know, Luke is having dinner with Emma’s parents, and going to her vet clinic’s adoption day, and inviting her to his family’s ranch. Being that they’re both adults, they recognize quickly that the attraction might be more than “just” dating. They don’t run from it, they step cautiously into building a relationship.
I really liked this book. As I stated above, I like small town romances in small doses, but this one works while also not being saccharine sweet. It’s at turns funny and always entertaining. The leads have serious chemistry and both are eminently likable. I also appreciate that they both act like grown-ups. No one acts like a jerk, and no one throws a fit. If they have an issue, they talk about it. It’s refreshing, considering how many romances are predicated on a big misunderstanding. I also enjoyed the relationships each lead had with their friends and family, and thought that there were some possibilities for sequels without it being overt. I just recently re-read this book for this review and found that my enjoyment of it hadn’t diminished a bit. I’m looking forward to the next entry in the series. If you’re looking for a sweet, hot, small town romance, Hope Flames fits the bill perfectly. Final grade: B+.