I went into Kelly Hunter’s Emma not expecting much more than a pleasant, “forgettable” read and got a whole lot more. The cover, though pleasant enough, doesn’t do it any favours. Hm, I thought, alpha-male outback hero, like a Montana-Texas-etc. cowboy but with an Oz accent, meets poor-little-English-rich-girl heroine, overwhelms her with his manliness and bedsport prowess and done! Not exactly. Yes, hero Liam McNair is the proprietor of acres and acres of Australian outback and yes, he does muster cows and such, but he’s also environmentally savvy and conscious, seeing himself more as a steward of the land than owner. He’s humble, diffident, still huge and gorgeous, but definitely thoroughly unaware of how attractive and desirable he is. Enter what the blurb calls our “English rose” heroine, Lady Emmaline Charlotte Greyson, recently defunct lawyer and she-who-abandoned-the-family-firm-and-obligations to run away to Australia to her friend Maggie’s wedding-venue-ranch, one she runs with husband Max and adorable toddler, Bridie, also Emmaline’s god-daughter. Enter Max’s friend, Liam, who’s sent to pick up Emmaline at the airport (they share some past, mild history) and tara! Insta-lust! NOT! Attraction, liking, interest, yes. And how it plays out? In a surprisingly adult and compelling romance narrative. Emmaline answers Liam’s call for mustering help (she’s a great horsewoman) and they find themselves aloft his helicopter for the four-hour drive. Thus begins a lovely weeks-long courtship …
And a courtship it is, with Emmaline doing as much of the courting as Liam. It was lovely to read about two people open about their feelings and desires, not in a schmaltzy way, there’s great banter, but it’s gentle, affectionate banter. Each in their way, Liam and Emmaline are hurt by events in their past: Liam, by his parents’ loss when he was sixteen (he immediately had to take on the financially faltering ranch); Emmaline, by her negligent parents. Liam and Emmaline are not wallowers-in-self-pity. They have forged a life and made good decisions for themselves: with Liam taking on the stewardship of his family’s land and Emmaline by leaving the family firm to find meaningful and fulfilling work.
But what’s wonderful about this romance is Liam and Em’s refreshing forthrightness: Em says of Liam at first sight, “The man was glorious to look at, kind at heart, and unattached” and Liam says of Em: “Bravado and vulnerability, and breathtaking beauty.” What soon becomes apparent about Em and Liam is that they’ve characterized each other perfectly, understand each others’ soft spots, are gentle with them, and build on each others’ strengths. Their ability to be honest with themselves, each other, and most importantly, the again refreshing willingness to be vulnerable to the other make this a glorious romance.
I can’t say I loved the “dark moment” when it came, a tad trite and eye-roll-worthy, but Em’s response to it was delightfully surprising and surprisingly delightful. Her Liam-pursuit and Liam’s meeting-her-half-way give the reader a glorious HEA. Emma is a mite of a romance with a mighty impact. With Miss Austen, we say that Hunter shows us evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Kelly Hunter’s Emma is published by Tule Publishing. It was released on June 5th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Tule Publishing, via Netgalley.