I continue in my nostalgic pursuit of finding category romance. In this case, I read Nicole Helm, an author whose longer-form contemporary romance I enjoyed. And … nope. It wasn’t terrible, except for one puerile bit, but it also isn’t going to send me running to read more of this category. It didn’t help that I came in at #6: there were A LOT of previous book couples, with convoluted family histories, fostered, biological, and adopted, AND, it appears, six? seven? brothers from one ranch marrying the various sisters from the neighbouring one. Yeah, it was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers without the humour, music, or, well, the fun. Without overburdening my poor readers with the endless backstory, let’s give it over to the blurb for some plot and character filler:
Dev Wyatt’s worst fear has come true. Someone from the Wyatts’ dangerous past is stalking his family—and his best friend, Sarah Knight. When she asked Dev to help her have a child, Sarah did not expect her pregnancy would place her in danger, but now Sarah must take shelter on the Wyatt ranch. As she and Dev battle escalating threats, will they survive long enough to become a family?
Um, blurb-foiler: this sounds like it has forced-proximity potential. Au contraire, the Wyatt ranch is peopled with a gazillion brothers, their wives, children, and pets. The sexy times, given Sarah is nine months pregnant (not what we see on the cover), days from her due date, are strictly closed-bedroom-door and sparse, which is a-okay by me. As for the mini-village living together, with a grandmother to boot, I did not even try to figure out who’s who and who’s with who, or who begat who.
As we saw with Helm’s longer contemporary romances, she can strike the right romance notes, which is why the only part I enjoyed was the equal parts antagonism and affection between Dev and Sarah. For example, Dev’s opinion when Sarah badgers him to help her get pregnant: “He took a swig of beer then scowled at her. ‘Of course I’m avoiding you, Sarah. You’ve lost your mind and I’m tired of you trying to drag me into it.’ He didn’t have to look at her to know she would have raised her chin at that.” While I appreciated the nod to romance’s heroine-chin, while Sarah may have chin, she is as stupid as a bag of rocks. Waddlingly pregnant and enormous, when danger comes, she ignores contractions and refuses to move to town, closer to the hospital. She’s always trying to get out and about and do chores? She interferes and expresses what she mistakenly thinks is bravado, but it only puts everyone else in danger. Helm was aiming to portray a strong woman, but she portrayed a foolish, foolhardy one, without the cuteness whither angels fear to tread. Finally, the villain, who shows up at the end, is mere caricature, the only thing missing are twirling moustaches and some railroad tracks and rope. Given Sarah’s dum-dum, she’d be on those tracks, brandishing a kitchen knife, in no time. Dev, in the meanwhile, has a serious case of inferiority complex in comparison to his alphamen-brothers and suffers from “I don’t deserve her” syndrome. Buddy, if she doesn’t get everyone killed, you deserve her … Miss Austen and I agree, sadly Close Range Christmas was “downright labour,” Emma.
Nicole Helm’s Close Range Christmas is published by Harlequin Books. It released in October 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley, from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley, for the purposes of this review.