When I went to RT, the registration packet included a USB stick containing something like 600+ ebooks. So of course when I got home I went on NetGalley to look for books to request. (I might have a problem. /shrug) I’d read and enjoyed Evans before and the blurb for Loving Laney seemed like my kind of Harlequin, so I gave it a whirl. While I didn’t love the book, I didn’t dislike it either. It was solidly just ok.
Olympic gold medal-winning equestrian Laney Broward sneaks out of a New Year’s Eve gala to grab some solitude in the estate’s horse stables. Wealthy horse breeder Austin Johns finds her there just before midnight and swoops in for a New Year’s kiss that surprises them both with its intensity. One thing leads to another and the business acquaintances find themselves spending the night together in the guest house on the estate. Although Austin calls and texts Laney after their hookup, she assumes the wealthy playboy is just being nice and, not wanting to get attached to man surely only interested in a fling, she ignores him. When a pregnancy test shows positive months later, however, Laney has to form a relationship with Austin whether she wants to or not.
Had the characters been white, this would have fit the Harlequin Desire line. It reminded me a bit of the Brenda Jackson Desire books I’ve read, actually. It’s a story about a vulnerable heroine and the caretaker alpha who sweeps her off her feet. The heroine’s family is a cattle ranching dynasty and the hero’s father is an oil tycoon. There’s angst and soap opera caliber drama and it’s all set in cattle country Texas and Montana. I’m not sure what to think about that. Is it better off under Kimani where people are looking to buy books with black characters in them? Or would it be better under Desire alongside the books it’s so similar to? I have no idea.
There was a lot I liked about the book. I love western settings (for some reason), I like Evans’ clean prose that doesn’t get in the way, and I loved that Laney was an Olympian. Athlete heroines are rare as hen’s teeth, so Laney being a top tier equestrian is a major plus for me. I liked having a feminine heroine with a sense of style who also loves her sport and cries when pregnancy forces her to stop riding. Physical strength doesn’t need to correlate with masculinity and it was nice to see a heroine who embodied that truth.
What didn’t work so well for me was the flimsy conflict that kept the hero and heroine apart. It’s a balancing act to create a good conflict in a straight contemporary. It needs to convince the reader that the couple can’t be together but then resolve in a way that a reader believes in their future happiness. As an added bonus, it has to do all that without the external conflict possibilities in paranormal romance, historical romance or romantic suspense. What stands between Laney and Austin are her assumptions about his willingness to settle down. They can’t be together until she stops slamming doors in his face, telling him to go back to Texas and walking away from him. This could work in first person, maybe, but it’s SUPER FRUSTRATING when you also get his POV and it refutes all of her reservations. That leaves you just waiting for her to catch up to where you are, and that’s no fun at all.
Finally, there’s a scene at the end where the two-dimensional villainess appears to develop a third dimension, but it’s all carefully scripted to use her pain as an opportunity to highlight the heroine’s goodness. I totally saw the puppet strings for that one and it left me cold.
Final Assessment: I still like Evans’ voice and would keep reading her. Her books scratch a certain comfort read itch for me. I just find some of her plot decisions a little frustrating. C