Review: Branded by Firelight – Paula Altenburg

Review: Branded by Firelight – Paula AltenburgBranded by Firelight
by Paula Altenburg
Series: Sweetheart Brand #3
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Genres: Romance
Pages: 237
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Easy-going cowboy and roping champion Ben Nichols is at loose ends while his best friend prepares for his wedding. Best man Ben must partner with the maid of honor–not a chore, even if the bride’s sister is as aloof as she is beautiful. Ben’s never backed down from a challenge, especially since this one has a clearly marked expiration date.

Ambitious golden girl and software tester Claire Brand is not acquainted with failure… until recently. Now, she needs to get through her sister’s wedding and back to Seattle before her family discovers her painful secrets. Her hot groomsman partner, who has temporary written all over him, offers the perfect distraction to get her through the next couple of weeks. Why not? It’s been a long time since Claire’s had some fun.

But then, love turns a short and steamy fling into something neither one of them is prepared for.

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4 stars icon contemporary icon cowboy romance icon

Trigger warnings: adoption, child abandonment

This is the third in the series, and I haven’t read the previous two.  It worked fine for me as a standalone, though I suspect I’d have gotten a lot more out of the secondary characters if I’d read the rest of the series.  I’m honestly not that big of a fan of cowboy romances, but this was so sweet that I couldn’t help liking Ben.  I was initially intrigued that Claire was in IT, though there’s actually not that much about it in the book, other than some Bill Gates jokes and as an explanation for why she can work remotely.

Claire is only back in her hometown for her sister’s wedding, and then she’s leaving.  So the bristly encounter with handsome groomsmen Ben doesn’t mean anything, until her mother’s health scare has her staying longer than intended.  Ben’s a commitment-phobe, and has a “love-em-and-leave-em” reputation, but women can’t seem to resist his hot cowboy-ness.  While this could verge into annoying trope territory, Ben is unabashedly honest about his flirting, and it was really refreshing and cute.

“He cut a glance sideways at her. ‘I’d like it very much if you stayed for the winter. I’ve got a brand-new library card to break in and could use literary advice from someone who’s smart.’”

The banter between Claire and Ben was my favorite part of the book.  By turns hilarious, endearing, and heart-wrenching, it was so much fun watching their relationship develop.  They bond over guy movies, riding lessons, paintball, and hikes, and it was just so sweet.  Ben senses almost immediately that something’s off about Claire, that something has broken her, and he’s intrigued enough to become friends with her, then friends-with-benefits (kinda, the subject of a particularly funny conversation), and then finally, something more.  Both characters were shaped, and in some ways, scarred, from their past experiences, and at some points I truly wondered how they would be able to reconcile them with their feelings for each other.  Charmingly enough, they both bring out the best in each other, and Claire learns about the terrible pressure of keeping secrets, and Ben learns about the power of forgiveness.

Overall, this was a lovely, heart-wrenching romance, that left me feeling all warm and fuzzy after reading it.  Definitely recommended, especially if you like cowboys!

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