by Stacy Finz
Series: Nugget #10
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Publication Date: December 11, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
She wants to leave Nugget behind, he’s just made it his home. Sometimes love is worth throwing plans—and caution—to the wind . . .
Raylene Rosser is Nugget’s most infamous prodigal daughter. The townspeople aren’t exactly holding a welcome home parade when she returns, but that’s okay with Raylene—she’s only here to make amends for selfish mistakes, sell her property, and get out of town asap after her half-brother Logan’s wedding. Picturesque Nugget is her past, and Raylene is determined to build a future . . .
All of which would be easier if Logan hadn’t asked his business partner to keep an eye on her. A security specialist, Gabe Moretti certainly knows how to shadow a girl—and how to boss said girl around. It would be infuriating, if only Raylene could keep her eyes off Gabe’s broad chest, rugged profile, and sexy smile. Falling in love might not be the safe choice, but sometimes everyone needs to tempt fate . . .
First off, a random note – I really do not like that cover, but I’m at a loss to explain why. I think, perhaps, that it’s just very different from how I imagined the characters. Now that that’s out of the way – this is an enjoyable forced-proximity romance, set in a ranching town and starring the town’s prodigal daughter. It’s both snarky and heartbreaking, though a bit light on the surprises. While I’ve read the Garner Brothers series by the same author, which is set in a neighboring town, this is the first in the Nugget series I’ve read. Since it’s the tenth in that series, I was expecting to be pretty confused, but, honestly, it felt like everything was explained pretty well, and while there was quite the cast of characters, they were individual enough that I didn’t have too many problems keeping track of them.
Raylene’s been abused for much of her life. First, by her father whenever she failed to conform to his “standards” for a scion of his family, and then by her father-picked husband. It’s no surprise she comes out of it an alcoholic with bad financial skills, since she’s used to self-medicating with alcohol and spending her father’s money. While she was the queen bee of the town as a teen, certain events have left her as a persona-non-grata in Nugget, and there’s only one thing that could get her to come back there – her half-brother’s wedding. Well, and the tall tale about gold that was buried by a Gold Rush-era thief on a piece of property. Between the divorce from her abusive husband and her profligate ways, she’s running out of money, and if she ever wants to open up her dream horse ranch, she’ll need the income from both the sale of that land and the supposed gold. Raylene’s half-brother knows her, though, and assigns his best friend, business partner, and fellow ex-Navy SEAL Gabe as her baby-sitter. Gabe’s new to Nugget, and the woman he meets doesn’t seem to fit the picture that’s been painted of her or her past actions. Is this just another scheming side of Raylene, out to steal the show at her brother’s wedding? Or is she more likely to steal his heart?
“She scrambled back to her side and opened the door before nudging her head pointedly toward his crotch, where he was so hard it hurt. “That’s for your moronic version of ‘Jolene.’ Jeez, Moretti, you know how many times I had to put up with that in junior high?” She slid out of the passenger seat, gave his package one more glance, and smirked. “Consider us even.”
Raylene has had such a rough time of it, that while I found a lot of her actions inexplicable, I found it hard to judge her too harshly. For one thing, some of those actions – like the quoted scene above – were hilarious! Gabe’s description of her as a “battering ram, causing mayhem wherever she went” was pretty on the nose! Some of the scenes with Raylene attempting to weather most of Nugget’s general hatred of her were very hard for me to read, and the description of her panic attacks (though I’m not sure they’re ever referred to as such) and her negative self talk were heartbreaking. I do wonder how I would’ve felt about this book – and Raylene – if I’d read the series from the beginning, as the things she’s done were pretty awful – she tried to set her high school sweetheart up for murder, for goodness’ sake – even reading about them from her point of view. I did appreciate, though, how she owned up to her mistakes and was trying to make restitution to those she’d wronged before. Gabe, I thought, was less well characterized, though I did find Raylene’s frequent jabs at him as a rancher by way of New Jersey (and Irish-Italian, to boot) funny. I liked how he was willing to withhold judgement, however, and that his personal code of honor included protecting Raylene even when he was still pretty sure she was the wicked witch of Nugget.
“It taught me a valuable lesson,” he said. “I don’t ever want to be responsible for someone’s happiness. Ever.”
“You shouldn’t have to be. Everyone should be responsible for their own. I had to learn that the hard way.”
“Butch was that bad, huh?”
“Butch, my father, you name it. I won’t do it again.”
“What? Get married?”
She let out a mirthless laugh. “Never. But I was talking about getting attached. It’s not worth the pain or the trouble.”
My favorite part of their relationship was their banter, and how open they’re able to be with each other. From the ghosts that haunt Gabe’s past to Raylene’s remorse over her past actions, they talk about everything, and I think this was partially helped by the fact that after the wedding was over, neither expected to ever see the other again. I loved how supportive Gabe was of Raylene and her (to his mind) literal gold-digging shenanigans, and how that progressed to being supportive of her recovery and her self esteem. I thought the chemistry between them was quite believable and I liked how that was handled, as well.
The biggest issue for me was that the plot was very, very predictable. From the moment Raylene mentioned her dream ranch, I guessed exactly what would happen. It’s not that I thought the plot was bad, just that I wish there were a few more surprises to it. I also saw the event that turned the tide on Nugget’s public opinion of Raylene coming from a mile away, and it did feel like a bit of a cop-out. That’s not to say that I’m not proud of Raylene for what she did, but I wish she would’ve instead found the courage to speak out against some of the venom being spewed about her sooner. At one point, after Gabe’s seen another instance of someone he likes from Nugget treating her poorly, he even wonders where these judgmental people were when she was getting beaten and abused by her father, and I’d spent most of the dang book wondering the same thing. My other issue is the secondary storyline from Drew’s POV. While the stories eventually overlap, I’m honestly not sure what this was supposed to add to the story, and my best guess is that it’s wrapping up something from one of the previous novels.
Overall, I very much enjoyed Raylene. If you’re interested in a woman turning her life around – all by herself – then I think this book would be right up your alley!