The small mountain town of Nugget, California, is way off the beaten path. But somehow it helps the lost and lonely find a new beginning in life—and in love…
One solitary day at a time is the only way cookbook writer Emily Mathews can restart her life—and cope with consuming loss. Still, the former city girl is finding all kinds of odd inspiration and advice from Nugget's proudly eccentric residents on everything from new recipes to opening her heart again. Especially when it comes to her rugged rancher landlord …
His no-drama new tenant is the first break Clay McCreedy has had in a long time. He's got his hands full enough dealing with his wife's scandalous death and his sons' unresolved grief. Clay can't help but be drawn to Emily's quiet understanding and strength. When their fragile trust turns into passionate healing, he longs for much more. And when both their pasts come calling, he’s determined not to walk away…
Emily’s life stopped the moment her daughter disappeared. It’s been four years with no closure, and since her marriage crumbled, she has to move, though she may never move on. The renovated barn on Clay’s ranch is the kind of solitude she needs to keep taking it one day at a time.
Raising two boys on his own wasn’t how Clay planned for things to go, but he’ll take what life gives him and do the best he can for his sons. As for himself… Well, with the women he meets, romance just isn’t in the cards. The mousy woman who’s renting the barn apartment on his property seems even more lost than he is, but every now and then he sees a spark of life in her eyes. Maybe they both just need a friend, but maybe fate has other plans.
The Verdict: You may remember in my review of Going Home, the first book in this series, I had a bit of trouble connecting with the characters and immersing myself in their relationship. But the fact that I could still enjoy the book even without every really understanding or liking the hero speaks to the quality of writing, and I really couldn’t justify rating it lower than 4 stars. So when I saw this second book was available, I jumped on it, and I was not disappointed!
Finding Hope takes us back to the town of Nugget, where Emily Matthews moves to find anonymity, if not peace. After her daughter went missing four years ago, her marriage crumbled, the media pounced, and every day is a struggle. She needs a new place to live and work, and if she can’t manage living, at least she can manage surviving. The beautifully renovated old barn she’s renting is a world away from the horrible spotlight, awkward silences, and constant speculation to which she was suspected back home. And the view isn’t too shabby, either.
Clay’s been pretty messed up since the death of his wife. She was no saint, and their marriage was a mess, but he never wanted his boys to lose their mother. And since he spent most of their lives deployed away from them, adjusting to life with only the dad they’re still getting to know isn’t easy. It doesn’t help that in their small town, there’s no such thing as a secret, and the boys are getting to that age where malicious gossip about their mother will be heard.
As odd as it probably sounds, I love that Clay wasn’t the least bit attracted to Emily when they first met. His tastes run more toward big hair, skimpy clothes over an enhanced body, and casual flings, and Emily certainly doesn’t fit the bill. She, however, thinks he’s one of the most attractive men she’s ever seen, but she’s too buried in her grief and guilt to entertain the fantasy of romance, and she can’t help but notice the way his eyes are always shamelessly lingering on other women’s bodies.
Their relationship is a slow and subtle build, not even reaching much of a friendship for a while, but that’s actually the perfect pace for this story. When it finally escalates, Emily isn’t sure she’s ready for anything serious, anything that would take her focus away from her missing daughter or put her in a position to fail Clay’s kids. And Clay seems to have no idea what’s happening to him. He’s almost shocked by his attraction to her, and he knows better than to push a grieving, guilt-ridden woman, but he’s also too good of a guy at heart to treat her like just another casual romp in bed.
Their road isn’t without a lot of bumps, much of it rooted in their individual fears of falling in love and moving forward with their lives after everything they’ve been through alone, and it’s displayed in saying all the wrong things and often holding back what they want to say. In this way, every moment felt genuine instead of the workings of some ideal romance story, and that’s what made it such a wonderful read. Of course, anyone would hope for a miracle when it came to Hope’s fate, but I think the way that part played out gave the story even more credibility, and at times it felt less like romantic fiction and more the real-life story of someone who’d truly lived it.
The secondary characters were great as well, Clay’s kids being the best of the bunch. It was easy to get frustrated with his older boy, but at the same time, his behavior made sense. And Rhys? Well, I didn’t like him much in the first book, but he’s definitely growing on me now. And what would Nugget be without the Baker’s Dozen and the Nugget Mafia? I’m glad that despite my issues with him in Going Home, I stuck it out. Stacy Finz’s writing is pretty incredible, and the way she tells stories… It’s really the perfect approach to contemporary romance. The drama is understated and real, not a bit of it feeling contrived, and the characters are exceptionally developed. It’s small town life, old friendships, and new beginnings filled with romance and hope.