I don’t normally read small-town romances like Hope Flames by Jaci Burton. I prefer steamy, urban contemporaries. I picked this up because I like Burton as an author and because PUPPIES! The hero of this book is a police officer with a police dog named Boomer. The heroine is a vet with a pit-bull puppy named Annie and a lab named Daisy.
I love dogs. If you ask me to hold your baby, I will, but I’m going to be afraid it will vomit on me. If you ask me to hold your dog, I will and then I will talk baby talk to it and rock back and forth and give it it’s dinosaur nickname like “Dixie-saurus Rex” because I am a spaz. I also found out recently that I love cats too, when we brought our kitten home from the shelter (he’s Dewey-dactyl, in case you’re wondering).
In Hope Flames Emma Burnett is coming back to the small town of Hope, OK, to open a veterinary clinic. She’s getting a late start on her dreams after her disastrous last relationship put the brakes on her life. Now she’s determined not to let anything stand in the way of starting a successful practice, especially not a man.
One night Luke McCormack shows up after closing time with his K9 partner, Boomer. Boomer twisted his ankle pursuing a suspect and Emma tends to him. The attraction between Emma and Luke is immediate and palpable, but neither of them is looking for a relationship.
Luke is divorced and his ex-wife was basically a really terrible person. She wasn’t happy living in Hope or being the wife of a police officer. That doesn’t make her terrible. She didn’t divulge that she didn’t want kids until after they were married. That’s pretty douchey but I still would say not terrible. No, she’s terrible because she doesn’t like Boomer the police dog. WHO THE HELL DOESN’T LIKE A POLICE DOG?!
I mean, I get that people don’t like dogs. Okay, I don’t “get” it but I understand intellectually, just like I understand that some people like affixing alligator clips to their balls or religiously watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s a thing that happens. But a police dog? Those are the best trained dogs ever. They have to be well-behaved and obedient. And they are heroes! Just Google Rocco + Pittsburgh + K9 and then cry. Cry a lot. I’m not kidding. If you don’t want to cry, don’t Google.
So, obviously, Emma likes Boomer and she likes Luke’s sexy butt, too. One night she’s working late and her clinic is broken into, the burglar stealing some of her drugs. Luke arrives on the scene and assures her that they’ll catch the culprit. Emma doesn’t want to feel safe with Luke, but she does.
Despite not wanting anything serious, Luke and Emma keep running into each other which leads to spending time together which leads to casual sex. Except it’s not casual because they keep having feels. But they say it’s casual.
Anyway, Emma is seriously freaked out at the prospect of a relationship. In college she got into a long-term relationship with a manipulative asshole. Through systematic verbal abuse he basically turned Emma into a shut-in who sacrificed everything to be his haus frau. And when she tried to leave, he threatened her family.
There’s a scene in this book where Emma falls while jogging and gets banged up. Luke takes her home and cleans her up and takes care of her. The last man in her life hadn’t been gentle with her, hadn’t cared for her when she’d been hurt. She’d been left to take care of her own wounds. After all, it had been her own fault when she’d gotten injured. He’d made her apologize.
JESUS, THE FEELS. PUPPIES + FEELS = HOPE FLAMES.
I’ve mentioned that I love a hero who can be sexy and tough and also tender. Luke is that hero. He’s gentle with Emma and oh-so sexy. I loved him only slightly less than Boomer and Annie and Daisy.
The reason this book didn’t get an A from me is that I felt it dragged a little in the middle. There are parts of the novel where Luke and Emma are more or less dating, and they are so happy together that it seemed like they should just be able to set aside their respective pasts and move on together. Maybe that’s unfair of me because I don’t read this genre, but I didn’t feel the angst really carried through the book enough given how traumatic Emma’s past had been.
I did really like that Burton took the time to make Hope feel real. I’ve read a lot of books where the heroine or hero is a small business owner and they have loads of money and free time. Emma is incredibly busy trying to build her practice, basically living at the clinic, and she’s got tons of debt from buying the clinic in the first place. It felt like an honest portrayal of someone trying to start off a business, not window-dressing for Emma as a character.
Hope Flames was light and fun and a nice break from the angsty stuff I’ve been reading. And also PUPPIES!