Dating for Keeps
Dating for Keeps, the third in Coleen Kwan’s Pine Falls series, is my first foray into one of her romance novels. This is the sweet story of two people who need a little bit of help to find exactly what they need in an unlikely friendship. A little bit of luck, a little bit of sexual tension, and a whole lot of kindness leaves you rooting for them until the end.
Lily Baker has had unbelievably bad luck when it comes to dating. She has never seemed able to be herself around anyone, and it’s always resulted in her fumbling and stuttering. No one ever stuck. Lily is original; she crochets, she has a bearded dragon, and she has an old car named Kermit. She is who she is and she’s looking for someone who will appreciate her quirks as well as her intelligence (PREACH, GIRL).
Caleb Willmett has had reason lately to stay around Pine Falls; his dad recently suffered a stroke and his sister has a young daughter with whom he wants to spend more time. As a contractor, he finds it difficult to keep up steady work in such a small town where a large contractor business already exists—which happens to belong to Lily’s father. Caleb has sworn off relationships, having had some bad experience as a player in the past, added to and a deep-seated fear of being let down. But he’s the “hottest guy in Pine Falls,” meaning he has no trouble finding a date.
The book opens with an accidental run-in right as Lily and Caleb are about to enter the annual Pine Falls Chili Festival. They’ve only met briefly before, but they certainly remember each other. Lily is heading in to meet a date she’d set up after a friend pushed her onto a dating website and Caleb is going to meet his sister and her family. After her date goes horribly wrong, Caleb proves to be Lily’s knight in shining armor. As they talk, they realize they could be exactly what each other is looking for; Lily needs a guide to help her navigate the dating world, and Caleb needs an in if he wants to make a pitch for the junior partner spot with Lily’s father. Since this is a romance novel, we know where this is headed, but the journey is enjoyable nonetheless.
One of the things that is so sweet about this romance is that, despite their obvious attraction to one another, Lily and Caleb start out as friends. Yes, they’re both aiming to get something out of the relationship, but there’s not the awkward tension of hidden secrets or manipulative ambition. They’re up front with one another about what they’re looking for, they’re perfectly cordial about it, and they’re eager to help one another.
Another thing that adds to the sweetness and consistently melts your heart (which will be mush by the end), is that Caleb is constantly there for Lily. Date went poorly? Caleb is there. Bearded dragon’s cage needs renovations? Caleb is there. While he does not understand the extreme pull that keeps him tethered to and returning to Lily’s side over and over again, the reader gets to reap the benefits of one adorable scene after another.
Caleb’s cluelessness – or resistance to being clued in, rather – is probably the only thing I disliked about the book. Along with his persistent ignorance comes his reasoning as to why Lily is so different and isn’t the average girl everyone might be attracted to. It’s slightly off-putting to hear over and over about why this attractive woman is just slightly off-brand for everyone because she is confident enough to stick by her own sense of self and isn’t a conventional beauty. For example:
Seeing her tonight had unsettled him. Most men would just see the pink flamingo shirt and the Tartan shoes, but he had noticed her small waist, shapely and inviting, just the right size for his hands. And most men would think her looks were just average, as did he initially, but the more time he spent with her, the more he found her wide mouth and squarish jaw appealing, especially the sweet dimple the appeared in her cheek whenever she smiled.
By contrast, we’re invariably reminded of how perfect Caleb’s looks are:
Sometime last night, possibly after her third glass of wine, she had finally given in and imagined herself on a date with Caleb. He was so effortlessly sexy, so comfortably charismatic, and without a hint of hubris.
The way their differing views, experiences, and looks play into the dynamics of the story and their relationship are understandable, but it would have just been slightly nicer if Caleb were able to notice Lily’s quirks and differences without having to constantly point out how those differences kept her from being attractive to most men, including him initially.
But their friendship, chemistry and unwavering kindness towards one another keeps you rooting for them throughout. They can’t seem to keep their attraction to one another in check, and the result is a bit of steam in some subtly sexy scenes. You won’t find anything too overt and graphic here. Overall, you’ll enjoy a quick read with Dating for Keeps and be satisfied by just enough swoon-worthy moments.
Now that I’ve read Lily and Caleb’s story, I’m looking forward to going back to the first two Pine Falls stories to see how some of the other characters found their way together. You won’t have to read these stories in order, and from reading the descriptions, it sounds like the journeys to happily-ever-after in the Pine Falls series are always interesting.
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