This is the first book I’ve read by British author Con Riley; she’s been recommended to me a few times by friends with similar tastes, and as His Horizon is the first in a new series, it seemed like a good place to start. It’s a charming character-driven romance in which a chef and his former rival end up working together to save the family business – but don’t go into it expecting a full-on enemies-to-lovers story. Despite the what the blurb says about sleeping with the enemy, that isn’t the vibe here at all; in fact most of the rivalry has already happened by the time the novel begins. Once you’ve adjusted your expectations though, you’ll find a sweet, low-angst and emotional story about acceptance, grief and coming to terms with loss.
Jude Anstey was on his way to winning a prestigious television cooking competition when he received the terrible news that his parents had been lost at sea and were presumed dead. He dropped everything and left to search for them, ending up as chef and crew on a luxury yacht which followed a similar route and enabled Jude to ask questions and even search for wreckage along the way When His Horizon begins, Jude is returning home to Cornwall, dejected, frustrated and burdened by guilt, in order to help his sister Louise through the summer tourist season at The Anchor, the pub his parents had run for years.
He’s surprised when his key won’t fit in the lock, but as he’s returned in the very early hours of the morning (without letting anyone know), he decides against knocking on the door and waking Louise, and instead takes himself to the boathouse intending to sleep there. Here, there’s another surprise in store; this time, the sight of Rob Martin – who was his main competition on the cooking show (and who went on to win it) – asleep in the bed that had been Jude’s as a kid.
Later that morning when he enters the pub, Jude is confused and angry at all the changes he sees – this isn’t the place he called home. But after learning the reason for it – that Porthperrin’s tourist industry has been devastated following a terrible storm – he understands why a radical re-think was needed in order to stop the business from going under, and why, when Rob reached out after winning the competition, Louise decided to accept his offer of a partnership. Together they’ve worked hard to get The Anchor ready to open as a boutique hotel complete with fine dining from “Britain’s best new chef.”
Jude is, fortunately, not stupid, and understands that Louise acted for the best – but that doesn’t stop him feeling dreadfully guilty about not having been home to help, and wondering what Rob is doing working round-the-clock to try to save a failing business – that might fail yet – when he could have had a cushy life as heir to his father’s London restaurant empire.
The romance between Jude and Rob develops at a leisurely pace, with Jude starting to learn more about Rob and Louise’s vision for The Anchor and and getting to know Rob better. During the competition, Rob had been like an annoying thorn in Jude’s side, always cracking jokes or playing silly practical jokes… as he says later, if Jude had had pigtails, Rob would have pulled them! But Jude – closeted because of his fears of his father’s rejection should he ever come out – just kept his head down and ignored practically everything except the competition, until the night after the semi-finals when he and Rob shared a passionate kiss… right before Jude received the devastating news about his parents.
There’s a nice undercurrent of mutual attraction running between the pair that evolves naturally and without any overblown drama. In fact, the storylines about getting the hotel ready and about Jude’s search for his parents play almost as big a role in the story as the romance does – which isn’t to say the romance is sidelined, because it isn’t; rather it’s part of a bigger picture in a story that wouldn’t work nearly as well without any of the other elements.
Jude and Rob are opposites in almost every way. Rob is chatty and outgoing, the sort of guy who puts people at their ease and always knows the right thing to say, while Jude is quiet and introspective. After realising he was gay, Jude decided that cooking was a way to get away from Porthperrin, and he left home as soon as he could because he couldn’t bear feeling that he was unable to be truly himself there. Coming from a family who were so obviously devoted to each other, I did find it difficult to believe Jude’s reasons for thinking his parents wouldn’t accept his sexuality; he made a rather large leap of logic about his father’s reaction to something that felt somewhat tenuous. But Jude isn’t the only one with ‘daddy’ issues, as becomes clear as the story proceeds; Rob struggles under the weight of his father’s expectations, but Rob’s determination to move out from under his shadow and make something on his own blinds him to the fact that he is making some serious misjudgements of his own.
The author brings the Cornish setting to life – the decsriptions of the cobbled, narrow streets and the gorgeous views are really evocative – and speaking as a Brit, it’s always a treat to read a romance set in England by someone who gets the speech patterns and colloquialisms right… so why does the author use words like “pants” and “vacation”, which threw me right out of the story every time?
His Horizon was an enjoyable read featuring two engaging protagonists and a wonderfully rich setting. The humour and brighter moments are nicely balanced by moments of sadness and reflection, Jude and Rob are engaging protagonists (although the secondary characters are not all that well developed) and while the whole story is told in Jude’s PoV, Rob is so well depicted through his eyes, that I didn’t feel the lack of a second perspective. I did have a problem with the ending though – and this is going to sound odd considering that we’re all here for the HEA – because it was just TOO pat. I know, I know, it’s an oxymoronic complaint to say that the happy ending was TOO happy… it was just a bit overly sweet and the big red bow was just a bit too neat.
But I enjoyed the book overall, and if you’re looking for a low-angst, feel-good read and don’t mind a bit of syrup, His Horizon might just fit the bill.