Hold Your Breath
I had to laugh at the cover of this book: A bare chested man holding a gun walking through freezing cold lake in a snowy landscape. What could make more sense than running around in the cold chasing villains without your clothes on? Too many stunts like that and the bad guys won’t have to shoot you – hypothermia will get you first. But in fairness, it does set the proper tone for the novel.
Louise “Lou” Sparks has joined the Field County rescue dive team in the remote Rocky Mountains but is beginning to question that decision. As our story starts she has to prove her mettle by jumping into a hole in the ice and swimming around in thirty-two-and-a-half degree water. Shouldn’t diving mean tropical fish in warm, salty water? That’s what she thinks anyway. Taking the polar plunge is difficult enough, but her problems are compounded by tricky gear and the fact that the man playing the victim she is rescuing darn near kills her with his dramatic interpretation of “man drowning in icy lake”. When she finally starts to make some progress on the rescue, she kicks loose a mysterious – and gruesome – object while trying to keep her head above the water. It seems what she mistook for a shadow was a headless corpse and just like that, the team’s search and rescue exercises are turned into a real retrieval.
That’s just the start of Lou’s problems. Proving that Murphy’s Law is alive and well, she finds the tire on her truck flat when she is finally ready to leave the scene. Fortunately, the oh-so hot but oh-so grumpy captain of the team, Callum Cook, is still on location, sees her trouble and rides to her rescue. This is the second flat tire Lou has had so she doesn’t have a spare and Callum insists on driving her to the garage, even though he makes it clear he’s not all that happy about doing so. When they get there they are surprised to learn from the mechanic that the last tire didn’t just develop a puncture but was deliberately sliced. It looks like the new tire they’ve brought him has met with the same end. Lou has obviously made an enemy and she should keep her eyes peeled for trouble.
That problem should be what occupies Lou’s thoughts but what captures her interest is Mr. HDG (Lou’s shorthand for headless dead guy). Not content to leave the problem in the hands of the local sheriff she determines to play amateur sleuth and discover who he is. This is how I always respond to having a stalker, too. I mean, what better way to distract yourself from possible personal danger than to bring yourself to the attention of the kind of person who leaves headless bodies in frozen lakes? Callum agrees to help her in order to make sure she doesn’t botch the investigation or get herself hurt.
Then they find footprints outside Lou’s bedroom window and honey on her door and Callum decides it will not be enough to protect Lou while she hunts down villains. He’s moving in till her stalker is dealt with, ‘cause that’s what a boss does when he has an employee in trouble. But whatever will they do about the problem of their mutual attraction? It’s certain to only become more intense as Callum sleeps on the couch and Lou tosses and turns on her bed thinking of him sleeping on her couch.
I understand that it is the nature of fiction to explore fantastical probabilities. I know that things happen in real life that look inexplicable or unbelievable. Humans are messy and they don’t act to any set rules so the idea “nobody would do that” is never actually true. People do ridiculous things all the time. But the author failed to convince me that any of the nonsensical behavior that took place at the start of this book was anything but flat-out silly. It wasn’t even that the actions themselves were so unreasonable as it was that the excuses for the behavior that came out of the character’s mouths made them seem so. It’s like the old adage of protesting too much; when you defend a ridiculous action you make it look more ludicrous.
In this case, I was bothered by the boss/employee fantasy that had Callum moving into Lou’s house when they, quite literally, barely know each other. This issue was especially troublesome because Callum initially treats Lou with a great deal of condescension. I’m an old hand at reading romances and of course this is par for the course for many, many books. And in some books, taking place in times not in the 21st Century, that works okay for me. It can even work for me if the condescension is done as a sort of teasing banter. But these two were not in a flirty, teasing kind of relationship and Callum’s authoritarian attitude came across more as lawsuit material than sexy, at least at the start. So I found it unrealistic (and a bit unsafe) that she just blithely opened her home to him.
I found the character dynamic a bit troublesome, too. Callum is the strong, silent type- or at least, I think that’s what the author is going for. He barely speaks at the start of the story and everyone claims he never smiled till he moved in with Lou. Also, he plants himself in her cabin, starts kissing her and names himself her protector before he even bothers to have a conversation with her regarding a possible relationship. He’s apparently a touch OCD regarding cleanliness and order, which I thought was a good trait in a rescue worker but which everyone on his team seemed to find cause for hilarity.
Lou, of course, is a lovable slob who is spontaneous and fun-loving. I say “of course” because I couldn’t help feeling Lou’s messiness, smart mouth and adorable spontaneity are all part of the story so Callum can have something to roll his eyes at while he goes about silently fixing everything. Aw, they’re perfect together.
The good news is that the author is aware she is being a bit fantastical. At one point Lou tells us, “I was considering the likelihood of having such a high number of improbably attractive people in the Field County Emergency Services.” Yes, me too, Lou. Of course I, as the reader, have the advantage of knowing that all these fine men are sequel bait, but I appreciate Ms. Ruggle essentially saying so. It was sort of nice to have the silliness of that fact acknowledged and put out in the open so we could laugh over it together.
I’ve said a lot of negative things about the book but to be fair, none of them are damning. To me they are annoyances, but they are aggravations which occur in lots of romance novels and which most readers seem to have no problem with. And the book does have lots of positives to balance out those mild negatives. The author does a great job of capturing the location and the work of the rescue dive team, for which I give her points. The story is understandable and laid out in a clean, clear style making it easy to follow. There was plenty of action mixed with the sexy which should delight readers of this kind of story.
I balanced all, brought all to mind and in keeping with that arrived at a slightly above average grade. Hold Your Breath won’t convince readers who avoid this kind of story to change their minds about them but it will please the ones the genre already has. It may make a few people’s favorite lists but for the most part I think it will be like a fast food meal – satisfying in the moment but easily forgotten before the next hunger pang (or book craving in this case) comes around.