Mess With Me
In Mess With Me, Sam Goodall is about one friendship away from being a complete recluse. He’s a skilled mountaineer and part of Mile High Adventures, the company run by the two brothers who are his only friends, but otherwise, Sam lives entirely off the grid in an isolated cabin. The Evans brothers are technically his bosses, however, so when they give him the assignment of training their new employee (who also happens to be their long-lost and quasi-estranged half-sister) he has no choice but to take it on. For her part in this story, Hayley is skeptical of her brothers and slightly confused by the quiet giant that is Sam. Slowly but surely, however, defenses are weakened and she finds herself confronted with new ideas of family and future.
This is one of those books where the characters are so achingly real and I understood their motivations so well that I was also perpetually frustrated with them. I wanted so desperately for each of them to find their happily ever after, not only with each other but within themselves, that I talked out loud to them for most of the book. Sometimes you just have to chose to trust, Hayley, it doesn’t happen like magic or Gah, SAM! I get your fear of being found but come onnnnnnnnn, you can do it, pal. You can do it.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
The pain laced through the lives of all these folks is apparent early on. There’s a reason why Sam has dropped off the face of the planet and made it nearly impossible for people beyond the Evans’ to find him. It’s deep and twisted around his very existence and has come to almost completely define him. He sees no need to change this pattern and is frustrated when he’s assigned to train Hayley. Not only is she clouded in mystery and pain – which is more drama than he wants to deal with – but she’s a human he has to interact with.
Hayley’s relationship with her half-brothers, if we can call it that, is really new as they have been separated for their entire lives. They’re related through their father, who was a powerful man and also a complete asshole. He’s recently died, however, and the brothers reached out and offered Hayley employment. Ms. Helm makes it clear that the decision to move to Colorado was a tough one. Hayley is keeping it from her mom, as she would not approve, and is clearly torn between the emotions wound up in this situation and the sheer desperation of needing a job.
I was quite worried, as I got sucked into this story, that it would venture into angst-land and live there. It flirted with the border, for sure, but mostly Ms. Helm manages to keep the conflicts grounded and authentic, leading me to have the aforementioned dialogues with the characters. I read hungrily as Sam makes small decision after small decision to let this woman past his defenses and to risk vulnerability again. His journey is so perfectly slow that I bought every minute of it. The two were on parallel tracks for their internal growth arcs and to watch how those wove together and strengthened each other was lovely. Truly lovely. Sometimes, after all, our paths to self-discovery and maturity and wholeness have to be walked with others, not to let the other person do the work for us, but because they can reflect truth and hope back to us more easily than we can to ourselves.
Although this novel is definitely tied into the world Ms. Helm has crafted for this series (the H/h from book one have their wedding in this one), I was never lost as I dove in for the first time, so it works perfectly well as a standalone.
Overall, I’d recommend Mess With Me to anyone looking for a bit of emotional heft with their romance. Love of wide open spaces and mountain vistas wouldn’t hurt either.