Saving the CEO, the first book in Jenny Holiday’s 49th Floor series, was one of the very first contemporary romance novels I ever read. Since then, my history with Holiday is mostly hits, and a few misses. Which makes it rather fitting that I’m on the fence grading Paradise Cove, the second book in her small town Matchmaker Bay series. I enjoyed the romance, principal characters, and their small group of friends, but the setting – the oh, so twee Moonflower Bay – and straight-out-of-central-casting small town, meddling, ‘matchmaking’ secondary characters nearly sabotage this deeply emotional second chance love story. (Maybe I just don’t like the small town trope?) I didn’t read the first book in the series and had no problem reading Paradise Cove as a standalone, but fair warning; while this is a mostly uplifting and heartwarming story, it also delves into some emotionally heavy subject matter – cancer, depression, loss, and grief.
When Jake Ramsey and Dr. Nora Walsh first meet, there’s a spark of attraction that catches them both off guard. Nora, a former Emergency Room doctor in Toronto, has just relocated to Moonflower Bay, having decided, after catching her partner in bed with a much younger resident, it was time for a change.
She’d responded to a classified ad in the Ontario Medical Review . . . and here she was. New town, new specialty, new life.
She popped into the Curl and Dye Salon on a whim for a root touch-up, and was delighted to discover they could fit her in and they had her hair color. When CJ, her stylist, asks her how she ended up at the salon that day, Nora mentions she’s taken over the medical practice, quickly adding that she only plans to stay in Moonflower Bay for two years – to find herself – but she doesn’t mention that part. She also isn’t looking for a relationship or a new man, but it doesn’t mean she can stop staring at Aquaman’s twin… er, the big, handsome, long-haired man sitting across from her, who CJ introduces as Jake Ramsey.
Jake lost his infant son Jude (flu) and his mother (cancer) in the span of six months, and since then, he’s struggled to get past the grief that often overwhelms him. Divorced, single, quiet and reserved, Jake spends time with a close knit group of friends, working at his carpentry business, and alone at his beach cottage. He doesn’t date or ogle attractive women, but he can’t stop sneaking glances at this one – who showed up at the beauty salon while he was getting his weekly wash and trim, or eavesdropping on her conversation with his friend and stylist CJ. When Dr. Walsh confesses that she’s arrived in Moonflower Bay with little more than the clothes on her back, he suspects there’s more to her story than she’s willing to tell, and when she mentions that she rented a place sight unseen, he makes plans to pay her a visit and check it out for himself. Jake isn’t sure why he’s suddenly so interested in the health and welfare of a complete stranger, but he is.
When Jake and Nora keep running into each other, and he keeps insisting on fixing up her rental, Nora initially demurs. But Jake is friendly and persistent – just like most of the other residents in Moonflower Bay – and before long he becomes a familiar presence at her house. They bond over pizza dinners on the newly repaired back deck, and Nora finds herself quickly assimilated into Jake’s small and lovely group of friends. Jake is surprised by how easy it is to talk about Jude with Nora, and if he’s honest with himself, he’s attracted to her, too. Their burgeoning friendship doesn’t go unnoticed, but Jake and Nora ignore the local matchmakers. They’re just friends (in lust)… until Nora finally can’t take it anymore. She asks Jake if he wants to have sex. He’s surprised, but friends, he does. Like, immediately. So they start secretly having sex. Lots of it. And getting all the feelings. All the time. Uh oh.
Predictably (because this is a romance novel), being best friends, spending lots of lovely time together, and having lots of passionate sex leads to relationship problems. Both Jake and Nora keep reminding themselves they don’t want one – except they’re in one, and they know that, too.
When Nora gets a not unexpected call from her sister that their grandmother, battling cancer, is close to death, she drops everything and goes to Toronto. Jake misses her – desperately. Nora misses him – desperately. And when she returns to Moonflower Bay and turns to Jake for solace, it marks a turning point in the affair.
As someone who lost a baby and struggled afterwards, I appreciated Holiday’s deft, sensitive handling of Jake’s devastation and grief and his inability to deal with both. I sought help; he didn’t – and that is the crux of the problem in Paradise Cove. Jake equates personal happiness with disloyalty to his son, and until he meets Nora, he’s managed to live a life mostly devoid of joy. He can’t do that with Nora, so he withdraws from her altogether. Nora, who knows Jake still struggles with Jude’s death, can’t know about the waves of grief that still swamp him (he’s hidden it from her) – or that their last long weekend together triggered a relapse. Rejected by her ex Rufus, healing from the death of a beloved relative, and surrounded by new friends who love and support her, Nora – true to character – cuts her losses, decides the affair is over and moves on with her life. She’s practical, capable, smart, and unwilling to let a man dictate her life choices, and although those are all good things, they preclude her from following her heart. Holiday carefully, cleverly constructs her story based on the versions of Nora and Jake they show each other at the start, and since we know that foundation is shaky – Jake hides his depression; Nora pretends she hasn’t found a home and family in Moonflower Bay – it’s no surprise when they baulk and then quit at the first hurdle. Fortunately, Jake reaches out for help from an unlikely ally, and Nora finds support and solace from her friends. These found families help them see their future through a different lens, and sparks a happy reconciliation. I hated the last minute twist that ends their silent stalemate – I HATED IT – but since Holiday rather heavy-handedly foreshadows the possibility early on, I can’t say I was surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.
Paradise Cove starts off as a small town romance much like any other, but Holiday refreshes the trope with a second chance love story that’s deeply moving, heartwarming, and sexy. Her fans will be well-pleased.