The Hero of Hope Springs
Maisey Yates’ heartwarming southern romances have a strong fanbase, and I tend to be one of that number, enjoying her smart, strong heroines and principled, sexy heroes. But The Hero of Hope Springs isn’t my favorite example of her work, and I had to detract points for some foolish motivation on the part of the heroine.
Sober family man Ryder Daniels and sunshiny free spirit Samantha -Sammy – Marshall have been best friends forever. Ryder’s always suppressed an attraction to Sammy, afraid to ruin their close friendship, so they’ve always contented themselves with being close but not intimate. Sammy was there to shoulder some of seventeen-year-old Ryder’s grief as he stepped up as head of his household in the wake of his parent’s death, setting aside dreams of his own career. She, meanwhile, has a horrible relationship with her mother, who constantly tells her she’ll be awful at the art of parenting and a physically and emotionally abusive (and dead, yay) father, whom she disowned at the age of fourteen after moving into a trailer on the Daniels family’s property.
Now, Ryder’s a full-time rancher and Sammy’s a jewelry maker. They’re grown-ups and well-settled into their friendship – Ryder buried in the duty of seeing his last siblings off into the adult world and Sammy enjoying a string of casual flings. So when Sammy says she wants a baby – inspired by a last-straw argument with her mom – Ryder agrees to find her a one-night stand sperm donor. That quickly doesn’t work out – he’s too jealous. Sammy has a realization – what better man to father her child than her best friend?
Thus do Sammy and Ryder embark upon conceiving a child the old fashioned way (because this is romancelandia and no turkey basters are allowed), while Ryder tries to maintain his emotional distance. But, as always, when you start boinking your best friend, the course of ‘let’s be friends’ does not run smoothly.
The Hero of Hope Springs is complicated by several of its plot choices, not the least of which is Sammy’s rank immaturity. The beautiful writing and excellent character work that Yates puts into her stories is present, but while one can like Sammy easily and sympathize with her instantly, loving her due to her ill-considered choices is hard sledding.
Sammy is completely sympathetic, yet her reason for having children – basically to show her cold and evil mother that she can be a good mother, and also so she can have a blood family member she’s close to – is a weak one. Having kids on an I-told-you-so to someone who’s not in your life anyway is an awful choice, and Sammy compounds it by recklessly marching ahead and refusing to listen to Ryder’s entreaties that she plan ahead.
Putting all of that emotional burden on an unborn baby is cruel in its way; it’s not the baby’s job to fix Sammy, who should be engaged in therapy to deal with her negative mom-related emotions. Babies are not meant to cement the cracks in a person’s psyche. And Sammy’s the kind of control freak who hates orgasms (with anyone but Ryder, natch) because they make her feel out of control and who pushes people away with her blunt words.
One can see the train chugging down the track and head-first into the oncoming collision. Sammy has a lightbulb moment AFTER she’s had unprotected sex with Ryder. But naturally they do not stop until she is pregnant, and naturally they enter into a marriage of quasi-convenience without using the L word.
It doesn’t help that Ryder – a grownup who has already raised five siblings, one of whom was awkwardly his own age – treats Sammy like the kid she acts like most of the time, steaming and fuming with lust for her instead of confronting her over it. He comes off as a mature, rational person most of the time, a guy who is too used to being the only sane voice in the room.
All of that is why The Hero of Hope Springs misses a B; now to explain why it’s not a D – Yates’ writing. For she crafts a story that’s complex and romantic and sensual, and when Ryder and Sammy aren’t acting nonsensically they’re capable of soaring scenes of affection and romance. The sex scenes are gorgeous and toasty-warm, and they made me understand the friendship that lay beneath Sammy and Ryder’s attraction.
The supporting characters are interesting – I liked pragmatic Iris, one of Ryder’s sisters. Sammy’s mother is given more layers than the average villain mother but could have used more meat on her bones character-wise.
In the end, The Hero of Hope Springs doesn’t quite fire on enough cylinders to earn a full recommendation. Newbies to the series should try Good Time Cowboy or Unbroken Cowboy, both of which work better than this installment in the series.