The Trouble With Valentine's Day
The Trouble with Valentine’s Day takes the reader back to Gibson’s fictional town of Gospel, Idaho for a second visit. This is a pretty typical Rachel Gibson story with its ex-athlete uber-alpha hero and attractively insecure heroine in the midst of a life change. I was glad to read it – I’m a sucker for Gibson’s style and humor. Although it’s not a groundbreaker, Gibson’s fans and fans of contemporary romance will enjoy it.
Kate Hamilton is an ex-P.I. whose last case went horrifyingly awry and ended in violence. Unsure of what to do next in her life, she decides to go see her grandfather Stanley in Gospel. Stanley runs a small grocery, and has yet to get over his wife’s death. Kate needs some downtime, and she’s also worried about Stanley, so moving in with him, for the short term at least, makes sense. On her way to Gospel, a blizzard blows her into the Duchin Lounge at Sun Valley. It’s Valentine’s Day, and, morose, Kate downs more than one hot buttered rum in an effort to forget getting dumped by her boyfriend last Valentine’s Day. A little tipsy, she decides to hit on the hot guy who sits down next to her at the bar. A little sexual fling – though out of character – might just be what’s called for, she figures. Unfortunately, he turns her down in a particularly humiliating fashion.
That hot guy happens to be ex-hocky player Rob Sutter, whose career and marriage also ended in a violent turn of events. Rob moved to Gospel to be near his mother who is a nurse and could help in his recuperation and also to get away from Seattle with all its reminders of what he has lost. Kate doesn’t find out that Rob 1) knows her grandfather quite well and 2) owns the sporting goods store across the street from Stanley’s grocery, until – surprise, surprise – Stanley introduces them. She still thinks Rob is sizzling but is painfully aware that he thinks she’s a slut and a turndown-able slut at that. This is hardly an auspicious beginning to their “relationship.” But the course of true love never ran smooth, or so they say.
The way Gibson starts her story sets up some very nice chemistry and tension between Rob and Kate. Lust sparkles between them, and Kate’s pricked pride provides fodder for some very funny dialogue and interior musing. The setting of Gospel, Idaho also yields some funny moments as the town’s quirky residents interact in interesting ways. A poetry reading social is a high point.
As always, Gibson’s love scenes are numerous and very hot. There’s perhaps one too many, but who minds a little gratuitous sex, especially when Gibson writes such sizzling love scenes? There is also a nice secondary love story for Kate’s grandfather, himself the local widow target, and a certain Gospel poetess. Their scenes together are lovely, and their story could have been expanded even further. As likable as Kate and Rob were, their core beliefs and values were far less firm or certain than those of Stanley and his lady love. It was nice to see an older and more traditional couple traversing the perilous waters of dating and love.
On a purely shallow level, I thought Rob’s physical description was a little…odd. He’s depicted as having a Fu Manchu mustache and soul patch and a large tattoo of a boa constrictor that loops around his body. Rob’s choice of moustache and tatoo are fairly extreme, and while I could see his appeal overall, I mentally shaved him and did laser surgery when either were mentioned.
One troublesome story point was the lack of resolution regarding Rob’s small daughter Amelia. Rob is divorced and his ex-wife, Louisa, comes off as shallow and reaching. She and Amelia live in Seattle, and Rob visits some weekends and holidays. Louise is angling for a reconciliation, and the implication is that she values Rob for his physical appeal, status, and money. However, as a new parent myself, I thought it was just possible that she might like a little more help with Amelia than on weekends and holidays. I found her position sympathetic. Rob loves Amelia, but he puts his own need to not live in Seattle where his hockey history haunts him above his commitment to his daughter. He’s not a bad dad, but he’s not really a present dad either. He’s not the one who stays up at night with a feverish Amelia or reads her the same bedtime story 10 days in a row. He’s just not there that often, and at the story’s end, this hasn’t changed. I wished Amelia could have the same HEA as Rob and Kate, frankly.
Still, though the beginning of The Trouble with Valentine’s Day was stronger than its ending, I found the whole experience to be enjoyable. The conflict was well constructed, the love scenes were hot, and Kate, Rob, Stanley, and the rest of Gospel’s inhabitants were delightfully peculiar throughout. Another, future visit to Gospel would indeed be welcome.