Where There's Smoke
In a genre often accused of being too focused on small-town sheriffs, secret babies, and cowboys, the first novel in Kristin Hardy’s Holiday Hearts series is a breath of fresh air. Her protagonists – a captain in the Boston Fire Department and an engineer – are mature, intelligent, and quite likable. As the story opens, Captain Nick Trask reluctantly finds himself working with Sloane Hillyard, an engineer who has developed a system designed to keep firefighters from getting disoriented and lost in burning buildings.
Nick’s reluctance stems from his belief that Sloane and her device are only being tested with his unit as a political stunt to gain attention for a city councilman whose policies have hurt the department in the past. He figures that once the election is over, Sloane and her system will be gone and the department will never see the equipment again. For Sloane, however, the situation is more personal. She has her own private reasons for wanting this equipment put into use and she is determined to see that it gets tested for the market.
As Nick and Sloane try to establish a good working relationship, they find themselves moving rapidly toward another kind of relationship altogether. While Hardy sometimes overwrites her descriptions of their attraction to one another, veering on occasion a little too close to PPP territory, these two have un undeniable chemistry. The fact that each is also strong, intelligent, and respectful of the abilities of the other also makes them a likable couple.
One thing readers may appreciate about Nick and Sloane is that they are very real. Nick is a city firefighter and his life as such is quite believable. His world is that of fighting fires, but it is also one of endless paperwork and of working second jobs since firefighters don’t get anything approaching the pay they deserve. He is a strong man, but there is vulnerability there as well. Sloane is similar. She has worked hard to get to where she is, and, though she has her weak points, she is also quite resilient. Her relationship with Nick is not one founded on mere lust or hampered by contrived misunderstanding. Instead, readers get to see these two build a relationship and work out some understandably tough conflicts.
Were it not for the occasional purple prose moment, this book would likely be a keeper for me. Hardy’s story flows well, and her characters are some of the more likable I’ve seen in series romance for a while. I have drifted away from most of my series reading due to boredom with the formula plots making the rounds. Stories like this will draw me back anytime, though.