Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson (review)

6 years ago, Autumn Haven came to Las Vegas to have a good time. So did hockey player Sam LeClaire. They ended up married (by an Elvis impersonator, no less) and were divorced before their son was born nine month later. Autumn spent a lot of time hating Sam for walking out on her the day after they got married, but only now she has been able to stop hating him. When Sam suddenly starts paying more attention to their son she begins to hope that they can go on to be friends for Conner‘s sake, but Sam has other ideas. He has matured and changed since their first encounter and this time he isn‘t going to walk away. He just needs to convince her he‘s changed.

Rachel Gibson was first recommended to me as a Jennifer Crusie readalike. I didn‘t really see the likeness when I read the two books from the Seattle Chinooks series that I have read, See Jane Score and this one, which take place in Seattle and remind me of nothing as much as Susan Elizabeth Phillip‘s Chicago Stars sports romances. I did start to see why people would recommend her to a Crusie fan when I read two of her small town books, Not Another Bad Date and especially True Confessions which on a certain level reminded me of Crusie‘s books, especially Welcome to Temptation. Not so much the story (although both True Confessions and Welcome... feature a delectable sheriff and an out-of-towner), but the whole small town atmosphere she is just as good as Crusie at recreating.

This, however, is a Seattle Chinooks novel and has none of the eccentrics that pepper her small town books. The story focuses squarely on the couple, Autumn and Sam, both of whom are damaged people. Autumn got swept off her feet by Sam as easily as she did because
a) he was sexy as hell (aren‘t all romance heroes?), and
b) because she was emotionally vulnerable,
and he fell for her because of his own emotional vulnerability and need to forget certain events in his life.

Both have spent 6 years trying to recover from what happened to and between them, Autumn by concentrating on building a good life for herself and her son, and Sam by being good at his job (he‘s a professional ice hockey player) and sleeping with as many women who are as different from Autumn as he possibly can. Neither has succeeded. Autumn hasn‘t had sex since Conner was conceived and Sam feels an irresistible attraction to her whenever he sees her. When he realises she has stopped hating him he is finally able to listen to what she has to say about their son and her accusation that he keeps pushing Conner‘s needs aside for his own finally hits home and he decides to be a better father.

This incidentally means seeing more of Autumn, and the more she sees of her, the more he realises the massive mistake me made in letting her go. Autumn is justifiably wary of him and his intentions, but slowly starts to come around to the idea that they can be friends, but she is leery of letting thing go any further. But they do and they realise they need to let go of the past in order to be able to have a future together.

As in all romance novels, there is never any doubt that they will get together in the end, but that isn‘t the point of a romance novel. It‘s not for the final outcome – which is always guaranteed – that people read romances, but for the journey towards love and happiness, the how and why rather than the "and they lived happily ever after", although of course that plays a part as well.

Gibson writes good characters and Autumn and Sam are believable. Unlike in some other romances I have read, their insecurities don‘t ever threaten to completely destroy their chances of happiness –  they just have to be overcome and they are, in a believable way. The story moves at a fair clip, but actually covers a stretch of several months so it isn‘t exactly a whirlwind romance and gives the characters space to develop and grow close in a believable way. Not that I don‘t enjoy a reading good whirlwind romance, but in a „second chance“ story like this I prefer a certain level of realism, with people earning trust and forgiveness by their actions and not just surrendering all to the magical afterglow of out-of-this-world sex.

One side character that must be mentioned is Vince, Autumn‘s brother. He is a total hottie and damaged badass who hates the hero‘s guts and comes across as somewhat of a jerk at times because after all it‘s the hero he is clashing with. At the end of the book the thought popped into my mind that Vince needed a book of his own, a story about him coming to terms with himself and his dark past, and yay! Gibson‘s latest book, Rescue Me, which incidentally is being published today, has Vince as the hero. And it‘s a small town romance. I‘m very much looking forward to reading it.

As for the title, it's totally generic and comes from a country song (someday I must devote a post to song title book titles). But Gibson does more than just allude to Shania Twain's hit song: each chapter is headed by a requirement for the heroine's perfect man, and the contents of each chapter show how Sam fulfils and occasionally fails the requirements. I hasten to add that Autumn does not have such a list. She is a list maker, but the headings are merely there to give the book a better connection with the title.

One final word: the cover. It‘s bad. It‘s not so much that it looks like the woman on the cover is sniffing the back of the man's neck and preparing to take a bite out of it, but just the fact that she the cover has reddish-brown hair and the man has dark brown hair. In the book, Autumn has flaming red hair that matches her name, and Sam is blond. Is it too much to expect the cover models to have some resemblance to the characters?

All in all, it‘s a nice, solid romance. 3 stars.


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