Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl

Standard

Grade: C
passion rating: hot
Dear Ms. Dahl,
I am still surprised at how little I liked your latest Western-lite book, Close Enough to Touch. I’ve enjoyed many of your books–especially the sexy Bad Boys Do (reviewed here, along with the other Donovan books, by Robin) and the very funny  Lead Me On (given a B+ here by Jane)– and you’re hilarious on Twitter. This book, however, wasn’t funny, sexy, or probable. The leads, Cole and Grace, are ill-suited sad sacks faltering through life who meet in a small Western town and share rough sex and peevish conversation. It’s rare I’m raring to finish a book; this one I was pleased to plow through.
Grace Barrett slunk away from Los Angeles where, poor baby, she lost her true self pandering to her ex-boyfriend and his self-absorbed clients in big bad Hollywood. Over the past ten years, Grace’s gone from homeless teen to small time make-up artist–she kinda liked herself at that stage–to big time makeup artist. Sadly, she also acquired a blowhard boyfriend, Scott.  Scott not only cheated on her and hooked her up with soulless movie big wigs (professionally); he dumped her and threw her out of the home they shared. Grace, at a low point, stole scummy Scott’s  wallet–she figured he owed her a bit of cash. Unfortunately for Grace, when she then crashed at an old friend’s place, the dude threw a wild shindig where some asswipe stole Grace’s purse–and Scott’s wallet which had eight grand in it. Scott threatened to have Grace arrested; furthermore a producer she ticked off –she lectured the non-gent about his abusive treatment of his girlfriend, a famous actress–told the movie world Grace was a quarrelsome drunk and now no one will hire her. Grace, feeling defeated by LA and life skips town and heads for Jackson, Wyoming.
Why Jackson? Well, her cantankerous great-aunt Rayleen has offered her an unfurnished apartment in a building Rayleen owns rent-free for a few months. Rayleen doesn’t know Grace at all; she’s only letting Grace stay at the Stud Farm–so called because Rayleen usually only rents to hot young guys–as a favor to her sister Rose, Grace’s grandmother.  When Grace arrives and asks Rayleen for the key, Rayleen sums up all that sucks for Grace.
“Aunt Rayleen?” Grace finally ventured.
The old lady grunted.
“I’m Grace. Grace Barrett.”
Still no response.
“Your niece?”
Her silver eyebrows rose and she finally looked up. A sharp green gaze took Grace in with one flick of her eyes. “Thought you’d be knocked up.”
“Pardon me?”
Her eyes fell back to the table and she resumed her card flipping. “A grown woman who can’t keep a job or support herself and has to write to her grandmother to ask for money? I figured you were out of commission. But you look perfectly fine to me.”
….“I was living with someone and it didn’t work out. With the economy—”
“Who told you could ever depend on a man for anything?”
“I… No one told me that.”
“You probably learned that from your idiot mama. That woman doesn’t have the sense God gave a dog. And dogs ain’t exactly nature’s Einsteins, are they?”
A strange, hot wash of emotion trickled along Grace’s skin. Fury, certainly, but it was mixed up with shame and the awful burn of truth spoken bluntly.
“Listen,” she pushed out past clenched teeth. “If you don’t want me here, say so and I’ll leave right now.”
….“Listen, honey,” Rayleen said, finally setting down the cards. “It’s not a question of me wanting you here. I don’t know you from Adam. But I’m willing to have you here because I have an empty apartment and Rose asked me for a favor. You pay the utilities and you can stay. But just through ski season. August is one thing, but come December? I’ve got my eye on a handsome snowboarding instructor I had to turn away last year.”
….“You’re pissed, ain’t ya? I like that. Pride’s a beautiful thing, but you’ve got to ask yourself where your pride has gotten you up to this point. Because as far as I can tell, it’s gotten you homeless and bitter. You enjoying the taste of that?”
Once Grace takes the key, she’s no longer homeless. But she’s still bitter and, for much of the novel, she stays that way.
Grace’s bitterness doesn’t turn off the injured cowboy across the hall from her, however. Cole Rawlins wants to jump her bones the minute he hears Grace cursing and kicking her suitcase in the hall outside his door. Cole, who had a horse fall on him over a year ago, still hasn’t gotten back in the saddle. His leg and pelvis, which were busted to hell in the accident, still hurt like a bitch and his long-term dream of buying the ranch he’s worked on most his whole life is ominously iffy. Grace looks like just the distraction he needs.
That girl was going to be trouble. If the purple layers in her dark, choppy hair didn’t make that clear, the hard glint in her eyes certainly did. He knew that look. He’d seen it before. And despite his image as the wholesome and friendly good ol’ cowboy, that look stirred something in him. It was like a dare. A challenge.
And he did love a challenge.
Grace turns out to be no challenge to bed–Cole’s riding (for the first time since his accident) Grace between his sheets within a few weeks of her coming to town. No Grace is, drum roll please, a challenge to get close to. She keeps her heart slammed shut to all but her friend Merry. (Is it me or do the names in this story seem a bit cornball?) Grace wants Cole to fuck her but not care for her. Cole wants more; Grace continually pushes him away.
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