Reviewed by Helyce
Emma Burnett has returned home, to the small town of Hope to take over the veterinary practice of the town vet who has recently retired. She is excited and scared-this is a huge step for her, but something she’s wanted for herself for a very long time and that’s she’s worked very hard for. She’s got a plan and she’s not going to do anything that will hinder her from being successful and realizing her lifelong dream. That includes not getting involved with a man or having any kind of romance. She’s been down that path before, made lots of mistakes that she refuses to repeat. One way to guarantee that, no men!
Luke McCormack is a canine police officer for the town of Hope. He grew up here, and though he always looked at this job as a stepping stone to moving on and working in a big city, that opportunity hasn’t happened yet. He’s content for the moment. His brother is nearby and Hope is a good town, with little crime. When his dog, Boomer, is hurt during a chase he stops by the clinic where he meets the new vet, Emma.
Attraction is immediate for Emma but she is not interested no matter how smoking hot Luke is. For Luke, there is attraction as well, but he’s not into commitments or anything long term. His marriage ended in divorce and he is not looking to make that mistake ever again. He may be attracted to Emma, but he can tell just by looking at her that she is not a one-night-stand kind of girl. This woman is all wrong for him.
When the town of Hope is hit with a series of prescription drug related break-ins and Emma’s clinic is burglarized when she is on site, Luke’s need to protect Emma surprises him. Emma’s family is nearby, but she is determined to handle all of this herself. She is not the same woman she was years ago. She is stronger and she can take care of herself and she certainly doesn’t need or want to depend on a man.
Hope Flames is the first full length book in this new series by Jaci Burton. It was introduced with a short story called Hope Smolders in the anthology Hot Summer Nights released on 7/2/2013. I adored the couple and their story in Hope Smolders and could not wait to get back to the town of Hope and its inhabitants! Sadly, Emma rubbed me the wrong way for much of the book.
Both Luke and Emma’s feelings toward relationships stem from previous experiences that ended badly. Emma fell for her college professor who turned out to be total douche that over time separated her from friends, family and her career goals. Emma confused his over protective nature and his need for her to be at his beck and call 24/7 as love. When she realized what she had allowed to become of her life-she took measures to get out of the relationship and get her life on track, but her confidence is scarred and the experience has left her with major trust issues. Luke had a marriage that failed and a mother that remarried and left her three sons not long after her husband’s death. He doesn’t have a lot of faith in relationships and though he is certainly not celibate, he sticks to “dating” women who know where his head is at.
Normally this is a trope that I don’t mind. Two people who are absolutely not looking for love, stumble upon it when they least expect it. While I understand Emma’s past totally fucking her up in the head so that she would be leery and distrust men in general, I found her back and forth to be tedious. She’s attracted to Luke; he makes her feel things she hasn’t felt for a very long time. But she doesn’t want to date him; she doesn’t want a “relationship”. That doesn’t mean she can’t have some fun, right? She’ll just sleep with him, get it out of her system and then go back to her life plan. Then she’s pissed when he doesn’t call.
I think what didn’t work for me where Emma was concerned was that even though she had that awful experience as a young girl years had passed and she should have realized how strong she actually was. She got away from a bad situation, took back control of her life, went back to school and realized a dream to own a veterinary clinic. She deserved to be happy; she deserved to have a gorgeous, sexy man in her life. But it took way too long for her to get to that place.
I liked Luke. Though he really is not looking for love, he knows right away that Emma is special and he can’t get her out of his mind. She is skittish, and he senses he has to handle her with care, but when they do get together, their chemistry is off the charts. Everything about their time together feels different and right. Luke knows early on that he wants to make a life with Emma.
The slight suspense plot of the drug burglaries provide a bit of conflict where Emma and Luke’s blossoming relationship is concerned. But I found its conclusion anticlimactic and I struggled to understand why it was included at all-except for the fact that Luke is a cop and I guess he needed a case to be working on. Predictably, the man from Emma’s past also makes an appearance, causing major conflict between Emma and Luke. Luke wants to protect her and help her but Emma “doesn’t need a man” and pushes Luke away. I found it all very ‘ho-hum’ to be honest.
Everything comes full circle and Emma has her big light bulb moment where she decides that she is in fact deserving of a man like Luke. It was just too long and bumpy a road to get there. She redeems herself a bit for me near the end and we get our longed for HEA.
Secondary characters provided some much needed escape when Emma and Luke got to be too much for me. Chelsea and Jane, friends of Emma, provide humor and just the right amount of “girl talk” to put a smile on my face. And Luke’s brother Logan is a very intriguing character. Kind of quiet and brooding with a really dry sense of humor, I had hoped saucy Chelsea might end up with Logan, but there is an excerpt at the end of this story for the next book, Hope Ignites-and his heroine someone else.
While this story had all the marks that I look for in a contemporary, I was not as drawn in as I’d hoped to be after reading the prequel. I am looking forward to Logan’s book however.