Lily Danville grew up in Cedar Ridge, Colorado, and loved hiking the mountain trails or climbing the rock faces in the summer, or skiing the challenging slopes in the winter. She was happy there, until tragedy struck and she lost half her family over the course of a few weeks. She's never forgiven herself and wasn't ever planning on returning. Having lost her job in a fashionable salon in San Diego and pretty much been blacklisted in the industry, she desperately needs a job, and has no choice but to return to her home town, to work for her friend Jonathan. She dreads going back for a number of reasons, but most of all because it will mean seeing Aidan Kincaid again, the guy she used to dream of, but could never have.
Aidan Kincaid is part of a large and close-knit family. He and his brothers run the Cedar Ridge Resort, which they're trying to keep afloat, despite some serious difficulties thanks to debts run up by their dead-beat dad. Aidan works as a firefighter and volunteers for the local Search and Rescue-service, when he's not co-managing the resort and trying to keep his younger siblings out of trouble. He's got a reputation as a ladies' man, not one for serious commitment, but that's because part of him has been pining for Lily, since the summer when she disappeared from the Ridge. Now she's back and he's more attracted to her than ever. But how long is she going to stay this time? Is she going to leave and break his heart once more?
The blurb of the book led me to believe that Lily and Aidan had shared much more of a passionate romance before Lily left Cedar Ridge, when the fact is that they were both teenagers, who spent quite a lot of time together, but only really had anything romantic going at one school dance. Lily, always in competition with her sister, who had admitted to fancying Aidan, as a result never really let herself get too close to him. Once the tragic events that tore her life to pieces occurred, she is incapable of forgiving herself, and she certainly can't allow herself to have feelings for Aidan, as that would feel like a betrayal to her sister.
Aidan never knew about Lily's sister's feelings and wasn't able to act on his infatuation to Lily until that dance. Shortly after, she left town, before he had time to tell her how he felt and for ten years, he's been trying to tell himself that it was probably for the best. Nonetheless, when she returns, the normally very level-headed man gets all out of sorts (to the amusement of his various relatives) and it doesn't take all that long before he's confirmed that the spark is most certainly still there between him and Lily.
This is the first book in the Cedar Ridge series and there are more than enough Kincaid siblings to provide fodder for multiple sequels. The only other Shalvis I've ever read is Rumor Has It, which I read for the RITA Reader Challenge back in 2014. As far as I can tell from the two books I've now read by her, and some general reading on the internet, Ms. Shalvis excels at cosy, comfortable contemporary romances, set in small towns, featuring generally well-rounded protagonists, without too much angst to complicate things.
In this book, Aidan has his fair share of troubles, relating to his father, but is really quite a stand-up guy. He's very much a protector, for his family and working both as a firefighter AND in search and rescue. For the past ten years, he's has a number of never-too-serious relationships, but he's always been up front about not wanting long-term commitment and once Lily returns to Cedar Ridge, it's obvious that deep down he was just hoping she'd come back and that with her, he pretty much wants nothing but commitment.
Lily struggles with guilt and grief and has a hard time being back in a place where she suffered such powerful losses. She's pretty determined that her stay is only short-term, covering at her childhood friend Jonathan's salon while one of his employees is on maternity leave. She keeps sending out her resumés, hoping for a job somewhere else, with no wish to settle back in her home town, no matter how tempting the presence of Aidan is. Her attraction to him is also all mixed up in guilt and an overwhelming sense of loyalty to her sister, which is what provides the main obstacle to the romance of the book.
I pretty much loved the setting (despite not being an outdoors person at ALL) and the various supporting characters. I liked that what complications and low-level angst there was in the relationship between Lily and Aidan was handled without too much drama, even though both of them clearly had some lessons to learn about communication and not sending mixed signals. I suspect I will be checking out more books in this series, as going back to the fictional town of Cedar Ridge and getting better acquainted with more of Aidan's siblings will provide me with many hours of relaxing summer reading.
Judging a book by its cover: There are two different covers for this book. The one I read (featured here), has a rugged man in a rescue service t-shirt and cargo pants, with a rope and what looks like assorted mountain-climbing gear strapped to his side, photo-shopped onto a background of mountains and blue sky. The other cover is a twee watercolour image, full of flowers and mutet pastel colours, more suitable for a children's book than a romance, if you ask me. It also features the hokey tag line: "Sometimes only going home can set you free". Big bowl of nope on that one. I'll take my rugged mountain man any day of the week.