By Donna Alward
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
Oaklee Collier, known as the “Social Butterfly” of Darling, Vermont, has had her fill of weddings and babies and the social events attendant upon both. She loves her job using social media and other methods of promoting her hometown, but it no longer hides the loneliness that pervades her life. Since her high school sweetheart left her waiting at a Las Vegas altar two years ago, Oaklee has guarded her heart carefully, avoiding not only romance but also close friendships and keeping even her family at a distance. Her life begins to change one night when one careless moment keeps her from braking in time to avoid a dog crossing the road.
Veterinarian Rory Gallagher the youngest of the three Gallagher brothers, lives in an apartment over the clinic where he works. The apartment has definite advantages, but being onsite when after-hours emergencies show up is a disadvantage. Nevertheless, he moves quickly when Oaklee shows up looking for help for the injured dog. Rory is all competence and assurance when dealing with the animal’s injuries, but he is uncomfortable dealing with Oaklee and the unwelcome attraction he feels for her. Not only is she his best friend’s little sister and as such off limits to him, but she is also not the woman for a short-term fling, the only kind Rory is interested in since he had his heart broken by his vet-school girlfriend who decided she didn’t love him and cut him out of her life and the life of her young son, who had also claimed Rory’s heart.
The dog, whom Rory names Buster, becomes the means of linking these two people who have good reasons to be in defensive mode. Oaklee had a crush on Rory when she was a young teen, and she is aware that the adult Rory is even more attractive. But she no longer trusts her judgment when it comes to men. Rory’s reputation as a serial dater makes her even more leery of him. However, when Rory persuades a reluctant Oaklee to foster Buster, the barriers around her heart take major hits from the dog and the sexy vet. The advance and retreat of the romantic relationship seems like an endless cycle until Oaklee and Rory separately experience an awakening concerning how much their fears can cost them.
Somebody’s Baby is the third book in Alward’s Darling, Vermont series. Despite Oaklee’s job, the town and its famous Kissing Bridge seemed less important here than in the earlier books. The cast of secondary characters, most of them familiar to readers of the first two books, provide substantial context for the story. The depth of Oaklee and Rory may surprise readers who encountered them in Somebody Like You and Someone to Love, where Oaklee was the perky, sunny tourism developer and Rory was the carefree younger brother. They are both engaging characters, and the history they share and similarities in their personalities and experience make it easy to accept their happily-ever-after as credible.
All the characters are likable, but Buster may be the biggest heart stealer in the story. Canines often have star roles in romance novels, but I think this is the first time I have seen the relationship between a lead character and a dog serve as a metaphor for the messiness, the risks, and the rewards of love and as a catalyst for advancing the hero and heroine’s relationship. Any reader who has ever had a dog who became family will laugh and perhaps shed a few tears with a particular sympathy.
This is a story that builds slowly, and, frankly in the early chapters, it was sometimes an effort to persevere in reading it, but the payoff is large for readers who stay with the story. Oaklee and Rory’s heartbreak stories are more than just two more somebody-done-me-wrong tales, and the gradual movement from characters with a history rooted in childhood to adults involved in a growing friendship with sparks to cautious lovers keeps readers invested in the story. This is my favorite in an appealing series, and I definitely recommend it for fans of small-town romance. I hope Alward will be taking her readers back to Darling for the stories of the three Gallagher sisters—especially Hannah. I really want to know more about Hannah.