Gold Fire

Starr Ambrose
December 2012, Romantic Suspense
Pocket Books, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 145162364X

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

I’ve never been to a honky tonk. Back in my clubbing days, I was all about flashy, dark dance joints with loud music and fancy, expensive drinks. Gold Fire is about the joy of a good country bar – complete with pool tables, dart boards and line dancing.

Barringer’s Pass is a small town with a long memory. Zoe Larkin is a bad-girl-gone-good just trying to redeem a reputation that seems irreparable. Resorts are the biggest, most respected industry in this Colorado hamlet and Zoe has a job at the swankiest one of all. Working in management at such a posh place is her ladder to both respectability and career advancement. So when she finds out her promotion depends on buying the honky tonk and accompanying land adjacent to the spa, she throws herself into the project wholeheartedly.

Jase Garrett is an ex-skier turned cowboy with some dark secrets. When Zoe comes to him trying to buy his bar, he is far more interested in her than her offer. He politely turns her down but pretty soon he is doing all he can to spend time with the lovely lady. Zoe is determined to buy the bar, but in spite of a strong sexual attraction is equally determined not to fall for its owner. According to her life plan she is to marry a stable, successful man like the owner of the spa. So why is it that the spa owner leaves her cold while the cowboy makes her long to resume her bad girl status?

Jase feels the heat too. But there is no way he is selling the Rusty Wire which has been both a sanctuary and hideaway since his friend died while the two were on a ski run more than nine years ago. For Jase, redemption is providing his friend’s widow and father with a steady, friendly work environment. Pool tables, dart boards and country music seem to be just the nirvana needed to help that family heal.

Zoe is certain her healing lies with getting promoted. She still feels the disapproval of the town in spite of her cleaned up image, pinned up hair and lack of sex life. It comes as no real surprise to her that when the Rusty Wire is the victim of arson she is one of the first people fingers point at. There is no solid evidence to link her to the crime but being questioned by police was more than humiliating enough for her. Apparently, Jase had given a doctored security video to the cops helping to implicate her. Once out of police custody, Zoe goes directly to confront Jase for his dirty tactics.

Jase is as surprised to learn of the video as Zoe was. He had never turned anything in to the police. The entire situation leaves him feeling vulnerable and uneasy. More, it leaves him feeling worried for Zoe’s safety. He is certain that the unethical people she works for are behind the arson and that sweet Zoe is the sacrificial lamb they plan to blame it all on. He is convinced that the two must work together – very closely together – in order to save her reputation and his bar. Will the sparks they set off when they are near each other result in a fire neither can put out – or resist?

Zoe has made her life about responsibility and pristine behavior, determined to outrun the reputation her teenage rebellion left her with. She has focused almost exclusively on her career, convinced that excelling at the resort industry will garner her the respect she longs for. Jase has spent the last several years avoiding any kind of life, determined to numb himself to the memory of what had happened when he challenged his friend to a ski race. When Zoe and Jase begin to butt heads it leads to an awakening on both their parts. Jase realizes that he hasn’t lived since his friend died. Zoe makes him long to embrace life – and the possibility of love – once more. Jase’s laid back style and fun work environment make Zoe long for all the things she lost in her effort to impress the townspeople who continue to sit in judgment on her. They begin to change each other in ways neither expected. As they do, they begin to realize that more than just sexual attraction lies between them. Amidst the negotiations for the bar, they had formed a genuine friendship – and perhaps something more.

Almost right away we solve the crimes happening around the bar purchase. It isn’t hard to see who is guilty. But the romance here is sweet enough – and the story stays focused on it enough – that readers won’t care. I found this an extremely easy read, flipping through the pages with mild interest if not gripping intensity. The ending left me feeling satisfied and pleased, if not eagerly awaiting a sequel.

If you have been looking for a contemporary love story that really concentrates on character building and relationship building, this just might be the story for you.

-- Maggie Boyd

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