A fast read and very good
Good book. Nick is a "graduate" of Licking Springs Ranch and has agreed, reluctantly, to take part in the bachelor auction fundraiser. He came to the ranch originally because his mother died and the owners were the only family he had left. He's grateful to have had a place to go, and will do what he can to help his cousin continue their work. He's surprised when he's "bought" by an elderly lady instead of one of the young women who have been bidding on the others, but he'll go with it. He's even more surprised when the lady asks him to spend time with her granddaughter and get her to start thinking of men again.
Samantha married young to a man who had been more interested in his wild living than in settling down. She has decided that she will bury the parts of herself that led her to such a reckless marriage, and only keep the cool, practical parts of herself, always conscious of appearances. The only time she allows her inner self to come out is when she paints. She also has a daughter that she wants to be a good example for.
I liked seeing the relationship develop between Nick and Samantha. Nick has been alone for a long time, putting his work first at all times. He had been married once, but it hadn't worked out, and he blamed himself and his devotion to his job. A deeply buried part of himself always regretted the loss of the chance for a family of his own, but he feels that he doesn't have what it takes to be a good family man. Though he knows that a relationship with Samantha isn't possible, he is attracted to her and loves spending time with her daughter. Samantha sees Nick as another man similar to her late husband, one who lives for the thrill of what he does. That's not the sort of man she needs in her life, but she can't deny that she is attracted to him. She is far more interested in him than in the safe and secure man that has been pursuing her. As Nick helps her with the things that Amelia has asked him to do, they learn a lot about each other and themselves.
I really liked the way that Nick saw the passionate woman underneath the controlled surface that Samantha showed the rest of the world. I loved his reaction to her paintings, and the way he tried to show her that it was an important part of who she is. Though he was supposed to be opening her mind to the idea of getting involved again with someone else, he really wanted to show her that she deserved more than she was settling for.
I ached for Samantha. She was so worried about screwing up her life again that she went too far in the other direction. It hurt to see her bury the best parts of herself. I also got a bit frustrated with her determination to stick with a "safe" man as a way of making up for past mistakes. As she spent time with Nick, her attraction to him grew, but she didn't want to risk getting involved with him in anything other than a short fling. What she didn't expect was to start falling for him.
I loved the scene at the dinner party when Nick needed to get away from seeing Samantha with the other man, and wandered off looking at the man's collections. When Samantha came to find him, needing to get away herself, there was an easy camaraderie between them. Things got a bit out of hand when they found themselves locked in the wine cellar. I loved seeing Samantha get a bit tipsy and lose some of her control. The reactions when they were found were great, and really showed peoples' true colors. But it scared Samantha into withdrawing back to her old self. I liked Nick's thing with the paintings to show her the truth of her talents and that she had more to offer than she thought.
In the end, both Nick and Samantha had to decide if their love was worth working past their fears. I liked Nick's soul searching and what he finally realized about himself. Samantha also accepted that Nick had been right about not settling. The scene at the garden party was definitely romantic, as Nick stepped up in a really big way. I also loved Samantha's big announcement and the courage it took to do it.
I also loved Samantha's daughter. It was a lot of fun to see the way that she and Nick bonded. I also loved the difference in the way that she reacted to Nick and to the other man. That really became obvious the day that Samantha and she spent with the other man. I loved her reaction to Nick's return.