Lean on Me by HelenKay Dimon

Why I read it:  I heard the Twitter buzz and snapped it up when it was offered on NetGalley.
What it’s about:  (from Goodreads)  Cassidy Clarke once climbed the world’s highest mountains, but after an unexpected illness ends her career she’s back in her hometown, broke and hoping for a little luck. But the townsfolk aren’t exactly putting out a welcome mat for the woman who once snubbed them in the media, despite her apologies now.
Mitch Anders knows someone has set up camp on the grounds of his plant nursery, and he’s surprised to find his sexy high school crush ducking questions about where she’s staying. Though he’s sworn to stop cleaning up other people’s messes, Mitch offers Cassidy a job and a place to stay—his place. Bedsharing optional, but definitely welcome.
Out of options and too attracted to Mitch to keep things platonic, Cassidy says yes to his offer. She wants to get back on her feet financially and start a new career. She never expects to suffer a different kind of fall, one that has her believing Mitch just might bring her something bigger and better than luck

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I knew I was going to like this book when I got to page 9 and found this:

“What happened to your neck?” She closed her eyes the minute the babble left her mouth. Her breath also caught in her throat. She blamed the fumble of words rather than the feel of his hand folded over hers. “I mean, you, ah, look slimmer. Not that you were ever fat.”

One of the bystanders laughed.

Cassidy rushed to cover her most recent verbal disaster, though she feared there would be more. “You were more muscular then. Like, thicker in the shoulder to jaw area. You had a neck, of course. It was just…big.” She swore she heard a gurgling sound. Probably had something to do with her drowning in stupidity.

He held up his free hand as his eyes sparkled with mischief. “That compliment, if that’s what it was supposed to be, was kind of painful.”

“It didn’t sound too great in my head either.”

And the deal was sealed on page 14 when Mitch gets saucy:

“When I do go—” he pointed in the direction of the glassed-in office at the far end of the room, “—you’re going to be tempted to watch my ass.”

The comment was so out of context it hit her like a sharp smack. “Excuse me?”

“Just to be clear, I won’t be offended. As far as I’m concerned, you can go right ahead and look because I can guarantee you if the positions were reversed, I’d be watching yours.”

I love that kind of humour – it put me in mind of Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski series and it made me smile as I settled in to read.

Yes, there were things I thought were a little on the thin side – for example, the mystery regarding Cassidy’s stepfather Allan’s strange behaviour – I mean, seriously, how long did he think he was going to keep that a secret?

And, I would have liked the story to be a bit longer so as to flesh out Mitch’s backstory just a little more – I liked the way there wasn’t a great big info-dump, but rather was parsed out in small pieces, but at the end, I felt it was not quite enough.

I did think the final “conflict” was a little bit manufactured, given the faith Mitch had shown in Cassidy up til then (and the fact that that faith had consistently been rewarded) but they sorted things out quickly and he groveled sufficiently that I was prepared to let it go.  Besides, the guy was hilarious clinging to a tree up the side of what was basically a hill and telling Cassidy (who had climbed Everest for goodness sake) to stay well back from the edge.

Mitch made the story for me – I really think he had most of the best lines:

“When we talk about everything else, we’ll cover that issue too. No more hiding.”

“I’m not really comfortable with any of this. After all, it’s my life. My business.”

“That argument would be more compelling if I hadn’t spent an hour washing shit out of my hair last night.”

Mitch made up his mind as soon as he laid eyes on Cassidy that he was going to be getting to know her very well and I enjoyed his single-mindedness on the issue.  He wasn’t all alpha caveman about it, but he was quietly determined and with the dimple and the eye-twinkling Cassidy was a goner right from the start.  The chemistry between the two was sizzling and fun and even though the book only spanned a few days, I didn’t have trouble believing that they had a real and lasting connection.

What else? Another good thing about this was that the small town of Holloway, West Virginia wasn’t full of sweet old ladies and kind friends (On Twitter, it was referred to as not being “Stepford”).  The townsfolk were pretty fired up about an interview Cassidy did some years before where she was pretty scathing about her hometown and they haven’t forgiven her.  The gossip mill is active and mean in Holloway – which is the way gossip usually is.   Mitch is on Cassidy’s side right from the start and that made him a wonderful hero.  Here he is again:

Nice and slow, making sure everyone saw and no one got the story wrong, he lowered his head and treated her to a shoe-shaking kiss. He let her have it all, didn’t hold back. And when he lifted his head again she was smiling.

The twinkle had returned to her eyes. “No, that’s how a man stakes a claim.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Wait until you see how I do it with my clothes off.”

It’s a light, fun, sexy contemporary which was a pleasure to read.
Grade: B+
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