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E.F. Dodd
A Higher Standard
E.F. Dodd, author

Adult; Romance; (Market)

As one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors, real estate developer Gideon West has the golden touch. Both with the ladies – from Beacon Hill to Southie and all points in between – and every project he's helmed for Standard Development. Hungry for his next challenge, he's set his sights on the untapped potential in the rolling hills and tranquil farmland of the sleepy town of Mimosa, North Carolina.  To confirm it's the idyllic perfection it appears to be, Gideon heads south where he's enveloped in southern hospitality. By everyone and everything with the exception of two: Monty, a runaway horse, and Everest Kennedy – an emerald-eyed spitfire who can knock everything he's working toward right off its axis.

 Everest's life in her hometown of Mimosa revolves around one thing – the equine rescue she's scrimped, saved and struggled to get off the ground since college.  After years of work, Second Chance Farms can finally stand on its own four hooves.  What she needs now is the ability to expand her little slice of paradise - by buying the one hundred acres next door. That Gideon has under contract. There's no way she's going to let Gideon West upend everything she's worked for.  Regardless of the fact she appears to be the only one immune to the spell of the silver-tongued developer.  But with each dimpled grin and blue-eyed glance, Everest can’t deny her immunity to his charm is waning. If she isn’t careful, Gideon might turn her carefully planned world upside down.  Even worse is that maybe – just maybe – she wants him to.

Snarky banter keeps the edge on the pure escapist joy of an optimistic city/country romance, in Dodd’s third novel (after Earning It). Boston real estate developer Gideon West has traveled to Mimosa, North Carolina to close the deal on a new bedroom community for Charlotte, but he doesn’t account for becoming smitten with the mayor’s daughter Everest Kennedy, who had hoped to acquire the same property to expand her equine rescue Second Chance Farms. Everest tries to convince herself that learning how to interrupt his plan is her reason for spending time with Gideon, while Gideon takes the risk that dating Everest might lead to the sympathetic mayor recusing himself from the town board’s approval of the development.

Dodd dives in quickly with a bold meet-cute to lead with a heady mix of antagonism and attraction between the characters, which she successfully shifts toward a warm connection over the course of the story. Horse lovers will find plenty of upbeat content despite the rescue theme, from Gideon’s embarrassing fall off a very gentle horse, to the ruin of his fancy shoes while addressing a horse’s tummy trouble, to the rehabilitation of a mother-child pair. Gideon’s willingness to come along for surprise horse tasks guides readers to warm to him.

Vibrant secondary characters play a strong role: Everest’s friends encourage her to trust her staff and let herself have some fun instead of obsessing over her work, while Gideon’s old friends/professional colleagues uselessly urge him not to turn a townie fling into a project liability. The tension between the potential couple is extended by outside interruptions that let them discover how much they enjoy one another. Although the ending is a bit implausible, it leans toward compromise rather than forcing one of the characters to entirely forgo the life they love.

Takeaway: Fans of enemies-to-lovers romances will smile through this one, especially if they love horses.

Great for fans of: Kari Lynn Dell’s Reckless in Texas; Michael Bracken’s Unbridled Love.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A