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Ashli Montgomery
Grocery Girl
She inhales life with every breath. He’s suffered a world of pain. Can they rise above tragedy to find their happily ever after? Maree Davenport refuses to let a tearful past rule her future. After losing her parents at the age of five, the big-hearted fabric designer is determined to embrace her feelings and find happiness no matter what. So when she literally runs over a handsome new firefighter in the produce section, the hopeless romantic is certain she’s just collided with destiny. Everyone Rhys Larsen ever loved has died. And though he may have hit it off with the pretty girl at the store, the haunted EMT knows better than to let her into his heart. But when an accident leaves her wounded and in need of care, he vows to nurse her back to health. As Maree struggles to break through the grieving man’s walls, she fears his deep-seated superhero complex will make him unreachable. And as Rhys grapples with trying to protect the beautiful woman from his curse, he worries he’ll have to choose between doing the right thing and true love. Can this conflicted couple reconcile their opposite takes on adversity and find purpose in each other’s arms? Grocery Girl is the touching first book in the Green Hills wholesome small-town romance series. If you like strong but vulnerable characters, emotional growth, and quaint backdrops, then you’ll adore Virginia'dele Smith’s celebration of joy.
Two small town residents experience sudden attraction but a flickering relationship thanks to the man’s trauma in this wholesome contemporary romance. Fabric designer and quilt store owner Maree Davenport lost her parents when she was young, and has built a vibrant life for herself in Green Hills, Oklahoma. She makes an instant connection with new firefighter Rhys Larsen, who has closed himself off from love after the death of his twin brothers in the fire that drove him to his career path. Maree and Rhys share some pleasant dates, but their relationship stumbles when Rhys pulls away because he cannot give her more. A car accident that leaves Maree seriously injured, however, activates Rhys’s protective streak. He agrees to nurse her back to health with the whole town keeping an eye on the couple, but still struggles to open himself up.

The tenderness between Rhys and Maree, and Smith’s crisp descriptions of their attraction, are highlights of this novel. Lots of kissing, but nothing more despite several instances of temptation, keep this romance squarely on the side of clean. Side characters, like Maree’s protective older brother, pro football player Max and Rhys’s charismatic coworker Davis, add the crucial extra pressure for the two leads to accept their feelings. Smith can fold in backstory and rationales without losing the thrust of her story, and Rhys’s worry over opening himself up seems genuine.

The shifting perspectives between Rhys and Maree start off a little rocky, but the pacing improves as the story moves on. Smith sometimes pairs unusual sets of descriptors, but the writing flows smoothly and the stops and starts to the relationship never feel overly contrived. The subplot of an arsonist in town could have been more developed, but Smith seems to be laying strong, viable possibilities for future installments set in Green Hills. Small town charms and real pain add heft to this cozy romance.

Takeaway: This small-town story between a competent woman and an emotionally wounded newcomer will comfort fans of clean romances.

Great for fans of: Catherine Anderson’s Mystic Creek series, Shanna Hatfield’s Summer Creek series.

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