After being raised in an orphanage by nuns, professional chef Calli Thornton has spent all her adult life trying to overcome her Miss Goody-Two-Shoes image. While on her vacation in New Mexico, she decides to pursue a little excitement and adventure, but her forays into seedy bars only seem to get her into trouble. Saved by Gabe, a sexy stranger, on more than one occasion, she's annoyed that he's ruining all her fun, until she gets robbed and temporarily has no funds. Gabe offers to let her spend the remainder of her trip at his ranch in exchange for cooking for him and his ranch hands. Not ready to go home yet, she accepts, and as they get to know one another, she begins falling for the handsome cowboy. But will she be able to forgive him when she learns the truth about why he was really there to help her out?
Gabe Griffin grew up on the streets with nothing, but now he's finally making something of himself, building a small but growing ranching business. To keep it financially solvent, he works as a private investigator on the side and it's in this capacity that Calli's overprotective boss hired him to look out for her well-being. When Calli's hotel room gets ransacked and her cash and credit cards stolen, Gabe is inclined to believe that her boss's concern about her secret recipes being pilfered were entirely legitimate. He just didn't know how far someone would go to commit corporate sabotage over pastries. But because he owes her boss, Gabe can't reveal the real reason he's always been there to protect her or why he actually invited her to his ranch. Each day he falls for Calli more and more, but deep down he knows he's not good enough for her. When she learns the truth, will he bring himself to fight for her or will he let her go, thinking it's the right thing to do?
The Unlikely Bodyguard is a slightly older, stand-alone, contemporary, category romance that's been on my TBR list for quite some time now. I can't recall where I first learned about it, but I'm kind of a sucker for bodyguard romances, so that might be how it landed on my list. Calli is the head chef for a designer pastry company who's spent most of her life being pegged as a goody-two-shoes. Her boss and fellow male chefs are too overprotective toward her, so when she's sent on vacation, instead of going to the corporate villa in Mexico, she heads to New Mexico, looking for a little danger and adventure. Calli gets a bit more than she bargained for when she goes to a couple of seedy bars, attracting the wrong kind of attention. Twice she's rescued by bad boy rancher, Gabe Griffin, who is known to the patrons of those establishments by his old street name, Angel. When her hotel room gets ransacked and she loses most of her cash and credit cards, Gabe suggests that she spend her vacation cooking at his ranch, an offer she accepts. The two grow closer, but little does Calli know that Gabe has actually been hired in his other capacity as a private investigator by her boss to look out for her welfare, protect her recipes from corporate sabotage, and recover an office memo she accidentally took which contains information that might upset her. When she learns the truth, it may put their budding romance in jeopardy.
As a small child, Calli was abandoned on the steps of an orphanage where she was raised by nuns. As a result of her upbringing, everyone around her, particularly the men in her life, think she's an untouchable good girl who needs protecting. Tired of her overbearing boss and male co-workers hovering, she decides to kick up her heels on vacation. However, she's nearly attacked on two different occasions and later almost kidnapped by a guy who's trying to get his hands on her recipe journal, but each time Gabe seems to be there to rescue her. She's very attracted to the dashing bad boy, so when her hotel room is tossed, she accepts his offer to stay at his ranch for the remainder of her vacation. Despite the rather primitive living conditions there, she takes joy in cooking for Gabe and his ranch hands, and gradually she starts to fall for Gabe who is good at projecting a bad boy veneer but underneath has a heart of gold. But when Calli discovers that Gabe has been working for her boss all along, she can't help being upset by his deception, and when he doesn't seem willing to fight for their relationship or love her in return, she leaves even though it breaks her heart. Initially I wasn't too sure about Calli, because in the opening chapters, she seemed to border on TSTL in the way that she goes into bars, flirting with dangerous-looking men just for a thrill. A part of me understood where she was coming from, but it just didn't seem like the best way to go about shedding her good-girl image. Later we learn that she can take care of herself rather handily, which might have been nice to know earlier so that I'd have perhaps had a better impression of her actions. Once she's with Gabe on his ranch, I liked her a lot more for her sunny personality in spite of her background, for her forgiving nature, and for the way that she loves and cares for Gabe.
Gabe's backstory is even more heartbreaking than Calli's, and because of it, he's a classic damaged hero. He spent a number of years on the streets, and when his life as a cat-burglar caught up to him, his victim, who happens to be Calli's boss, generously offered him a second chance. He wisely took it and has since turned his life around, buying a small ranch that's slowly starting to turn a profit, but to supplement his ranching activities, he works on the side as a private investigator. When Calli's boss asks him to look out for her and to get back the company memo that he worries will really upset Calli, Gabe feels he owes the guy and can't reveal his true purpose to her even when he worries it may ruin the good thing they've been building. Gabe has never truly known love in his life and doesn't think he's anywhere near good enough for a woman like Calli, so he never expected to genuinely fall for her or want more for the first time in his life. He doesn't even know if he's capable of loving someone in return, so when things go south between them when she learns the truth, he thinks he's getting what he deserves. I love a good tortured hero and Gabe is definitely one of those. He almost lets the best thing that ever happened to him slip through his fingers because he doesn't feel worthy of her love. Given how heartbreaking his past is, though, it totally made sense. I think he senses a kindred spirit in Calli, so I'm glad that he finally came around and was able to accept her love and let himself be vulnerable with her.
Overall, The Unlikely Bodyguard was a pretty good story, but I felt like the setup for the plot was maybe a little thin. Perhaps the designer pastry business is more cutthroat than I would have imagined, but the lengths to which the villain goes to get Calli's recipes seemed a little extreme. Also he ultimately didn't have a lot of teeth, so while there's some mild danger, the stakes aren't super high. This being the case, what saved the story for me and earned it four stars are the characterizations and the romance. I thought that Calli and Gabe's backstories, how those things still affect them in the present, and their actions/reactions were very well done, making perfect sense to me. Because of the similarities in their respective pasts, they relate to one another and fit together like two peas in a pod. At the same time, they're opposites in personalities with Calli being the sunny, optimistic one, while Gabe is the tortured loner, so this, too, make them a perfect fit. Their romance develops naturally with Calli showing support toward Gabe even when he's being rather grumpy and Gabe desperately wanting more but not feeling worthy. There's also plenty of sexual tension from the moment they meet, leading all the way up to some deliciously steamy encounters. So in spite of a few plot weaknesses, I did find this to be an enjoyable read. The Unlikely Bodyguard was originally published in the Silhouette Desire romance line, but was later reprinted in the special Silhouette Marry Me, Cowboy series of reissued favorites.
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