Dani O'Rourke was left with the job of raising her two younger brothers at the tender age of eighteen when their parents passed away. She wasn't about to allow their family to be split up, so she put her skills and ingenuity to work starting her own cleaning business. She has contracts with several people around town, including the owner of a group of vacation rental cabins. Things are going well for her until a stranger comes to their sleepy little town, accusing her of breaking into his cabin.
After a near-fatal car accident, successful businessman and millionaire, Burke Black started to reassess his life and found it quite lacking. Realizing he has more than enough money to live on for the rest of his life and knowing he wants more, he sells off his business interests and heads for Jamesville, seeking clarity and a little R & R. After mistaking the lovely young lady cleaning in his cabin for a thief, he feels badly about jumping to conclusions and seeks her out to apologize. What he finds is a gentle, forgiving and loving woman who invites him to spend Christmas with her and her brothers. With them, Burke finds a sense of family he's never known, and things quickly begin to heat up between him and Dani. However, a series of misunderstandings threaten their future together, until Burke realizes that Dani is everything he's always wanted in life but never had and he'll do anything to her keep her and make her happy.
Discovering Dani was my first read by N. J. Walters. As I understand, she is mostly known for her erotic romances, but this one is a sweetly sensual, traditional contemporary. It has the feel of a fairy tale, Cinderella story. Our hero is a filthy rich businessman, while the heroine is essentially a maid, but she has two great brothers rather than a nasty stepmother and stepsisters. It's a pretty simple straight-forward story that's a little slow in places and has a few issues which I'll address later, but I couldn't deny that it appealed to the hopeless romantic, fairy tale lover in me.
Following his recovery from a horrific car accident that nearly claimed his life and left him with disfiguring scars, Burke started reassessing what he wanted out of life and found it rather lacking. In an effort to gain perspective, he decided to sell off his business interests and go on a sojourn in the little town of Jamesville where he temporarily takes up residence in a rented cabin. He doesn't exactly get off on the right foot with Dani. In fact, he acts like a total jerk toward her when he finds her in his cabin. She was there cleaning, but he instantly jumps to conclusions and accuses her of robbing him. He also pretty overtly implied that he'd be willing to accept sex in exchange for not calling the police and all but forced a kiss on her. Once Burke realized that she was telling him the truth, he at least felt bad about his behavior and went searching for her to apologize, but then he goes into jerk mode again a few weeks later. By then, the sexual tension has started to heat up between them, and he just assumes Dani is ready for sex. When she turns him down cold, he gets mad and says a lot of horrible things to her. Normally, I'd probably hate a hero who acts like this, but from there on out, he cleans up his act pretty well. When Burke realizes how much Dani means to him and that he doesn't want to lose her, he goes to apologize again, and this time, he did some pretty amazing groveling. If more jerk heroes took a page from Burke's book, I might fall for them in the end too.;-) We also find out that he had a really rough upbringing with a mother who basically abandoned him. He is a self-made man who worked hard for every penny he earned, but somewhere along the line, he became jaded and cynical. Dani is the complete opposite, sweet, innocent and giving, whereas all the other women he's sought out for companionship in the past knew the score, that he doesn't do commitment. Those who sought him out were usually gold-diggers, so between that and his mommy issues, he isn't particularly trusting of women either. Dani is unlike any woman he's ever been with before, and I think that scared him a little. He doesn't really even know how to actually date a woman and has to learn with her as he goes along. When he connects with Dani and her brothers and spends Christmas with them, it was sweet how the sense of family and belonging he finds with them is a foreign but very pleasant thing. It makes him really start rethinking his priorities and realizing that a quiet life with a wife like Dani and a few kids is exactly what he wants after all.
Dani is a very sweet young woman, who's forgiving, trusting, virginal and perhaps a little naïve. When Burke forced his kiss on her, I thought she warmed up way too fast, when she probably should have slapped him in the face instead, but of course, her body started reacting in an unfamiliar and desirous way. When he comes to her home to apologize, she can't help but forgive him and invite him to share dinner with her and her brothers, which leads to him spending Christmas with them as well. Dani was a very responsible person to take on the care of her two younger brothers at the tender age of eighteen when their parents passed away. They're both wonderful young men, so overall, I'd say she did a remarkable job of finishing raising them. She was also quite intelligent and enterprising to come up with the idea for her cleaning business and then make it a reality. Dani has never been in a real relationship, but she does have a lot of self-respect, knowing that she doesn't want to sleep with any man unless she has a commitment from him first. Dani admittedly isn't exactly the kind of heroine who has come to be admired in most current romances, but I related to her pretty well and thought she was adorable.
Dani's two brothers are great secondary characters. Patrick works hard too, helping Dani with the bills while attending college, hoping to eventually get a job in law enforcement. I love how protective he is of Dani and how he sometimes takes care of her even though he's younger than her. Shamus is a fairly happy-go-lucky and charming teenager who also contributes his fair share to the finances even though he's still in high school. These two will become the heroes of books 3 & 4 in the Jamesville series, The Return of Patrick O'Rourke and The Seduction of Shamus O'Rourke. Since these two young men still have a bit of growing up to do, I guess it's not too surprising that there is another book in between, The Way Home, which features Jake Tanner as the hero. Jake put in a quick appearance in Discovering Dani, selling Dani his truck.
Overall, I enjoyed Discovering Dani, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I thought it had a few issues, not the least of which is plot weaknesses. To start with things go from 0 to 60 between Burke and Dani in no time flat. They've no sooner met, and not exactly in a nice way either, than she's inviting him to spend Christmas with her and her brothers. Although the rapid pace of this part of the story didn't entirely sit well with me, if I chalk it up to small town hospitality, it does make some sense. However, Dani also decides she's in love with Burke after only spending a couple of weeks with him. This and other parts of the story weren't entirely believable to me. I think allowing a little more time for their relationship to grow would have been preferable, and there were times when a few more details to shore up plot points would have been appreciated. Also, much of the conflict relies on repeated misunderstandings or miscommunications which isn't my favorite way to go, although I admit most of them were resolved fairly quickly, not allowing them to build into annoyances. I found a number of editing errors as well, which could be a bit distracting, but thankfully not totally egregious. When I factor in the issues with story structure and editing, Discovering Dani is probably more of a 3.5 star book, but there were several elements in this novel that remind in some ways of a book I'm currently writing. Therefore, I couldn't help adding on a few additional points for Ms. Walters being a woman after my own heart, and I'll definitely be checking out the other books in the series.
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