There are a lot of wounded heroes in romance novels, but His Road Home must be the first one I’ve read in which we meet the hero straight from the battlefield. Often, the men are well away from their traumatizing experience, left with a dramatic facial scar or bad dreams that can be eased by the love of the right woman and heal them. This contemporary romance novella is not that book.
While serving in Afghanistan, Rey Cruz invented a fiancee to simplify a negotiation. To bolster his story, he used a photo of a real woman from his home town that he he knew only vaguely. When he was wounded helping a child, his story gained traction in social media and suddenly his photoshopped engagement picture went viral. No one will listen to Grace Kim when she says she doesn’t even know Rey and she finds herself with a free plane ticket from Seattle to his bedside at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Rey has lost both his legs, one below and one above the knee, and his ability to speak. His cognitive functions are fine, but he has great difficulty communicating both in writing and with his voice. He manages single words mostly. Grace is overwhelmed, but decides to take the week she has been given to stay with Rey and help him at the hospital. It’s an absolutely lovely use of a marriage of convenience.
As this is a great book, sensibly Rey and Grace do not fall in love during that week. They establish a bond that continues to grow after she returns home. Discovering he can type his thoughts without trouble, they build a sufficiently close and intimate relationship through daily texts that when Rey is ready to go home to Washington state months later, Grace agrees to drive his car cross-country with him. This is when they truly come together in a partnership.
Over the course of the road trip, Grace finds that being outside her comfort zone with Rey is exactly what she needs and he confirms that she is a strong and wonderful woman. His Road Home neither shies away from nor wallows in the details and ramifications of Rey’s injuries. He is not magically cured, he manages his physical challenges. His speaking, while it improves, remains limited. Heartfelt and down-to-earth, I loved the story. Rey is a whole man who has found a woman who can see past any supposed limitations to the great guy who is still there.
His Road Home won Romance Writers of America’s 2015 RITA® Award for Best Romance Novella and I can certainly see why. In fact, I am going to keep this list of finalists in all categories handy as a resource for finding new authors.
Later Review Addition: Because it is part of why I picked up the book and diversity is something I and my fellow readers have sought out in the genre, I want to mention that both Grace and Rey are children of immigrants and first generation Americans.
Other Novels with Wounded Men Done Well:
- Baker, Jo Longbourn (James/Sarah)
- Balogh, Mary Only Enchanting – Survivors’ Club (Flavian/Agnes)
- James, Margaret The Silver Locket (Alex/Rose)
- Kelly, Carla Beau Crusoe (James/Susannah)
- Kleypas, Lisa Love in the Afternoon Hathaways Book 5 (Christopher/Beatrix)
- Linden, Caroline Love and Other Scandals (Tristan/Joan)
- Quinn, Julia The Sum of All Kisses (Smythe-Smith Book 3 (Hugh/Sarah)
Let me know if I’ve missed any.